By Benita Kane Jaro
Historical novel on Catullus' life: perfect for those nights before the fire.
The first volume of a dazzling trilogy, The Key shows a world on the verge of collapse through the eyes of its greatest and most passionate poet. Gaius Valerius Catullus, the boy from the provinces who became the lover of the most powerful and beautiful married woman in Rome, is dead at twenty-nine. His friend Marcus Caelius Rufus must search for the meaning of his life in the slums and bloody secret cults, the palaces and law courts of the tottering Roman Republic. Vivid, exciting, carefully researched and beautifully written, The Key has been a cult favorite in hardbound for years. Jaro inserts English translations of and comments on Catullus' poems into the text of her novel, The Key.
- Written with the most scrupulous attention to historical accuracy
- Contains some 40 poems of Catullus', in acclaimed translations by the author. Some have appeared in the recent anthology Catullus in English, and the author's original interpretation of the most important of them, poem 58, has influenced contemporary approaches to that work
- May be read independently as a single novel, or as the first volume of the trilogy The Key, The Lock, The Door in the Wall
- Features maps of Rome and the Empire, specially drawn for the novel
- Includes reader-friendly list of Principal Characters and a Chronology of Events in the novel
The Key to Catullus' World
(a guide to using The Key with high-school students) - .pdf file 45k
- Includes correlation to national Latin standards
- The table shows the page in The Key where the poem is located as well as the number of the poem in the Catullan corpus.
Benita Kane Jaro is the author of the Roman trilogy The Key, The Lock, and The Door in the Wall. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from California State University, Northridge, and an MFA in Creative Writing from American University, Washington, DC. Her interest in the ancient world began in early childhood and has continued all her life, as has her love of fiction, particularly novels. She lives near Washington, DC, with her husband, several large antique automated musical instruments, two carousel horses, and a lot of much-loved and misfiled books.
Comments and Reviews
KJ has written a trilogy based on the last years of Republican Rome, and has done so with great aplomb. She is to be applauded for the effort which this endeavour must have taken. In the first book, The lock, she views the period through using the story of the statesman Cicero, in the second book, The Key, the same period and technique is used, but with Catullus as the character, and in the final book, The Door in the Wall, she uses Caesar. The key to the books, however is the character Caelius, the Marcus Caelius Rufus of Cicero's Pro Caelio: the story in each case is told through his eyes, although not in an intrusive way - each of the central characters is able to speak and operate without Caelius being present. By using these different perspectives, KJ is able to tell the same story in three different ways, building up the suspense in each one until the full story is revealed in the final book. It is important that each book is read in the correct order in order that the denouement comes as a surprise to the reader.
KJ has taken a period of Roman history when there were a great deal happening, and there were many factions at work, each pulling in their own different directions. This has enabled her to allow the story to unfold in the way that it does, and allows the confusion of the events to mask the underlying story. As might be expected the three books reflect the style of each of the authors, the first being based around various speeches of Cicero, and being somewhat ponderous, the second is rather more ephemeral and views Catullus through the poetry he wrote about Lesbia, and the final book is retrospective of Caelius when all the threads are pulled together. I found each of the three books a gripping read, both in their own right and as a trilogy.
I would recommend them to any teacher who feels the need for a little light relief from some of the more weighty tomes available on the last days of the Republic. For a student of the period, they certainly can be recommended - perhaps as holiday reading for one about to embark on one of the Ancient History topics related to this period. Although it must be pointed out that they are fiction and as such should not form the basis of a serious essay on the period, they certainly provide a readable and interesting overview of the period in a way that the reader will not feel like they are doing holiday work!
— David Standen
A convincingly imagined, well-researched first novel on the life and times of the Roman poet Catullus...[and] an inspiring, near-Byronesque portrait of Catullus.
— Kirkus Reviews
The Key is a very poetic novel about Gaius Valerius Catullus...[It] is the most powerful account of Catullus and Clodia since Thornton Wilder's 1948 novel The Ides of March....The Key is...spirited, daring, at the end enigmatic and haunting, as was Catullus of Verona.
— The Classical Journal
THE KEY...It does a good job of recreating the politics of the age...it provokes thought...
— The Classical Outlook
If there is to be a worthy successor to Mary Renault, or to Marguerite Yourcenar, it may be Benita Kane Jaro.
— Doris Grumbach