cover image Cutter S Island: Caesar in Captivity

Cutter S Island: Caesar in Captivity

Vincent Panella. Academy Chicago Publishers, $23 (197pp) ISBN 978-0-89733-484-6

Expanding on a single paragraph in Plutarch's life of Caesar, first-time author Panella imagines a turning point in the ambitious but untested young Julius Caesar's life in this vivid short novel, complete with swashbuckling action and classical allusions. The historical record preserves a brief account of the episode: captured by Sicilian pirates as he attempted to fell strife-torn Rome under the dictatorship of Cornelius Sulla, the 25-year-old Caesar vowed to decimate his captors once he escaped. In Panella's account of Caesar's youthful adventure, the already dramatic facts are elaborated upon in blazing detail, with flashes back to Caesar's early career on Rome's violent political scene. Caesar, as Panella tells it, both openly scorned and fascinated his captors, setting the exorbitantly high price of his own ransom, reciting his poetry to them, joining in their banquets and athletic contests and then returning with a fleet to demolish them. Against the factual backdrop of the Republic's colossal heroes and its violent fall, Panella creates a colorful fictional personage in the character of one-handed pirate chief Vatinio, nicknamed Cutter. Cutter's progress from sailor and soldier to gladiator and pirate in the shadow of Pompey the Great's imperial conquests make the pirate chief and Caesar ""brothers in history,"" as the latter finally admits. Taking its cues from Colleen McCullough's energetic Roman chronicles, though narrowing the focus, Panella's opus matches the film Gladiator in its vigorous, viscerally affecting depiction of ancient Rome. (Sept.)