I do love the histories and drama of the classical world. Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Graves and many others have mined this era for its achievements and tragedies. A strong sense of drama also sustains Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar: Life of a Colossus.
Shakespeare’s dictator is a mere wisp of the man in Goldsworthy’s captivating biography. Caesar was born in 100 B.C. (though almost certainly not through the medical procedure that bears his name) into patrician privilege and violent times.
Goldsworthy, an independent military historian with several books on the Roman army to his credit, puts Caesar’s war exploits on full display, along with his literary genius. Contemporaries immediately recognized the general’s “Commentaries on the Gallic War” as a masterpiece, and Goldsworthy compares their style to Churchill’s, even if “the modern reader may sometimes balk” at its “catalog of unabashed imperialism, massacre, mass execution and enslavement” in a province that included most of modern France. The result is an authoritative and exciting portrait not only of Caesar but of the complex society in which he lived.
Goldsworthy covers not only Caesars accomplishments as charismatic orator, conquering general, and powerful dictator but also lesser-known chapters during which he was high priest of an exotic cult, captive of pirates, seducer not only of Cleopatra but also of the wives of his two main political rivals, and rebel condemned by his own country. Ultimately, Goldsworthy realizes the full complexity of Caesar’s character and shows why his political and military leadership continues to resonate some two thousand years later.