The Bottom Line
I've reviewed several of Rose Williams' books before. All her books sound like stuff in my head. Usually, they're on topics where her extra decades in the field make her far more knowledgeable than me, but in Once Upon the Tiber, not so much. If I had written Once Upon the Tiber, it would have sounded an awful lot like what she wrote. No, there's no plagiarism involved, but her tongue is planted in the exact same spot in her cheek as mine. I really don't know how to tackle the book objectively, since quite obviously I find it perfect.
- Draws together a vast amount of material in a small book.
- Witty writing.
- Delightful B&W illustrations by Mark Bennington.
- Undeservingly lost half a star for stealing my thoughts!
- Created especially for Latin students to teach them Roman history.
- Pithy Latin quotations (with English translations) at the start of each chapter.
- One of the themes is the irrational Roman attitude towards kings.
- Weaves together myth, legend, and history.
- I believe Rose Williams was influenced by 1066 and All That in her writing of Once Upon the Tiber.
- Covers political and literary history.
- Contains a glossary, timeline, and bibliography.
- Avoids salacious details.
Guide Review - Rose Williams' Once Upon the Tiber
Rose Williams wrote Once Upon a Tiber with a specific audience in mind: students learning Latin who need a background in Roman history. To my mind, it is just as appropriate for students learning about Roman history, especially as a supplement to a series of context-limited readings-in-translation or textbooks. Instead of telling only such history as can be vouched for as historically accurate, Rose Williams reveals what the Romans wrote about themselves:
"There were two great historians of the Silver Age.... Neither was enamored of the emperors and both had a gossipy nature, but while Tacitus did occasionally rise to some semblance of impartiality, Suetonius could have been the star reporter for a scandal magazine."The history is funny, lively, and points out the greatness and pettiness of the Roman people, from their founding bang to their whimpering fizzle. Williams also occasionally gibes gently at modern scholars:
"Many literary historians with a passion for neatness say the Silver Age died along with Marcus Aurelius...."The only major difference there would have been between the version of this book in my head and the one that Rose Williams wrote and originally published in 2002, is that I would have inserted all the sexual depravity. Doing so would have made the book totally inappropriate for modern U.S. school children. Fortunately, Rose Williams has more restraint or, simply, better sense.