To Swear Or Not To Swear: Profanity and Dialogue in Historical Fiction
by JP Kenwood
I have been asked about (and criticized for) my deliberate choice to use a more modern dialogue style peppered with colorful curses for my current m/m historical fantasy series set in ancient Rome. Here’s the thing. Romans in the second century AD did not speak Elizabethan or Victorian English. They spoke Latin, a complex and beautiful language characterized by precise syntax, a rich vocabulary and practical directness. Latin emerged as an identifiable language around 1000 BCE in central Italy, a fertile region inhabited by a stratified, patriarchal society dominated by farmers and soldiers. In fact, many aristocratic Roman names derive from this agricultural heritage: Cicero (‘chick-pea’), Lentulus (‘lentil’) and Fabius (‘bean’).
Have you ever heard Latin spoken outside of some televised papal blessing on the steps of St. Peter’s in Rome? Unless you spend much time attending the most traditional of Roman Catholic masses, the answer is probably not. If you’re interested in hearing Classical Latin spoken, here’s a link to a short clip from the documentary, “The Destiny of Rome,” wherein Marcus Antonius speaks before the Senate: http://youtu.be/6_IPqniaZR0. The performer’s Latin pronunciation is crisp, direct and powerful. It’s actually rather sexy. However, that said, we don’t know exactly how ancient Romans spoke Latin. As with deciphering much about the past, scholars argue theories and make educated guesses. But they all agree that ancient Romans did not sound like characters out of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Sorry, Brutus.
But I’m off on a tangent. I chose to use a more modern tone for the dialogue in Dominus because I wanted these characters to sound not only direct and ‘Roman-like’ but also real. Not anachronistic, to be sure, but human. Familiar. In my own experience, readers of stories set in historical times become distracted or frustrated with wording that is forced to sound ‘historical’ with dialogue that is often clunky, obtuse, or flat out incomprehensible. I wrote my fictional Roman characters to sound as if they were actual people—which, to me, they are.
But what about all that swearing in your dialogue, Kenwood? Ah, yes—the fucks and shits and arses and cocks and tits. Here’s the deal. Romans swore. They swore a lot. You won’t find much profanity in the literary writings of Virgil or Tacitus (the latter fellow is a character in the Dominus series, by the way), but you will find delightfully bawdy language in the poems of Catullus and Martial and in the graffiti scrawled on walls throughout archaeological sites such as Pompeii. Just Google ‘obscene graffiti Pompeii’ and you will find a slew of sites with all the salacious details. In fact, the expression, ‘Speaking with Roman plainness,’ refers to the bluntness of the Latin language and the preponderance of obscenities. Romans didn’t beat around the proverbially bush. So Gaius Fabius (our bisexual MC in the series) swears, for shit’s sake. And, because humanity is nothing if not diverse, Gaius swears more than other characters, including his peers. He has a filthy mouth, the arrogant bastard.
One final note: my characters, especially the Roman characters, use English (as in England English) cadence and slang terms. For this I have no excuse except that for me, all Romans sound like the BBC Romans I grew up watching on the telly. Blame it on Clau—Clau—Claudius.
In AD 107, after a grueling campaign against Rome’s fierce enemy, the kingdom of Dacia, Gaius Fabius returns home in triumph. With the bloody battles over, the commander of the Lucky IV Legion now craves life’s simple pleasures: leisurely soaks in fragrant baths, over-flowing cups of wine, and a long holiday at his seaside villa to savor his pleasure slaves. On a whim, he purchases a spirited young Dacian captive and unwittingly sparks a fresh outbreak of the Dacian war; an intimate struggle between two sworn enemies with love and honor at stake.
Allerix survived the wars against Rome, but now he is a sex slave rather than a victor. Worse, the handsome general who led the destruction of his people now commands his body. When escape appears impossible, Alle struggles to find a way to preserve his dignity and exact vengeance upon the hated Romans. Revenge will be his, that is, if he doesn’t lose his heart to his lusty Roman master.
Dominus is a plot-packed erotic m/m fantasy that transports readers back to ancient Rome during the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117). This is the first book in an alternate history series—a tumultuous journey filled with forbidden love, humor, sex, friendship, political intrigue, deception and murder.
About JP Kenwood
When she doesn’t have her nose stuck in a dusty old history book, JP Kenwood relishes writing erotic m/m fiction. JP prefers plot-packed, sexy, and romantic tales that explore loyalty, trust, betrayal, and sacrifice. She is currently busy penning the second book in her alternate history series, Dominus. The second book—tentatively titled, “The Lion of the Lucky Fourth”—follows our auburn-haired bastard of a protagonist, Gaius Fabius, and his gaggle of clients and pleasure slaves as they travel to Rome for love, laughs, and vengeance. JP has a terrible habit of posting preliminary drafts of chapters and snippets of her latest work to her online blog prior to publication.
JP is giving away an eBook copy of Dominus to one luck winner! The giveaway starts now and ends September 5, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. To enter, just click the link below!
Please be aware that the only way to enter the giveaway is to click the Rafflecopter link above. Any comments on this post will not count towards entering the giveaway, except to verify your Rafflecopter entry.
Don’t forget to check out Jen’s review of Dominus to see what she thought of it!