The events in this book take place in Ancient Rome at the end of the fourth century, between the years 382 and 385 AD – a short, but critical, timespan in the history of Western civilisation. It was crunch time for the Roman Empire, long racked by internal riots and external threats, particularly from the Germanic tribes to the north. Christianity had developed from a splinter group of Judaism in Roman-occupied Jerusalem into a widespread movement with its own beliefs and rituals which brought it into direct confrontation with the existing social order. The old gods, with their power to unify their subjects, were being replaced by a new and very different God – one available to all, independent of status. While many of the older generation remained faithful to the pagan gods, others were drawn to Christianity and, in worhipping a new God, weakened their allegiance to the Empire. In short, if you worshipped Christ, you could not also worship the Emperor. For the Roman Empire, therefore, the political ramifications of the spread of Christianity were dire. Persecution – that time-honoured recipe of governments the world over to opposition – hadn’t worked either, as the conversion of the Emperor Constantine himself to Christianity in 312 AD had demonstrated. Was the spread of Christianity the straw that broke the back of the Roman Empire? Many – most famously, the historian Edward Gibbon – argue that it was; at the very least, most agree that it played a critical role in its eventual collapse. But without recourse to a single authoritative text, would Christian leaders have secured their religion’s supremacy in the West? Probably not. It was Damasus I who, in commissioning Jerome to translate the Bible into a single definitive Latin version, accessible to all bequeathed to Christianity the perfect means by which to spread its influence and consolidate its authority. In so doing, he firmly established Rome as the centre of Christianity. It was a political masterstroke, the inspiration of which might elude us in our modern era of digital communication. This book is, therefore, amongst other things, a tribute to that master statesman Damasus I, as well as one of history’s greatest, albeit most controversial, scholars, Saint Jerome. It is also a tribute to certain women of Late Antiquity who were often scholars in their own right and risked everything they had to adopt the ascetic life – an ideal almost unimaginable in today’s age of celebrated secularity, individuality and hedonism. First and foremost among these women is, of course, Paula. The main characters are all historical figures – from Damasus, Jerome and Paula down to Toxotius, Hymetius and Praetextata. Those people who figure significantly are expanded upon in the glossary of names at the end of the book. Some lesser characters are my creations, primarily Aetius and Bassus, who I felt could well have existed. In an effort to recreate the spirit of this distant age, I have tried to bring them all to life imaginatively, drawing on knowledge of the times where possible, and reasonable inference where it was not. I have tried to convey a sense of the heady excitement attached to the theological debates of the day, and the rigorous scholarship underpinning them. As in Ancient Greece, the skills of rhetoric and argument were highly regarded, and matters such as the freedom of the soul and the nature of free will were debated and length and could divide men as easily as bringing them together. Central to the whole story is the relationship between Jerome and Paula, a much-speculated subject even in their day. Intimacy there undoubtedly was, but whether it was intellectual and spiritual, or something more, I leave it to the reader to make up his or her own mind.
Historical fiction about the controversial Saint Jerome is given a contemporary twist.
When the Pontiff commissions Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin, it is a political masterstroke set to establish Christianity as a world religion. Yet Jerome is his own worst enemy, and his famously sarcastic wit quickly alienates the ruling elite. As rumours circulate about his relations with the beautiful widow Paula, as devoted to him as she is to his cause, his enemies see their opportunity to dispose of Jerome once and for all...
Includes a Foreword by Richard Johnson, Emeritus Professor of Classics, Australian National University.
