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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Authors' Mistakes #13 - John Stack

Master of Rome is John Stack’s third novel placed in ancient Rome.

I picked it up at a remainders’ bookshop for ten Australian dollars.

The story, with lots of naval battles between Romans and Carthaginians and Senate intrigues is nice enough, but I was appalled at the poor quality of the editing. And I also detected some inexcusable mistakes.

The first thing that caught my attention was that the protagonist travelled from Ostia (the Roman harbour) to Rome on the Via Aurelia. But the Via Aurelia doesn’t pass through Ostia and never has. The first part of the Via Aurelia exits Rome on its western side and runs from east to west before turning north, while Ostia is almost exactly south-west of Rome.

Then, throughout the book, the author talks about Fiumicino (where Rome’s major airport is currently located). But in Roman times, the place was called Portus, not Fiumicino. And, in any case, Portus was founded and built by the Emperor Claudius (41-54 CE), while the story of the book is placed in Rome’s republican period at the time of the first Punic war, around 250 BCE.

Another major blunder I noticed was that, according to Stack, the Romans had the concept of minutes (pp. 129, 228, and 249) and even seconds (p. 129). That was not the case. The most accurate way the Romans had to measure time was with sun dials and water clocks, and they were certainly never used aboard ships! Water clocks were only used in some patrician houses and sun dials were only in public places. Therefore, the Romans mostly relied on the position of the Sun to time their daily activities.

And there is more: one of the characters of the book uses paper. But paper is a Chinese invention that only reached Europe in the middle ages (come on! Everybody knows that the Chinese invented paper!). The closest thing to paper the Romans had was papyrus.

Then, I detected a mistake in the construction of the story: on page 219, two Roman siege towers are burned down by the Carthaginians. Three days later (on page 261), the protagonist sees a dozen soldiers searching the towers’ charred remains for salvageable iron. They couldn’t possibly have searched the burned-down towers for three days (and counting), could they?

In one occasion, Stack referred to the Mediterranean Sea as the ocean (p. 293), which it certainly isn’t and wasn’t.

Then there is a major language mistake: classis is the Latin word for fleet and, according to Stack, it is a masculine noun, because he systematically wrote classis romanus. But classis is feminine, and he should have written classis romana.

Finally, I noticed a series of typos that the proofreaders should have corrected:
  • Page 182: “exploiting” should have been “exploited”.
  • Pages 166-168: the name of the protagonist’s ship, which is Orcus, is mistyped as Corus.
  • Page 241: omitted “been” in “had been beaten”.
  • Page 247: an “at” should have been “as”.
  • Page 326: “You weapons, Prefect” sould have been “Your weapons, Prefect”.
  • Page 328: in “for a people who despise you”, “despise” should have been “despises” you, as the subject is singular.

How could Harper Collins release a hard-cover book with so many mistakes? Its price in the UK was GBP 14.99 and in Canada CAD 28.99. In Australia, where books tend to be more expensive, the Recommended Retail Price was AUD 49.99. I would expect something better for such a price.

Actually, I would expect something better for any price.

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