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“Peplum” Reviewed by Cody Smith

Our modern, technologically advanced society poses a new set of challenges such as identity theft and forgery. Who would have thought that in antiquity one’s identity could just as easily be snatched away? Peplum (2016) is a graphic novel that approaches these topics through a completely unique lens. The author describes lust, murder and, most importantly, humility in ancient Rome but the tale is an incredibly sobering reminder of the ways in which we live our lives in modern times.

The author, a French cartoonist known simply as Blutch, uses masterful prose and stark silence to craft a world in which a life and a name can easily be cut free of their heritor.

When I first discovered this book, I was drawn to its subject matter of Roman times and to the ink-drawing style of art. The artwork was believable without too many embellishments and emphasized the written story. In dark guttural sentences found in the novel’s outer borders, we read of a nameless forger who obtains a title, equivalent to a modern politician, through murder, taking on the persona of his victim to become known as Publius Cimber. The wretch discovers a beautiful woman who yet may still be alive encased in an ice cocoon, a circumstance that causes him inner turmoil, grief, and finally epiphany. Although she is never named, the woman in ice is the fulcrum for nearly all major events between the bindings
of Peplum.

This is a story that blooms and withers as our main character rises from the ashes of his tumultuous decision to wear another man’s name as easily as a laurel wreath – something he conveniently wears and sheds whenever necessary.

Throughout my reading I perpetually drew comparisons to the almost ornate way in which we wear our titles and accomplishments, like our very own laurel wreath, similar to Peplum’s main character’s use of his false name, Publius Cimber. In my view, the story is an allegory for our growing world of social media, where we create our own image, whether it is mythical, established, successful, or worldly. On social media, most of us are victorious and constantly wear a different wreath or title, readily exchanging it for the next one that better fits the moment to help secure our own woman in ice.



Cody Smith is a local musician and music teacher. For the last four years he has been teaching K-5 general music at Northside Elementary. Cody holds a degree in music education from the University of Florida. After graduating in 2013, he returned to Panama City, splitting his time between teaching music at Northside Elementary, playing cello with orchestras throughout the state, and conducting the Panama City Youth Orchestra. Between rehearsals and performances Cody can often be found with his nose in a good book drinking a strong
cup of coffee.

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