Joan O'Hagan is a crime writer and author of A Roman Death (Macmillan 1988). Thanks to meticulous research, a wicked imagination, and over thirty years of living in Rome, she breathes new life into an ancient saint and his world, drawing us irresistibly into a highly-charged world of danger and intrigue while reminding us to question our own values. Author's website: /
Industry Reviews 'This is more than a historical novel bringing alive to us an unfamiliar time and society. It is essentially a story about human hearts and minds facing challenges that, in time, confront us all.' Richard Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Classics, ANU
'Offers incredible insight into the achievements of a much maligned yet very important figure... and the women surrounding him.' Dr Mario Baghos, St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney (full review published Literature and Aesthetics, 2016)
'An insight into extraordinary times and people, and into a talented researcher and writer.' Robert Fairhead, NSW Writers' Centre Centre:
'O'Hagan gives her readers a fascinating look at the man behind that controversial masterpiece' (the Vulgate). Joanna Urquhart, Historical Novel Society
'If you have a religious/theological interest and want to see real historical characters who are involved in those matters brought to life, this is your book. If you have limited interest in these topics... I think you might still find the characters and story presented here fascinating.' Fred Mench, Professor of Classics, Emeritus Richard Stockton University (NJ), Classical Greek and Latin Discussion Group, 2015 education.classics/63410
Joan O'Hagan was an Australian author of crime fiction. She published five novels:'Incline and Fall: The Death of Geoffrey Stretton' (Angus & Robertson, 1976)'Death and a Madonna' (Macmillan 1986, Doubleday 1987)'Against the Grain' (Macmillan 1987, Doubleday 1988, Mondadori 1988)'A Roman Death' (Macmillan 1988, Doubleday 1989, Tokyo Hawakawa Publishing 1990, Legenda 1990)'Jerome and His Women' (Black Quill Press, 2015).
ForewordPrefaceOne: The commissionTwo: Intrigue in high placesThree: Expulsion from RomeFour: AfterwardsHistorical postscriptGlossary of namesBibliographyAcknowledgments
"Jerome & His Women is a meticulously researched and well informed novel that re-creates - in vivid detail - a crucial period in the history of Western Christianity, and the men and women who shaped it. In doing so, it offers incredible insight into the achievements of a much maligned yet very important figure, namely St Jerome, and the women surrounding him who - in taking a stand against the luxurious and often debased social conventions of late antique Rome - were trailblazers in their own right ... Joan O'Hagan shows incredible adeptness in translating some of Jerome's theological sentiments - particularly his praise of virginity as a superior way of life to marriage - into narrative (especially reflected in his Letter 22: To Eustochium).";Mario Baghos, Lecturer in Church History, St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney, Literature and Aesthetics: The Journal of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics (SSLA), 2016;"O'Hagan's fifth and last novel is set in Ancient Rome, at the end of the fourth century AD. It is a time of upheaval for the Roman Empire, with internal rioting and external threats, and pagan beliefs and gods giving way to the spread of Christianity and the worship of a new, monotheistic God ... That's the twin gift of Jerome and His Women: it is an insight into extraordinary times and people, and into a talented researcher and writer.";Robert Fairhead, NSW Writers' Centre, 2016;"O'Hagan concentrates on the Roman women in his life, including his patron, Paula, and as the novel progresses, it proves a canny narrative choice: through his dealings with these women, the full breadth of Jerome's problematic personality - both his prickly, argumentative side and, far more winningly, his inner tenderness and quiet introspection ... The Vulgate of Jerome was one of the most pivotal and important religious documents in the history of Christianity, and O'Hagan gives her readers a fascinating look at the man behind that controversial masterpiece.";Joanna Urquhart, Historical Novel Society, 2016 ;"(O'Hagan) ... makes this flawed genius more understandable as a human being ... and gives us the wonderful story of St Paula of Rome, patron saint of widows ... That story alone is enough to recommend this book."John Scanlon, National Council of Priests of Australia, The Swag, Spring 2016 ;"If you have a religious/theological interest and want to see real historical characters who are involved in those matters brought to life, this is your book. If you have limited interest in these topics,then you might prefer something that deals more with politics, intrigue and wars or romance, but I think you might still find the characters and story presented here fascinating and certainly enlightening.";Fred Mench, Professor of Classics, Emeritus Richard Stockton University (NJ), Classical Greek and Latin Discussion Group, 2015 education.classics/63410
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