Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell

Four Stars

“Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.” Aristotle

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is probably the most important man in history most of us never heard of. That he was one of Rome’s greatest orators and writers is secondary to his impact on modern western political thought. “The influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language,” wrote classicist Michael Grant. Cicero’s thoughts undergirded much of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. America’s founders often quoted the Roman.

“His own existence was less secure because his father no longer existed. Another statue had crashed in his hall of life and its senseless rubble littered the floor.”

Taylor Caldwell tried to change that in 1965 with this historical fiction biography. Drawing on speeches and letters of Cicero and contemporaries like Julius Caesar, Caldwell gives a survey of Cicero’s thought as well as his life. It makes for a long story, but worth the effort. A Pillar of Iron joins the genre of historical fiction, based on a Christian world view, such as Quo Vadis and Ben Hur, in the popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Every age shouts, ‘We are a new era!’ Yet it is always the same, for man doesn’t change.”

Quibbles: Stirrups in 80 BC? Hard to accept that Cicero may have been a crypto-Jew, let alone a crypto-Christian, but his writings reveal his familiarity with Hebrew scripture and his belief in one God as distinguished from the Roman pantheon of lessor gods.

“God leads us on the way of wisdom’s everlasting law, that truth is only learned by suffering it.” Aeschylus

The following are Cicero quotations:

“The past is also the present and the future. The nation that forgets that is doomed.”

“When a civil right invades the domain of the rights of all people, then it becomes a special right for a special class.”

“War is particularly loved by tyrants; it diverts a people from just complaints against them.”

“The world … not only destroys our youth but destroys our certitude. God can ask nothing more of us than our intention, for we are essentially weak and must rely upon Him for all things, even our breath.”

“Man lives in an awful isolation, imprisoned by his flesh, unable to stir his tongue of flesh to pronounce the words in his heart, unable to show that heart of flesh to anyone, neither father nor child nor brother nor wife. That is man’s tragedy, he lives alone from the moment of his birth until the hour he lies upon his funeral pyre.”

“Beyond the walls of home live a world of Godless, dishonorable, and amoral men … now are the majority.”

“A bureaucrat is the most despicable of men, though he is needed as vultures are needed.”

“You can be certain of only one thing with politicians, that you can be certain of nothing.”

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious, but it cannot survive treason from within.”

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell (Four Stars)

  1. How horribly timely. I loved Taylor Caldwell’s books, and haven’t read one in a while. When I have the time, I will tackle it.

    “War is particularly loved by tyrants; it diverts a people from just complaints against them.”

    I was just saying that to someone a day ago; dictators, and those who would become dictators, know how to make people look elsewhere.

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