on October 6, 2010
I've only so far read The Punic Wars by this author, but it was such a spectacular read that I decided to grab more books by Goldsworthy. One of those books was this one, and I'm not disappointing. The book shows the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra that's not Shakespeareized, or Hollywoodized. I heartily recommend this book for anyone interested in the era!
And, ignore the one-star reviews. They review the price, not the content, which is ridiculous.
on October 5, 2010
I found Adrian Goldsworthy's book of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA an excellent account of the history of these two historical characters in which played such a significant role in a most turbulent time in Roman History. The author knows his subject and presents it in an outstanding manner for comprehension of the subject. It is reseached well and I would recommend the book highly. I find the two other reviewers opinions and sentiment entirely irrelevant. Literature, history, philosophy, etc must always be judged by its contents and never be reviewed by its cover or even its cost---but only by the authors knowledge of the material and the way the information is presented to readers. I would suggest that anyone interested in this period of ancient history will not be dissappointed in the reading of Goldsworthy's book of ANTONY and CLEOPATRA. The book is excellent and I recommend it quite highly. JMJ
on December 12, 2010
The story of Antony and Cleopatra as portrayed here is no less fascinating than if they were the romantic characters their afterlife makes us believe. Mr. Goldsworthy's exhaustive examination of their lives and his easy writing style make them real life personae and fascinating characters. There is enough drama without the propaganda and the later inventions, from companionship, high living and pageantry to the final tragedy.
I like the new (revived?) practice of writing about Ancient history for the general reader. Adrian Goldsworthy is a master of this genre, and "Antony and Cleopatra" does not disappoint.
The author advises his readers that this is not a history of Ancient Rome and Egypt but a biography, and that he will only relate those events that are directly related to the lives of the protagonists. However, he creates enough of an historical and social background to give the general reader a good understanding of where we are - and maybe an increased interest in the Ancient world per se. I have to admit that I tend to scan these kinds of overview such as in Chapters I and II, but in "Antony and Cleopatra" I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.
My complete review:
on December 10, 2010
I've been a fan of Adrian Goldsworthy's since his How Rome Fell so impressed me with its amazing scholarship. Now, Goldsworthy tackles another ancient Roman subject that has teased the imagination of the public for generations: Antony and Cleopatra. For most of us, Cleopatra looks like Elizabeth Taylor; that movie is the extent of most common knowledge of the two ancient lovers. I have no idea how historically accurate the movie was (at least compared to the scholarship at the time of its production), but I'd be willing to guess that there is a lot in Goldsworthy's book that people not particularly interested in history don't know.
As with How Rome Fell (the author is best known for Caesar: Life of a Colossus), the depth of Goldsworthy's research is remarkable. He covers not just the lives of these two players but also the Roman world in which they grew up, along with a brief history of their families - the Ptolemaic royal family descended from Alexander the Great and that resulted in Cleopatra's family line, and of Antony's well-known aristocratic family.
Little is known about either childhood, but he gives us what he can, clearly noting where something is supported by historical document or whether it's suggested or inferred from what is known of the time period. Where supposition and speculation are involved, Goldsworthy never presents it as fact but as differing theories. It's interesting to explore these historical gray areas, but I like a historian who will present his view while not averring that his view is obvious fact.
For example, some people consider Cleopatra as almost a tramp, a purely sexual figure (perhaps because of the image the movie presents), but Goldsworthy makes a strong case for the theory that Caesar and Antony were her only two lovers, and that their relationships involved love as well as political gamesmanship. Caesar and Antony were the most powerful men of their age (Antony rose in prominence after Caesar's assassination), and Cleopatra realized that tiny Egypt could be easily absorbed by the burgeoning Roman Empire if she didn't enlist Roman aid. Yet Goldsworthy feels that their history is more than just that.
Antony and Cleopatra thoroughly details the history of these two lovers as well as the political machinations of at the time. Civil wars were breaking out in Rome throughout Antony's lifetime as ambitious men vied for power, and Antony became part of a trio of leaders with Octavian and Lepidus (a truly minor figure compared to the other two men) that was designed to end the conflicts. Instead, it precipitated Antony's downfall in the eventual face-off against each other for ultimate power. Antony and Cleopatra's decline is almost poignant in Goldsworthy's telling, even as he dispels some myths about her death - as well as pointing out which other legends may or may not be true. For example, snakes or their poison may have been involved, but it's highly unlikely that an asp bit her on the breast.
One thing I missed (and maybe it wasn't included due to the fact that little information is available) is how Cleopatra could spend so much time away from Egypt and still run things. She spent months with Antony in Greece and months with Caesar in Rome, yet there's no indication that the Egyptians even missed her. Perhaps Goldsworthy avoids the subject because there is no way to know what happened, or perhaps it's the same as when any Roman Emperor spent his entire reign on the field of battle. Either way, I would have liked to have known more.
Antony and Cleopatra is well-documented, with numerous notes in the back of the book for each chapter (probably my favorite notation system, considering the fact that nobody seems to use footnotes anymore). Goldsworthy utilizes many sources, both original and secondary, making this an admirably detailed account. Goldsworthy covers all aspects of the lives of these two prominent people, from the personal and political machinations between them to the attempted military exploits of Antony as he tried (and failed) to demonstrate to the Roman people that he was a competent general.
