“Don’t Know Much About History”-Art Garfunkle

This was a line in a popular song in the late 1960s. Art Garfunkle was not alone. The fact is, huge numbers of Americans really don’t know much about history. When I was writing The Death of Carthage, people would ask me what the book was about and I would say “The Second and Third Punic Wars.” I almost invariably got a blank look. Then I would say “The wars between Rome and Carthage-Scipio and Hannibal.” My listener’s eyes would light up and he or she would say “Hannibal! I’ve heard of him! Didn’t he cross the Alps with elephants?
And that would be all my listener knew about the whole thing.
It doesn’t really help when people watch Hollywood productions. People who have watched the series Rome believe that Marc Antony had a torrid affair with Octavian’s mother Atia while Octavian was growing up and that she was constantly feuding bitterly with Julius Caesar’s paramour Servilia. Antony’s wife Fulvia might have had something to say about that, and so might Atia’s husband Philippus. Anyone who has actually looked into the matter and read ancient texts knows that the real Atia was not remotely like the character portrayed by Polly Walker in Rome. She was, by all accounts, a staid and conservative Roman matron and, rather than being ambitious for her son, she was afraid for him and she and her husband Philippus, Octavian’s step-father, tried to persuade him to renounce his inheritance from Julius Caesar. Servilia may have been portrayed more accurately, but it is unlikely that she ever went head to head with Atia.
One of the purposes of this blog is to promote books, both fiction and non-fiction, that portray history accurately, and to point out the inaccuracies in those that do not. Historical fiction can be a wonderful means of learning history if the writer does not stray too far from the truth. It is a way of livening up past eras and making them exciting. Sex and violence are certainly not off-limits as long as they do not contradict the truth as in the example above. History is a worn tapestry with gaps and blank spaces, and the task of the author is to fill in those gaps and blank spaces to create coherent picture, but the picture you create should not contradict known historical data.
Some of the best writers of historical fiction that I recommend are the late Colleen MacCullough, Sharon Kay Penman, Helena Shrader, David Blixt, Christopher Gortner, Santiago Postaguillo, Ron Peake, Alex Gough, Robert Allen Johnson, Robert Harris, Stephanie Dray, and, if you like comedy, Alex Johnston. I welcome readers to add to this list.

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