Marcus Didius Falco

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Marcus Didius Falco is the fictional central character and narrator in a series of historical mystery novels by Lindsey Davis. Using the concepts of modern detective stories (with Falco as the private investigator, roughly translated into the classical world as a delator or "private informer"), the novels portray the world of the Roman Empire under Vespasian. The tone is arch and satirical, but the historical setting is largely accurate.

Fictional character biography[edit]

Falco was born on 20 or 21 March 41 AD[1] to Marcus Didius Favonius and Junilla Tacita. His father is a somewhat shady auctioneer, and his family is of Plebeian rank, but Falco himself eventually achieves Equestrian rank.

While Falco is still young, his father leaves his mother and the family home to live with another woman, changing his agnomen (a form of nickname) from Favonius to "Geminus". When his brother is killed, Falco is effectively head of the family and in the position of responsibility his father has abdicated.

Falco joins the Roman Army and serves in the Second Augusta legion in Britain during the Boudiccan Revolt. Some time after that he manages to get himself "invalided out" with a relatively minor wound in AD60. His elder brother Festus served in the legio XV Apollinaris and was posthumously awarded the mural crown after he was killed in 68 AD on active service during the First Jewish-Roman War in Judaea.

Falco and his father are forced to an uneasy accommodation in the course of Poseidon's Gold and see one another on occasions thereafter, but Falco's sympathies remain with his mother.

Falco met his wife, Helena Justina, the divorced and patrician daughter of a senator, while on an investigation in Britannia (The Silver Pigs), but their very different circumstances made their relationship difficult. After a series of successful missions for the emperor, Falco has risen to a certain level of respectability – he has achieved equestrian rank (One Virgin Too Many) – and he and Helena now live together with their two daughters, in an arrangement acceptable to his in-laws. In Nemesis, it is revealed that Helena Justina has been pregnant once again. Tragically the baby, Marcus Didius Justinianus, dies shortly after birth on the day that Geminus, Falco's father, also dies. At his father's wake Falco discovers that he is to become a brother yet again when Thalia, an old friend he met in Venus in Copper, Last Act in Palmyra and Alexandria, reveals that she is expecting a child – she claims by Geminus.

Falco and Helena adopted Flavia Albia, a British child, whom they rescued in London in The Jupiter Myth. At the age of 28, in AD 89, she is a widowed informer and the central character of Davis's book The Ides of April, with the series title "Falco: The New Generation". In the sequel, Enemies at Home, Albia reveals the identity of her deceased husband, who is none other than Lentullus, an ex-legionary formerly under the leadership of her uncle Quintus when he was tribune.

Several novels suggest that Falco survived quite a few years after the cliffhanger ending of his last novel, Nemesis. in 77 AD. The first Flavia Albia novel, The Ides of April, is set in 89 AD. While Falco does not actually appear as a character, he is alluded to at several points. Ode to a Banker suggests that Falco managed to survive as late as 94 AD (narrating events in 74 AD but apparently recounted twenty years later). In Last Act in Palmyra (p. 367), set in 72 AD, Falco is talking to the Roman garrison commander in Palmyra and asks this question:

"Who's your governor in Syria?"
"Ulpius Traianus."
It meant nothing much then, though those of us who lived to be old men would see his son's craggy mush on the currency.

The reference is to the emperor Trajan (Traianus), who ruled 98-117 AD. When Trajan took over Falco would have been 57, probably an 'old man' by contemporary standards. In A Dying Light in Corduba (p. 279, mass paperback edition), Falco narrates the following with reference to the city of Italica (in the Roman province of Baetica, Hispania): Those who lived to be old men would know this dot in the provinces as the birthplace of an emperor. The allusion is to the Emperor Hadrian, probably born in Italica in 76 AD, who succeeded Trajan in 117 AD. The quote seems to indicate that Falco, at the time he is writing this particular memoir, knows that Hadrian became emperor -- and so evidently Falco was still alive in August 117 AD, at the age of 76, now definitely one of those who lived to be old men.

Other employment[edit]

Falco, besides being a private investigator, is an amateur poet. He has written satires, some odes, and some epigrams. He has also written the play The Spook Who Spoke, meant to be understood as a precursor of Hamlet.

Falco has also been awarded the post of "Procurator of the Sacred Geese" of the Temple of Juno Moneta, a sinecure given him by Vespasian in lieu of decent payment for his services. The post was later abolished (The Accusers).

Acquaintances[edit]

  • Helena Justina – Falco's "unofficial" wife, a senator's daughter and therefore a highly inappropriate match.
  • Lucius Petronius (Petro) Longus – Falco's best friend from army days, a watch captain in the Vigiles who puts his daughters before alcohol, but alcohol before his wife. Petro develops a "friendship" with Falco's temperamental sister, Maia.
  • Decimus Camillus Verus – Helena's father, who tolerates Falco socially.
  • Vespasian – the Emperor.
  • Titus and Domitian, the Emperor's sons, the one being a treasure and the other a trial.
  • Claudius Laeta, a Roman official.
  • Sextus Julius Frontinus.
  • Anacrites, the chief spy, Falco's arch-enemy and sometime partner

Other characters include Falco's mother, his sisters, their husbands and their never-ending crowd of offspring; his father Geminus (the shady antiques dealer); his two children and their British nursemaid Albia, whom Marcus and Helena have adopted; Helena's mother and two brothers Aulus Camillus Aelianus and Quintus Camillus Justinianus; Falco's one-time landlord Smaractus; the laundry proprietor Lenia, Smaractus' wife and Falco's former neighbour; Falco's personal trainer Glaucus; and various murderers, criminals, exotic dancers, and mangy animals, all of whom spend a great deal of time making Falco's life a little harder than it would be otherwise.

