Monday, June 07, 2010

They don't make them like this anymore

Some finds from a Saturday yard sale...History of Ancient Rome, by Jean Defrasne, from the Myths and Legends series, the same small books as Stories of Alexander the Great and Stories of the Norsemen. They're unassuming little dustjacketed books, translated from French and printed in Britain in the 1960's. They have only a few pictures. But they sure do keep your interest...people in these books scale mountains, stagger and collapse, harass the Carthaginian army, and resist the onslaught. Centurions shout commands in hoarse voices. The trampled soil disappears in pools of blood.

The vocabulary is challenging:

"Already, Hannibal was growing weaker. His thoughts seemed to be far away with his native city of Carthage now, abased and defeated.

"'I have done everything for my fatherland,' he continued slowly, 'but what has my fatherland done for me? After Zama I was appointed Head of State. I restored order. I filled our treasury with gold, I covered our countryside with olive groves and orchards, I prepared our revenge, prudently but persistently. My adversaries betrayed me to the Romans and so I was exiled, declared a public enemy, my house was razed to the ground and no one was even allowed to pronounce my name.'

"He shivered; his strong body began to struggle against the grip of death.

"'Carthage,' he said, staring with glazed eyes, 'land of greedy and cowardly jackals, you will die. Your conquerors will scatter salt on your ravaged soil, and your proud elders will end their days in the underground cells of Rome.'"

I also found a book called When the World was Rome, by Polly Schoyer Brooks and Nancy Zinsser Walworth. Apparently the same authors wrote books on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but I'm not familiar with them. The format is kind of like one of those junior Time-Life books, sort of a chunky hardcover with some black and white photos and drawings. The language is fairly difficult for children, so I'd guess that the book would be good for maybe the middle school years, for students who still like the feel of a bigger book. This one doesn't have the staggerings and shiverings of the Myths and Legends's more straightforward history, but not uninteresting. Sample:

"But power soon corrupted Nero and he sank lower and lower into vice, losing all sense of decency and morality. When he divorced his wife to marry the vicious, seductive Poppea, his domineering mother tried to interfere. Poppaea taunted him with being afraid of his mother, who, she said, was plotting his downfall in order to rule as empress herself. So Nero consented to poison his mother, but Agrippina had antidotes for poison. Nero then staged a shipwreck, but his indomitable mother escaped and swam to safety. Finally he left it up to his soldiers, who stabbed her to death."

And on that note...

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