Saturday, March 5, 2016

night villa

I found this one at the library book sale, on the back cover I read, "The eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79..." and that was it. Between the title and those first words in the description, I was sold. Of course, its doesn't take much when you're talking about spending a dollar or so and supporting the library. Its funny, I don't take too many new library books out, I think its because the newer books have two week lending periods, and I don't usually read that fast.

Carol Goodman writes a good story. This one has a little bit of everything. It is not--as I suspected from the little I read on the back cover--historical fiction, although it does have an historical fiction aspect to it. Its a modern day story, but involves archaeological study of the era leading up to Vesuvius, and in particular, the late occupants of Villa della Notte, or the Night Villa.

The Night Villa is a fictional place, but this villa in Herculaneum, and this story in general, is based on the true story of Petronia Iusta, a slave who sued for her freedom from Calatoria Themis. Scrolls were indeed found in a trunk in an excavated building in Herculaneum which describe the Roman court case involving this young woman. She was born to a woman called Petronia Vitalis, who was once the slave of this Roman couple, but who eventually bought her freedom from them. After her daughter, Petronia Iusta, was born, Iusta continued to live with the couple as a servant, and her mother paid for her upkeep. After the deaths of both Iusta's mother, and Calatoria's husband, Petronius Stephanus, Calatoria claimed that Iusta was born while her mother was still a slave, and therefore was still her slave, whereas Iusta claimed she was born after her mother was freed, and was therefore free herself. facinating

It seems clear that Carol Goodman read this story,* and decided that it was ripe for some historical fictionalizing. Good decision. I liked this story, and as I read, I was very taken by the story that slowly emerged from the depths of time, and the twist about Iusta's case was great. Little did I know at the time that it was based on a true story.

There are a series of sub-plots and backstories that also charge this story with a sense of mystery, not least of which is an ancient cult based on the teachings of Pythagoras. whaa?

Yeah, read this book.

* Here's a link to a PDF of a research paper about the Petronia Iusta case written by Ernest Metzger of the University of Aberdeen, The Case of Petronia Iusta. Originally published as E. Metzger, 'The Case of Petronia Iusta', Revue Internationale des Droit de l'Antiquité (3rd series) 47 (2000), 151-165.

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