In the 1970s, Erich von Däniken’s bestselling book Chariots of the Gods fired up a craze of speculation that aliens had visited our ancestors thousands of years ago, spurring the dawn of human civilization. Von Däniken cited such evidence as the ancient Nazca Lines in Peru, suggesting they were designed to be seen from the air or space, as well as pictographs of humanoid figures that appeared to be wearing spacesuits.
Now an article in the UK’s Sunday Express suggests that time travelers rather than aliens may have visited our ancestors, bringing with them modern technology like helicopters, planes and notebook computers. (See one of several curious photos from the Express article on the right.)
Does all of this speculation make Templum, my fictional account of time travel to ancient Rome, any more feasible? 🙂 Could a modern-day woman be transported to the first century and have to face the upcoming eruption of Vesuvius? For me, the premise was intriguing enough to suspend my disbelief and explore the idea. You can read the first couple of chapters of my take on it on this page. (Scroll down the page to view the reader.)
The concept of the novel isn’t really novel at all. Long-form prose fiction has actually been around since ancient times, though only one Latin example has survived intact: Metamorphoses by Apuleius, a second-century lawyer from Madaurus (an ancient Roman colony in what is now Algeria). The book is better known as The Golden Ass, thanks to Augustine calling it that.
In the story, a traveler named Lucius hooks up with a woman and, when he learns that she dabbles in magic, asks her to change him into a bird so he can soar around for kicks. Instead, she accidentally makes him an ass (donkey) and can’t change him back. He then gets stolen by thieves and sold off to several successive owners before he finds a way to get back to human form. Along the way, he has some bawdy adventures, some awful ones, and overhears crazy stories from other travelers, too.
The idea of magical transformation into an ass also appears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Shakespeare probably got the idea from Apuleius. Several of the travelers’ tales from The Golden Ass were also retold by Boccacio in The Decameron.
Despite being so ancient, the book (in translation from Latin) is very readable — quicker-going than 19th-century novelists like Shelley or Dickens are, for example, let alone medieval writers like Shakespeare. What’s most fascinating is how the thoughts and actions of the characters seem just like those of modern people.
Highly recommended! At one point in my new novel The Five-Day Dig, Winnie is reading this book (probably in Latin, knowing her) and, though she doesn’t realize it, there’s a significance behind her selection that I can’t reveal here.