The Inscription

If you’ve had the opportunity to meet me and ask me to sign your copy of No Free Man, you would’ve noticed that I leave a specific inscription on the title page before adding my signature. I’ve told a few people about this inscription, but it’s time for a thorough explanation.

Arma virumque cano are the words I inscribe, and will always inscribe, on the title page of No Free Man. I first discovered these words as an epigraph in Without Remorse by Tom Clancy, a book I first read as a teenager. The words meant nothing to me at the time. I didn’t even know how to pronounce them (ARMa VEERumKWAY CARNo for those who are wondering). I eventually learned that the words were Latin, and translate as “I sing of arms and a man.”

Arma virumque cano are the first words in The Aeneid by Virgil, a Latin epic poem written over 2000 years ago. Virgil writes in the tradition of the epic Greek poets that came before him. Therefore, Virgil ‘sings’ because the storytellers of Ancient Greece used to perform their stories rather than write them down. The ‘man’ that Virgil writes about is Aeneas, a man who fled the burning city of Troy and started a journey that would lead him to found the city of Rome. The ‘arms’ (or ‘war’ or ‘struggle’) are the battles fought along the way.

Flight from Troy by Federico Barocci (1598), Galleria Borghese. Source: Wikipedia

Here’s the thing. Aeneas didn’t get to choose to conquer another country and found Rome: it was his fate. Nothing could change that, not even the gods.

Here’s another thing. The epic poets of Ancient Greece invoked the Muses, one of nine goddesses that command the arts and sciences, when writing their stories. It was the Muses who chose the storyteller, and the opening lines of many stories begin with a short prayer. The Muses, answering the prayer, would sing to the storyteller and he, in turn would sing to us. The opening line of Homer’s epic The Iliad are:

“Rage – Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles...”

Virgil’s prayer doesn’t appear until a few lines into his poem, where he writes:

“Musa, mihi causas memora...”

“Oh, Muse,” Virgil writes, “sing to me the causes.”

Never let anybody tell you that reading thrillers won’t lead to something special.

I believe that classic stories are still read because each generation finds something in the stories that resonates. Sometimes we find something new, and sometimes we rediscover something that broader minds found a way to express, that sense of something intangible that we lack the tools to articulate. My own writing is haunted by the ghosts of these writers. Perhaps this is a form of tribute, though I truly hope that maybe the breadcrumbs I leave will lead readers to those greater books.

No Free Man is a story about a man, his war, and his fate, but it’s also about so much more. My Muse told me so, a topic for another post, perhaps.