Words associated with “Rome”? Romulus and Remus, Colosseum, Vatican. If you would like to know the real face of this city, it is worth reaching for the relevant publications, which portray not only the capital of the Roman Empire, but also a modern metropolis that is bustling with life and sounds of motor horns. Below you can find books we recommend for dolce far niente – blissful reading moments.
It is worth starting the journey following the books about the Italian Peninsula… chronologically. In order to get to know this place well, it is worth going back to the times when the Roman Empire was a power – the traces of those times influence the present day.
Ab ovo – in other words: from the beginning
Ab ovo usque ad mala, or, as the Roman poet Horace used to say – from eggs to apples (in ancient times, eggs were used to start a meal that ended with a dessert in the form of sweet fruit). Therefore, if you want to get to know Rome from centuries ago, choose historical novels. Polish author Michał Kubicz perfectly introduces readers to the realities of life at the beginning of our era, writing about the great personalities of those times. In the book “Tyberiusz. Cesarstwo nad przepaścią” (Tiberius. Empire over the Abyss), he shows the many faces of this leader, remembered as both a lecher and an accomplished strategist. “Kaligula. Wyznania szaleńca” (Caligula. Confessions of a Madman) is an attempt to tell the story of the emperor and the world full of contradictions and cruelty, which was his everyday life.
In “Agrypinie. Cesarstwo we krwi” (Agrippina. The Empire in Blood), Kubicz paints a portrait of Nero’s mother, a woman who was driven not only by mother’s love, but also by a lust for power. The events described by the Polish author take place against the background of the Roman catacombs, aqueducts, temples and the Colosseum. Robert Graves, an English prose writer, mythology researcher and writer, known for, among others, the book “I, Claudius” and its continuation: “Claudius and Messalina”, also takes the reader to this world. This duology is a wonderful fresco about the Roman Empire, and at the same time a universal story about power – enough to mention that it was written in the turbulent years before the outbreak of the Second World War. The book was made famous by a series with an excellent cast.
SPQR, that is some facts
If historical novels whet your appetite for knowledge, Mary Winifred Beard’s works should be your next choice. This University of Cambridge professor is one of the most important experts and an undisputed authority specializing in this era. Awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, she has been popularizing knowledge about antiquity for years not only in academic circles, but also among “ordinary mortals”. One of her most popular books is “SPQR. A History of Ancient Rome”. The title abbreviation, meaning Senatus PopulusQue Romanus (the Roman Senate and People), was used by the Romans as a name for their state. Beard shows the way the inhabitants looked at their country.
What did the Romans think about themselves? On what basis was Roman culture built? What role did slavery play in its development? The author breaks down the patterns of thinking about antiquity, based on reports of crimes committed on the way to the throne – proving that it is worth learning not only about the history of emperors, but also merchants and villagers living on the outskirts of the empire. What about younger readers who would like to learn about history? Young enthusiasts of the past, should read the book “The Rotten Romans”. It is a book full of humor and interesting facts that presents knowledge in an accessible way. Perfect for light reading on the plane!
Walking around Rome
If you plan to walk around Roman streets, it is worth choosing good company. Such is the assurance of Jarosław Mikołajewski – poet, translator of Italian literature, prose writer. “Roman Comedy” is a publication in which the author presents his beloved corners of Rome, at the same time referring to the “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri – its stanzas set the rhythm of Roman journeys.
It is an intellectual feast and a great adventure in one, just like “Spacery po Rzymie” (Walks around Rome) by the essayist Ewa Bieńkowska, thanks to whom you will start to perceive churches, as well as entire squares and districts, as works of art.
Roman here and now
Readers who would like to feel the Roman atmosphere, while immersing themselves in an engaging novel of manners, will like Luca Spaghetti and his “You Have a Friend”. The author, a native Roman, describes a meeting with Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray and Love”), to whom he showed the beauty of his city, and introduced the American woman to the Italian approach to feasting, music and literature. Melania Mazzucco, considered one of the most interesting contemporary Italian writers, also comes from Rome. Her hometown often appears in her books. An example here is “A Perfect Day” – a novel in which time is measured by successive chapters, moving to the rhythm of the passing hours of the eponymous day. Mazzucco shows different heroes who live in the same city and search for love and happiness. The novel was adapted for the big screen by director Ferzan Özpetek (the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008).
Rome is also Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons”. This book guarantees entertainment and teaches a bit of history by accompanying Robert Langdon, who solves puzzles in the streets of the Eternal City and tracks down the Illuminati. 20 years have passed since the publication of this novel, but the author is still popular among readers, due to the subsequent parts of the series (“The Da Vinci Code”, “The Lost Symbol”, “Inferno”, “Origin”). And if Rome itself is not enough, it is worth buying “Why Italians Love to Talk About Food” by Elena Kostioukovitch – a translator of Umberto Eco’s works and an expert on the Italian soul. It is a compendium of knowledge about individual regions of Italy. The cuisine becomes a pretext for telling a story about love for not only culinary art, but also Italian culture, history and tradition that has delighted people all over the world for centuries.