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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Caesar: Life of a Colossus


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.

9 comments:

Retired English Teacher said...

I think you have convinced me to read this. The book really does sound fascinating.

Of course, as a tenth grade English teacher, I taught Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and was always surprised anew at how little my students knew of the man and the times. I guess we learned our history well when we took Latin back in day when it was still taught. I took Latin I and II. In Latin II, we focused on translating some of the works of Julius Caesar.

Anvilcloud said...

It sounds as though Goldsworthy rendered unto Caesar all that was hiw due. :)

Ms Sparrow said...

What a guy!

Our Neck of the Woods said...

Sounds really interesting!

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Thanks, I love your reviews. Inspired by some popular historical fiction I started reading some ancient history again. Sigh. Once upon a time, in a land far away, I could read Tacitus in Latin. Gone, gone, altogether gone! But I dug up an ancient Penguin Classic of Suetonius and started reading the Lives of the 12 Caesars. And then I got side tracked and then it was GARDEN TIME. Not much reading right now. I noticed our library has the Linclon book. One of these days. Waving fondly from the mud....

David Oliver said...

If the book is half as interesting as your blog about it, I won't be able to put it down.

Janie said...

Wow, this sounds right up Steve's alley. I need to get this book for him.

shooting star said...

interesting subject!!

http://www.myunfinishedlife.com

CailinMarie said...

this sounds like a good read. I read Stacy Schiff's "Cleopatra" and found it fascinating. I think my brother (a military history scholar) read Ceasar's Gallic Wars in college. One has to respect the writing of a book that is still considered relevant after such a long time.