Friday, January 07, 2011

Book Review: Antony and Cleopatra

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Lee Fratantuono)

Adrian Goldsworthy, Antony and Cleopatra. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2010.

Adrian Goldsworthy is the author of an impressive stream of titles on Roman history that fall into the category of books that are sometimes unjustly disparaged as “popular.”1 I say “sometimes” because Goldsworthy’s topic is indeed one of the more popularized subjects in classics; the bibliography on Cleopatra is enormous, and it is rare for a year or two to go by without some new title on Egypt’s famous queen, many of them quite unsatisfactory or, at best, largely derivative of past work.2 Besides the market for Cleopatra books, there are her frequent appearances in film, television, and documentary.

It would almost seem that there is nothing new to say about her; insofar as there might be room for investigation, Antony’s career before he met her would seem to be the likely subject for a fresh examination of the evidence. Goldsworthy admirably succeeds in highlighting the “lost years” of Antony’s life, and in offering an appraisal of the extant sources on Cleopatra that provides much of interest both to students and scholars. Far from being a book that an expert on late Republican and early imperial Rome might dismiss as “popular,” Goldsworthy’s history should be considered essential reading for anyone interested in the rise of Octavian and the birth of the principate. Goldsworthy’s book is more history than biography, though the opening chapters imitate Plutarch’s parallel lives, as Antony’s Rome, Cleopatra’s Egypt, and the early lives of the famous pair are successively examined.

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