James R. Clifford has been graced with a fertile imagination as evidenced with his new novel Double Daggers that focuses on one of the rarest of silver coins known as the Double Dagger Denarius or the Eids of March coin that celebrates the most legendary murder of antiquity, the assassination of Julius Caesar.
Clifford informs us in his opening chapter that the tiny EID MAR silver denarius was issued in 44 B.C. by Marcus Brutus, who was the primary assassin of Caesar. The reverse side of the coin contains images of two daggers, between which is a liberty cap, an ancient symbol of freedom. The coin bears the inscription EID MAR, which means "Eidibus Martiss" or "the Ides of March."
Immediately after the murder of Caesar, Brutus was so obsessed with having this new coin minted that he could hardly wait to meet with Mettivus, the mintmaster and inform him that the coin "will forever commemorate the fall of a tyrant and the liberation of the Roman Republic. Romans, thousands of years from now, will sing praise to our heroics when they hold this coin in their hand."
What was quite ironical is that Brutus found it deplorable that Caesar had the audacity to imprint a likeness of himself on a coin, which was something akin to anointing himself as king. This was supposedly intolerable during Roman times and one of the reasons Brutus felt Caesar had to be assassinated.
As our narrative unfolds, Brutus had the mintmaster cease minting coins with Caesar's image and he has these replaced with his own special commemorative coins. Brutus further insists that there be a special coin set aside for himself that would be marked with the Roman numeral I denoting that this would be the first coin of the series minted. Until his suicide, after losing the battle of Philippi to Mark Antony, Brutus always carried this coin with him. When Brutus' body along with the coin is discovered, Antony cries out: "Live by the sword, die by the sword. You truly are a cursed man." In disgust, Antony tosses the coin into the dark swirling waters of a river.
From here the world Clifford creates journeys through different epochs as the coin is found and finds it way into the possession of three characters representing different historical eras, the Crusader, Michael Claudien, the Nazi, Maxell Von Studt, and finally a modern day Wall Street trader, Jack Weston.
Narrated through the eyes of these complex separate characters with their shifting voices, we learn of how all three acquired the coin under very peculiar and bizarre circumstances and how each falls victim to a curse that eventually leads to their destruction. Particularly noticeable about these characters is that even though they lived in different eras they were all egotistical, selfish, and vain. And for the most part they lived wasted lives. Moreover, all endure the same nightmare with reference to a dark forest, and suffering of men and places that they had difficulty comprehending. Even more incredible was their striking resemblance to Brutus' image that appeared on the coin!
The novel's fictional history and mythology is rich and well conceived, attesting to Clifford's extensive research. This is one novel that will refuse to be forgotten long after it has been put to rest on one's book- shelf, as Clifford's characters linger in the readers' minds as well as his scenes that have an icy clarity to them.
Incidentally, if you are wondering about the Eid Mar, I recently came across an article where one of these coins turned up in Britain and was handed over to the Ministry officials in Athens after an agreement was worked out that allowed its repatriation from Britain. According to Greek authorities the coin had been illegally excavated in Greece and sold by two Greek suspected smugglers to London's Classical Numismatic Group Inc. I wonder if the coin's curse still exists?