Rosemary Sutcliff lived most of her seven decades from a wheelchair. She produced a succession of the best historical fictions in the language. You’ll likely find most in the shelves of junior fiction: they are worth recovering for adult reading, and re-reading.
Her embroideries on the Arthurian legend are fine, indeed: Sword at Sunset is as near to a “realistic” Arthur as we are likely to get, and remains a Malcolmian prime recommendation. By the general consent of others, her best is The Eagle of the Ninth.
Adults will be hearing of Ms Sutcliff through a film adaptation, The Eagle, early next year. What survives the cutting-room floor remains to be seen; but the director, Kevin Macdonald, stated an original intent:
determined to be as authentic as possible, with the tribesmen in the movie all speaking Gaelic. In order to achieve a little contemporary symbolism, the Romans will be played by American actors…
The theme of the movie will be the clash of cultures between the might of the Rome and a small tribe with its own customs and traditions.
This is no great news. Military types, even the god Mars himself (as left), depicted on reliefs seem to flaunt some natty ankle-wear.
The modern English derives from the Latin soccus, defined by the Oxford Latin Dictionary as:
a kind of low-heeled, loose-fitting shoe or slipper worn by Greeks … (worn by comic actors, hence a symbol of comedy).
That doesn’t quite work for Catullus 61. There, as TCD freshman Malcolm found himself translating, in all seriousness, a bit about the Roman god of marriage sporting a yellow soccus on a white foot.
Mail-order Roman socks
Further light has been shed by recent excavations along Hadrian’s Wall. A few years ago archaeologists scrabbling through the rubbish tip at Vindolanda Roman fort turned up hundreds of wooden pieces, which, on further scrutiny, were shopping lists, memoranda, and letters. One in particular (number 346) seems to have been the contents list for a parcel:
… I have sent (?) you… pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants …
A few weeks back, the Lady in his Life and Malcolm drove circuitously between London and Northern Ireland via the Stranraer-Belfast Ferry. That introduced them to the major roadworks on the A1 Great North Road.
At Redfellow Hovel, the 14 miles of the A1(M) between the Alconburys and the Peterborough Showground are always referred to as “the John Major Memorial Highway”. This is because it was a project near Major’s constituency home (and convenient to his constituents), was begun in his premiership, and was at the dawning of those Private-Public Partnership operations.
Similarly, the £318-million upgrading of the A1 further north, providing major delays through North Yorkshire, may well qualify as a Gordon Brown footnote to history. The preparatory surveys, years ago, showed that there was a major Roman site at Healam Bridge. One of the “finds” involves fibre traces on a sandal nail.
Next year, Ms Sutcliff’s “Marcus” strides the silver screen.
Malcolm will be watching out for his socci.