Flavia Albia[edit]

Of these, the most notable of them all is Flavia Albia, who eventually becomes a delatrix or private informer like her adopted father, her first notable case being recalled in The Ides of April.

Albia was thought to have been born to a Romano-British couple who lost her during Boudica's uprising when the Roman city of Londinium was burnt down and its inhabitants massacred. By the time she was a teenager, she had been living mostly as a street vagrant, although she may have done menial jobs, such as being a water carrier to a family in Londinium as mentioned in Enemies at Home. She is depicted has having dark-coloured hair and blue eyes.

Albia makes her first appearance in The Jupiter Myth where she manages to save a pack of dogs from being burnt to death during a fire. This catches the eye of Helena Justina, who then decides to adopt her, but Albia is almost turned away by Falco for vandalising the furniture of Helena's uncle, Hilarius. Eventually, however, Falco and Helena soon form a very close bond with their new protegée, and Albia makes an appearance in almost every successive book thereafter, helping Falco and Helena in their investigations.

Falco describes Albia as a troubled and moody teenager fond of food, yet fairly level-headed and down to earth because of her impoverished past (like her own adopted father, who nonetheless says that "prophesying doom for men" brought Albia "much satisfaction"[2]). Because Albia was expected early on to help Falco nurse his daughters Julia and Sosia, Albia is also good in managing children. Following the events of Nemesis, Albia decides to leave Falco and Helena to prevent Anacrites or any other enemies of the Didii from using her to hurt her adopted parents, and enters the investigative profession under the tutelage of Falco and other unnamed delators, living in Falco's former Aventine residence. By the time of The Ides of April her family was able to acquire the entire insulae block some way or the other from Smaractus, whose former employee Rodan now serves the Didii as the porter of Fountain Court.

Albia once had a relationship with Aulus Camillus Aelianus, one of Helena's brothers, which abruptly ended when Aulus married his tutor's daughter from Greece. Albia eventually married Lentullus, (a character from the original Falco series[3]) but by the beginning of The Ides of April, Lentullus has already passed away. Albia has a working relationship with an aedile, Tiberius Manlius Faustus, but it remains to be seen if this relationship is to be developed further in subsequent books.

Books in the Falco Series[edit]

  1. The Silver Pigs, originally published as Silver Pigs (set in Rome and Britain) in AD 70-71. (1989)
  2. Shadows in Bronze (set in Rome and Campania) in AD 71. (1990)
  3. Venus in Copper (set in Rome) in AD 71. (1991)
  4. The Iron Hand of Mars (set in Rome and Germania) in AD 71. (1992)
  5. Poseidon's Gold (set in Rome and Capua) in AD 72. (1993)
  6. Last Act in Palmyra (set in Rome, The Decapolis and Palmyra) in AD 72. (1994)
  7. Time to Depart (set in Rome) in AD 72. (1995)
  8. A Dying Light in Corduba (set in Rome and Córdoba, Spain) in AD 73. (1996)
  9. Three Hands in the Fountain (set in Rome) in AD 73. (1997)
  10. Two for the Lions (set in Rome, Carthage, and Libya) in AD 73. (1998)
  11. One Virgin Too Many (set in Rome) in AD 74. (1999)
  12. Ode to a Banker (set in Rome) in AD 74. (2000)
  13. A Body in the Bath House, aka A Body in the Bathhouse (set in Rome and Britain) in AD 75. (2001)
  14. The Jupiter Myth - set in Britain in AD 75, follows on from the previous novel (2002)
  15. The Accusers (set in Rome) in AD 75. (2003)
  16. Scandal Takes a Holiday - set in Rome and Ostia in AD 76. (2004)
  17. See Delphi and Die - set in Rome and various locations in Greece in AD 76. (2005)
  18. Saturnalia (set in Rome) at year-end. (2007)
  19. Alexandria (set in Alexandria) in AD 77. (2009)
  20. Nemesis (Set in Rome and Latium) in summer AD 77. (2010)

Other appearances[edit]

  • Falco also featured as the central character in the 1993 movie Age of Treason, played by Australian actor Bryan Brown, and with Amanda Pays as Helena Justina. The film was disowned by Lindsey Davis because it bore no resemblance to the books on which it purported to be based.[4]
  • A young Falco makes a cameo in The Eagle's Prophecy, by Simon Scarrow. A "Mrs Falco" is told by a neighbour to curb her son's inquisitiveness; while not actually named as the detective, Simon Scarrow has confirmed on his website that this was indeed meant to be a tribute to the Falco series. However, due to unauthorised usage, and what she regarded as a misrepresentation of her characters (particularly Falco's father, implied to be a drunken wife-beater), Lindsey Davis was highly displeased. The book was withdrawn and republished with the names altered, with Falco becoming Gaius and his mother renamed Mrs Gabinus.[citation needed]

Portrayals[edit]

The first five books were dramatised for radio by the BBC, one each year, between 2004 and 2009. Anton Lesser played Falco in all five, while Helena was played by Fritha Goodey in the first and, following Goodey's death, Anna Madeley from the second onwards. It is produced by Lindsey Davis's friend Mary Cutler.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In The Silver Pigs, p. 153 Falco celebrates his 30th birthday at Massilia in the spring of 71 AD. In Venus in Copper, p. 60 Falco gives his birthday as in March, on the cusp of Pisces and Aries, i.e. 20 or 21 March.
  2. ^ Davis, Lindsey (2003). Scandal Takes a Holiday. Century. p. 182. ISBN 0-7126-2587-9. 
  3. ^ Davis, Lindsey (2007). Saturnalia. Century. p. 41. ISBN 0-09-951998-4. 
  4. ^ Lindsey Davis: Radio and Film

External links[edit]