WE ARE THE ROMANS

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In Fatimaharan’s cartoon portraits, even the enslaved speakers smile, and some, like the gladiator and legionary, are downright gleeful. A startling exception is a formerly enslaved seamstress who now laments that she must work with rough wool and linen rather than fine fabrics. Along with portraying six women, including a professional scribe and an import/export merchant, the artist employs a diverse palette for skin tones. However, since everyone here except the emperor Trajan is fictional, there’s no reason to conclude that either the racial or gender mix is historically accurate. Long gives each member of the gallery a name and a few personal details, but their tonally similar first-person descriptions of their lives and work are so generic that readers will have a hard time telling them apart or catching any sense of what daily life in those days might have actually been like. A closing section of general background, just as superficial, features a timeline that misleadingly bills the fall of Rome in the West as “the end of the empire,” profiles of pagan deities but no mention of those of other major religions, and Latin translations of common phrases like “What time is it?” with no pronunciation guidance.

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