Antony and Cleopatra is an excellent historical overview of their lives that may help put into perspective some of the pop culture images we hold of these two tragic figures. It's also a fascinating read.
Originally published on Curled Up With a Good Book
on November 16, 2010
A most excellent book. Goldsworthy's is a judicious examination of the historical record. His intention is to present what is actually known about Antony and Cleopatra rather than to simply bolster the mythic figures that have come to be associated with the names. Of particular interest are Goldsworthy's thoughtful explorations of Antony's military ventures and Cleopatra's political maneuvering. A plus: that he presents, at various points, alternate possible explanations of episodes based on available (limited) historical evidence, and then gives solid reasons for the explanation that he favors. A highlight of the volume: his outstanding analyses of the battles of Philippi and Actium.
on December 11, 2010
I feel that I should start with a quick disclaimer - I was thanked by Adrian in the front of the book, and had many chats with him whilst he was writing the book. But that's also why I feel happy to say that this is the best researched book on Antony - and of course Cleopatra - that I have ever read. He's dug deep in the sources and brought together a mass of material about Antony not seen anywhere else. He and Cleopatra are covered as their lives evolve, in parallel, and then he examines the famous relationship so beloved of Shakespeare and artists, that has captured our imagination over the centuries. And how many historians go to the trouble of trying to dissolve pearls, to try to replicate Cleopatra's famous bet?
Stacey Schiff biography may be getting the press coverage, but Goldsworthy's is the one that will stand the test of time. It reads well, but is also based on solid research. I cannot recommend it enough.
on November 7, 2010
Adrian Goldsworthy has done it again - an enjoyable,readable, authoritative account of the fascinating interplay between the personal and political colossi Anthony and Cleopatra. The book provides grounding on ancient Rome of the period and Ptolemaic Egypt.
I read many books on history, and this one stands out as highly entertaining as well as factual, providing many references, a glossary, maps and so on. I can't recommend this one enough.
on November 28, 2011
Goldsworthy has again proved that he can make the history of Rome come alive like no other current popularizer. Here, building on the phenomenal bio he wrote about Caesar, he covers the love story between one of his followers, Marc Antony, and a client queen, Cleopatra. It is a long enquiry into who they really were, what they actually did, and why.
Cleopatra was completely Greek, from a long line of foreign leaders who fashioned themselves as the sovereigns of Egypt. Known as the Ptolemies, their line was installed there in the wake of the death of Alexander the Great. Their court was notoriously treacherous and bloodthirsty, not only for outside rivals, but with eachother: though siblings routinely married each other to prevent civil war, they almost always ended up murdering brothers, sisters, even parents, in the bids for power over 200 years. Goldsworthy briefly covers their history and style, leading directly to Cleopatra VII of the title, who as a teenager was embroiled in a war with her bother (Ptolemy XIII) when Julius Caesar arrived in pursuit of Pompey.
According to Goldsworthy, she was a traditional despot trying to survive in a changing world. As a client or Rome, she knew the cards she had been dealt and played within those limits, more or less as a queen courtesan. She seduces Caesar and gains the upper hand in her civil war, entrenching herself in power for the next 20 years. Once Caesar is assassinated in Rome, she turns to Antony, the governor of Asia, to expand her power, again by seducing him and bearing children as acts of diplomacy.
For his part, Antony is a typical Roman aristocrat. Born to privilege and opportunity, he made the most of things: he expected his time in power, enjoyed all the luxuries, enriched himself by taking whatever he could with utter ruthlessness, and sought military glory as a way to advance his career. However, while courageous and able to inspire loyalty in his men, he lacked political instinct, was a poor general and probably an alcoholic. He learned little from experience, but may have loved Cleopatra (and she him). Their union was a political disaster from the beginning: in the eyes of his Roman supporters, Antony compounded his mistakes and was vulnerable to Octavian's propaganda campaign to portray him as un-Roman, lacking virtus, and styling himself as an oriental despot under the thumb of a woman. Even worse, in what should have been the prime years of his career, Antony proved himself an incompetent general in one of the great catastrophes of Roman history in Parthia. That effectively may have broken his spirit, making him even more dependent on Cleopatra for emotional support as a source of strength. The couple then lost in a new civil war with Octavian and commited suicide.
This is one of those books that I wish I had found as an undergraduate: it is concise yet compelling narrative, sticks to the point in a rigorous scholarly manner, and gives a clear idea of the wider context both in history and manners. It is a masterpiece that will not dissatisfy academics. Not for a single moment, in a week of delighted reading, did the book lose me with irrelevant detail, obscure arguments, or rigor for the sake of rigor.
on June 7, 2015
Okay, I can go on about this author, but others already have. The story of these political lovers doomed by their own wants is deep and timeless.
Written for a history channel today, they would've been transported to their mystical ancient alien mothership, but reality is a far more difficult taskmaster, isn't it?
on December 16, 2014
No one writes history as interestingly as Goldsworthy. I've read each of his books and he continues to consistently present history in a factual but entertaining way. Excellent insights into the strengths and weaknesses of Antony as well as a full scope background of the Roman Republic in upheaval. Cleopatra is presented as a, "ruler," intent on keeping Egypt intact and prospering under the Roman empire. A very well-written book.