Cutter’s Island: Caesar in Captivity
On the way to Rhodes to further his study of rhetoric, Julius Caesar is captured by pirates and held for ransom. At this time he is a young nobleman with well-lined pockets but of no particular importance. This novella tells the story of his imprisonment, ransom, release, and ultimate revenge.
The pirate Cutter is a sharply drawn antagonist, a ferocious worldly philosopher who, we quickly see, will be of far greater importance to Caesar’s education than all the scholars of Rhodes. For forty days the young man must negotiate, improvise, feint and parry from a position of absolute weakness in order to preserve himself.
Cutter’s Island has a cover blurb from the eminent classical scholar Robert Fagles, and it has earned the honor. Mr. Panella never sets a foot wrong in classical setting, dialogue or characterization. The language is spare, swift and intensely lyrical. I read it at one sitting, transported to a world as bright, vibrant and fleshy as a Pompeian mosaic.