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Antony and Cleopatra
on 13 January 2012
I've read a few of Adrian Goldsworthy's books, including In the Name of Rome, and The Fall of Carthage, and have a few more on the bookshelves to work my way through. This is the one I grabbed to read next. It's interesting that in the Acknowledgments he mentions Philip Matyszak, several books of whose I have also read - including Mithridates, and Philip II of Macedonia. These two authors (and I am sure Ian Hughes, who is ackowledged, but whom I do not think I have read) make for powerful authorities on the Roman ethos and its surrounds. Mr Goldsworthy is an author who can write ancient history in such a lyrical manner that it reads like an enthralling novel - Tom Holland and Robert Bartlett are other authors who also have this talent. So it is with great anticipation that I curl up with this book on a rainy afternoon.
This is a marvellous tale - and given that it's true, it makes it even more marvellous to read. The author has very skilfully linked two separate biographies (whose lives only intersect in their adulthood) and written in a most clear and concise way about them both. We are treated to the most straightforward and understandable summary of the growth of the Ptolemaic regime in Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great; and to the rot and downfall of the Republic in Rome which led to the upheavals under Marius and Sulla, and the imminent growth of the Empire. From there, we delve more closely into the lives of the main protagonists in the story. And what lives they led! In Rome, Marc Antony led a life of genteel impoverishment after the disgrace and death of his father; in Egypt, Cleopatra led a life in the midst of intrigue and murder - and that was just her own family!
This is a totally brilliant book; the story itself is one worth telling again and again; but the way this book is written puts it above so many others - it zooms along at a rollercoaster pace, the tension building like a well-crafted movie - the peak of action at the Battle of Actium, and the sorry aftermath which resulted. Totally well worth reading, whether you have any preknowledge of the Roman Republic, Octavian, Marc Antony or Cleopatra or not, you will not be able to help but enjoy this wonderful book. If I could give it more than 5 stars, I would.