Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Book Review: Immortal Caesar

Patricia Hunter’s “Immortal Caesar” is well researched and provides a “human side” to one of the most famous figures in world history. Caesar is portrayed as an intellectually and physically mesmerizing man whose charisma attracted both men and women to his political causes and produced support for his personal ambitions. I also appreciated Hunter’s view of Caesar as an ardent lover but one who refrained from salubrious expressions of affection to the women in his life.

Of course I enjoyed Colleen McCullough’s latest novel about Caesar’s final years, “The October Horse”, but found her dialogue between Caesar and Cleopatra repeatedly sprinkled with “darling” somewhat a bit out of place in the mental image of an astute and articulate Caesar I had formed over the years reading her entire “Masters of Rome” series of novels as well as a number of the ancient sources.

My primary regret was that Hunter’s novel was short. I would have appreciated much more detail about Alesia and Caesar’s personal interaction with the Gauls (men and women – McCullough hinted at a relationship with a Gallic woman that resulted in a son), Caesar’s thoughts and actions during the battle of Miletus, his first major military engagement, and his personal interaction with Octavian.

McCullough portrayed the relationship between Caesar and Octavian so sympathetically that I actually developed a more positive viewpoint towards Caesar’s heir, at least until he allowed Lucius Caesar to be proscribed. So I would have been interested in another perspective.

Hunter also shares my speculation that Caesar’s seizures were caused by a head wound sustained at Munda rather than lifelong epilepsy, although McCullough’s suggestion of a condition resembling hypoglycemia was certainly plausible as well. The ancient sources do not mention this condition until later in his life.

I also liked Hunter’s casting of the relationship between Caesar and Calpurnia, much more so than the soap opera overtones of “I can’t live with you as husband and wife” that marked the end of the romance in the recent “Julius Caesar” miniseries on TNT Network. The affair with Cleopatra was just one of many over his lifetime and Calpurnia was well aware of Caesar’s notoriety with other women when she agreed to marry him. I think she would have accepted the situation as a matter of course, just as Hunter envisioned it.

“Immortal Caesar” is interesting, factual, and fast paced -- a good effort for a first novel.
Post a Comment