• A Real Mensch

If there’s one character in Rubies of the Viper that almost everybody loves, it’s Alexander. And honestly… what’s not to love?

As my husband says: “Alexander is a mensch.”

When the novel opens, Alexander has been a slave for eight years. We soon learn that he was born free in Corinth, Greece; enslaved as a young adult (for reasons that eventually become clear); and sent to Rome, where Gaius Varro purchased him as a steward to manage his estate. The idea of buying a brand-new slave and turning one’s entire fortune over to him to manage may sound strange to modern readers, but it was not uncommon in ancient times. Life then, as now, was full of ironies!

Remarkably, given his personal history, there is very little slave-like in Alexander’s demeanor or character… and therein lies one main source of his difficulties in getting along with his master and (later) mistress. Another source of conflict is—more of that irony—that they are dependent on his financial and managerial skills, even as he is legally dependent on them. (See A Master’s Carrot and Stick.)

Despite Alexander’s many admirable qualities, he is property, and as such comes into Theodosia Varro’s possession when her brother is murdered. How the two of them work through the evolving dynamics of their mistress-slave relationship is a key plot element in Rubies of the Viper.

What most separates Alexander from the broad spectrum of “other characters” in my novel is the fact that he is one of two Point of View characters. His innermost thoughts and view of events happening around him alternate with Theodosia’s innermost thoughts and view of events. So, not only do readers get inside Theodosia’s head, they also get inside Alexander’s. The play of those two separate-but-equal perspectives sets up much of the dramatic tension in the novel. (See Is Theodosia stupid?)

I have to admit that Alexander totally created himself as Rubies of the Viper came into existence. I did very little to bring him to life… just let him come out. He began as a minor character in my plan for the book and developed into the co-protagonist because of his extraordinary talents and rare (for anybody in first-century Rome, and especially for a slave) personal virtues.

Like most readers, I adore Alexander. Sharing him with the world has been one of the great pleasures of publishing this novel. I’d love to see your comments about him if you’ve read Rubies of the Viper. Just remember… no spoilers, please!

—text copyright © Martha Marks—