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Count Belisarius (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Robert Graves , John Julius Norwich
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Aug 2006 Penguin Classics
The sixth century was not a peaceful time for the Roman empire. Invaders threatened on all fronties, but they grew to respect and fear the name of Belisarius, the Emperor Justinian's greatest general. With this book Robert Graves again demonstrates his command of a vast historical subject, creating a startling and vivid picture of a decadent era.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (3 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188138
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188133
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 169,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon, the son of Irish writer Perceval Graves and Amalia Von Ranke. He went from school to the First World War, where he became a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. After this, apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Cairo University in 1926, he earned his living by writing, mostly historical novels, including: I, Claudius; Claudius the God; Count Belisarius; Wife of Mr Milton; Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth; Proceed, Sergeant Lamb; The Golden Fleece; They Hanged My Saintly Billy; and The Isles of Unwisdom. He wrote his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, in 1929, and it was soon established as a modern classic. The Times Literary Supplement acclaimed it as 'one of the most candid self portraits of a poet, warts and all, ever painted', as well as being of exceptional value as a war document. Two of his most discussed non-fiction works are The White Goddess, which presents a new view of the poetic impulse, and The Nazarine Gospel Restored (with Joshua Podro), a re-examination of primitive Christianity. He also translated Apuleius, Lucan and Suetonius for the Penguin Classics, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek Mythology, The Greek Myths. His translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (with Omar Ali-Shah) is also published in Penguin. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961 and made an Honorary Fellow of St John's College, Oxford, in 1971.

Robert Graves died on 7 December 1985 in Majorca, his home since 1929. On his death The Times wrote of him, 'He will be remembered for his achievements as a prose stylist, historical novelist and memorist, but above all as the great paradigm of the dedicated poet, "the greatest love poet in English since Donne".'

(Image courtesy of The William Graves Collection.)

Product Description

About the Author

Robert Ranke Graves (1895-1985) was a British poet, novelist, and critic. He is best known for the historical novel I, Claudius and the critical study of myth and poetry The White Goddess.

John Julius, 2nd Viscount Norwich, was born in 1929. Among his many publications are histories of Norman Sicily, Venice and Byzantium and books on Shakespeare's history plays, opera and architecture. His annual anthology, Christmas Crackers, is now in its 35th year.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
When he was seven years old, Belisarius was told by his widowed mother that it was now time for him to leave her for a while, and her retainers of the household and estate at Thracian Tchermen, and go to school at Adrianople, a city some miles away, where he would be under the guardianship of her brother, the Distinguished Modestus. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The truth? No, but a cracking good read... 22 Feb 2007
The story of Count Belisarius takes place at a time unfamiliar to most readers - after the Roman Empire moved east to Constantinople; after the Goths swept across Italy and sacked then occupied Rome; when the language of the Empire was Greek, rather than Latin; and when stasis in the Senate had been replaced by the factional politics of the Hippodrome mob.

Count Belisarius was published in 1938, some three years after Graves' more famous fictional accounts of the life and times of the Roman Emperor Claudius: I Claudius, and Claudius The God. These earlier works were based primarily on the scandalous (and salacious) account of the lives of the Emperors Augustus to Nero provided in Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

And so also with Count Belisarius. Taking liberal chunks from the contemporary scandal sheets (mainly Procopius of Caesarea's Secret History), and taking its style from Tacitus' Agricola, Graves' Belisarius is portrayed as a great, noble general thwarted and ultimately betrayed by the jealousy of an Emperor (in this case Justinian, not Domitian). He is a man who holds on to his virtue in a world going bad and rife with corruption.

