Character study: Varius

January 20, 2010

There will be spoilers.

There is a reason why I waited so long to write a character study of Varius: he makes me so sad. When I read about what happens to him, I want to pull him out of the book and hug him, I feel so sorry for him! McDougall certainly gives him a fair share of grief.

When we first meet Varius, he’s a successful employee of Marcus’ late father, Leo. (He had been Leo’s private secretary, and had worked with Leo in the fight against slavery.) He is the executor of Leo’s will, a serious 27-year-old man ‘of Egypto-Nubian’ descent whose family had lived in Rome for about a century. He’s happily married to the lovely Gemella. He is pretty much doomed.

Within a couple of chapters, Gemella has been murdered in Marcus’ place, poisoned by a gift of sweets intended for Marcus. Varius swiftly works out that Marcus is in danger and sends him off into hiding. Unfortunately, he then finds himself accused of organising the kidnapping of Marcus and the deaths of Marcus’ parents, and, most cruelly, of Gemella. Most horrifically, he puts his own grief second to Marcus’ safety and doesn’t report the murder until Marcus is well out of the way, dealing methodically with Marcus’ escape and calmly working out what story to tell, all the while trying to avoid thinking about Gemella. My heart breaks for this competent and previously unambitious man, swept up in the cruel machinations of the Novian dynasty.

He’s sent to gaol and subjected to what we would consider psychological torture at the hands of the grotesquely awful Gabinius, a villain terrifying in the saneness with which he speaks about insane and horrific things. (Check out Gabinius’ speech about how wonderful it is to be Roman and be able to be freed from slavery and become a citizen, which is surely one of the most self-serving defences of slavery – and small-government conservatism – that I’ve seen since reading Gone With The Wind.) And although he is freed by the end of the first book, his sufferings don’t end there.

In Rome Burning, Varius is falsely accused of being one of the dangerous counsellors around Marcus (along with Una and Sulien), and is bundled off by Marcus into Nionian custody (in order to prevent his extradition and almost certain torture and death in Rome). He certainly suffers for the cause!

The injustice of Varius’ experiences lies in the fact that he appears to be a fairly unambitious, gentle and compassionate guy. Aside from his interest in abolishing slavery, we get the impression that he would’ve much preferred a life that kept him far, far away from the attention of powerful people. It’s his very competence and loyalty that keep getting him into trouble, and, like the rest of the forces of good in the world of Romanitas, Varius can expect quite a bit more unhappiness in the series’ final novel.

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2 Responses to “Character study: Varius”

  1. Steve Gabennesch said

    where can I find a copy of Gabinius’ speech?

    • dolorosa12 said

      It’s in Romanitas, although I can’t remember the exact chapter off the top of my head. I’ll have a look through the book and get back to you.

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