cover image Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor

Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor

Allan Massie. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $19.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0007-3

The Scottish author of Augustus has created another skillful and engrossing fictional memoir, even though the Roman emperor whose identity he assumes this time is a less promising historical figure--Tiberius's reputation has oscillated between that of a depraved monster and a prosaically punctilious administrator. Like Robert Graves, Massie sets out to rehabilitate his protagonist, but he stakes out distinctive ground beyond the Claudius novels by letting the narrator, a melancholy and reluctant autocrat, escape from ``the despotism of fact'' into a more impressionistic, reflective meditation on human nature, history and his own place in it. Without skimping on period detail or the Caesar's lurid political and sexual machinations, the text eschews extreme sensationalism or pedantry for an examination of the appalling solitude of power. In a voice suffused with regret but free of illusion, the aging emperor lucidly reviews his life, recognizing that his ascent to the imperial pinnacle paradoxically made him prey to abandonment, betrayal and loss. The testament of this compelling, almost tragic figure is delivered with an artistry that is itself a testament--to the enduring fascination the early Caesars exert on the literary imagination. ( Sept. )