Count Belisarius is a work of fiction, not of history. But, like the best historical novels, it displays such a depth of knowledge that its readers (unless they are very well read indeed) are certain to be become better informed in the course of their entertainment. This is not to say that it is a classic work of high art. Like Graves' earlier treatment of the Claudian dynasty, Count Belisarius is part soap opera, part gossip column and part hagiography. It is, however, a cracking good read, as well as being very articulate and erudite - an almost unheard of combination of attributes in an historical novel.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great 20 Jun 2005
I haven't read a book this good for years. It is the type of book that you thought the Twentieth Century incapable of producing. Graves manages to capture the tone and character of an authentic history from the Ancient World. The years of being steeped in the Classics as a scholar has allowed him to maintain this voice from that era so consistently and with a feeling of authenticity. This is, in my opinion, the book's greatest achievement. It could stand alongside Herodotus and Themistocles (in translation at least).
Graves gives an epic and moving portrait of an unique man, his surroundings, his actions and his intimates. This book actually takes us to the Euphrates with Belisarius and his army, to the walls of Rome and to the corrupt and violent world of Constantinople and the Hippodrome: and I don't know how it does so quite so effectively as it is not a book that is overly-descriptive. Like those earlier great works of history, it uses simple, straightforward language to achieve this strong feeling about the setting. It is gripping, enjoyable and, as I said, moving novel.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb historical novel 24 Oct 2001
By A Customer
It is several years since I read this book, but it still lingers in my memory. Robert Graves uses all his skill as a novellist to bring alive the Belisarius, the Byzantium general who briefly revived the fortunes of the Eastern empire. What is particularly memorable about the book is the way Graves makes Belisarius so sympathetic, that you come to empathise strongly with him. I wept over Belisarius's tragic end. One of only two books that has ever affected me like that. Powerful stuff, and far superior to your average historical novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great historical novel 5 Nov 2010
"Count Belisarius" is set in the snakepit of political and theolgical conflict in Byzantium c.500 AD.He uses Procopius'"Secret History" as source material,in the same way that he used Suetonius and Tacitus for "I Claudius/Claudius the God".
Someone once descibed Procopius as "the Kitty Kelly of Byzantium",and Graves,having decided to write a novel rather than a history,dosen't let the facts get in the way of a good story.But,all of the people who appear in the novel really existed,and the wars of Belisarius really happened.
The weird nature of Byzantine theology,with everyone from beggar and prostitute to emperor and general pondering about the precise nature of the divinity of Jesus,or whether he was totally human and divine,or only part-human and totally divine,is very entertainingly done.If anything,Graves underplays the religious mania of this era in Christianity
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Neither one thing nor the other 15 Aug 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you're unfamiliar with 6th century Byzantium, this may well be a good read; however if like me you've read lots of Byzantine history and then come to this it just feels too much like reading some of those history books once again, but with omissions and a failure to give a real impression of the import and grandeur of the events of the age. The history books are more exciting than this.

This might be forgivable if we had any real sort of characterisation and dialogue and the focus was on the personalities and really bringing those historical characters to life. Graves was consciously trying to some extent emulate a writing style of the age (as memoirs of a slave of the wife of Belisarius) rather than a 'contemporary' novel, but what he has delivered feels like neither one thing nor the other and a bit of a mishmash. Paraphrasing Procopius whilst trying to throw in a little bit of dialogue as well doesn't succeed. May as well just read Procopius.

So, for example, Graves cops out of dealing with the intense theological arguments which were integral to the politics and very mindset of the age - this was a real disappointment; the Nika riots in which chariot racing politics spilled over into a popular uprising against the emperor Justinian - an unheard of event - is dealt with too quickly and feels like a scuffle at a football match; likewise the
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic
Truly a masterful piece. Both surgical in its precision and yet able to move one to tears and rage against its characters. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Takoul
4.0 out of 5 stars Byzantine intrigue
This is a neglected classic almost as good as I Claudius. Not as well known because we have been much more exposed culturally to Roman history and the early Caesars. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Marat
4.0 out of 5 stars Dated but worthwhile
You have to accept that this book was written in a different age for a different audience. It reads like a history lesson rather than a draatic historical novel, BUT the story is... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Enquirer
5.0 out of 5 stars A giant among pygmies.
I am new to Byzantine history but not to the codes of Justinian, having had to translate various of them in the course of studying Roman Law. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Pappashanga
4.0 out of 5 stars as good as I Claudius
This is one of my favourite novels - just as good as the more celebrated Claudius books. The story is astounding (and, largely, true). The writing is engaging and lively. Read more
Published 18 months ago by A. J. McGowan
1.0 out of 5 stars An ordeal, not a book
First the good: The author obviously did a lot of research for this book. It really shows, I would say that this could almost be a slightly dramatized version of a history... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Norse Victorian
4.0 out of 5 stars Flashes of brilliance
I, Claudius is one of my favourite books of all time, and All Quiet needs no introduction either. Count Belisarius isn't in the same league, but still a worthwhile read. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Kwev
5.0 out of 5 stars A true work of genius.
The book is a delight from page 1.Though Graves took some liberties with known
historic facts(Belisarius appears to have died while still well regarded by the Emperor,not... Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2009 by Mr. Stephen Parkin
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeus!

The shipment was fast. The book is brand new, very good edition and I am really enjoying its reading.

Many Thanks
Published on 20 Sep 2009 by J. C. Coderch
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