Monday, May 22, 2006

Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy

Independent Online Edition Review by Christopher Hart (excerpt): "Julius Caesar was great, if not good, acknowledges Goldsworthy in this definitive and entertaining new biography. Our definition of what constitutes 'good' nowadays being utterly different to that of the Romans anyway, and morality being rather more time-tied than we like to admit, arguments about any historical figure's goodness or badness tend to be fairly worthless. About Caesar's greatness, though, there can be no argument: charismatic, daring, brilliant, charming, a supreme political operator, a brilliant military tactician and improviser, a writer of admirable simplicity in an age of tiresome floridity. Oh, and if this counts as a sign of greatness too, a highly successful bedder of other men's wives.

His conquest of Gaul certainly resulted in the deaths of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, but brought along with it a 500-year Pax Romana with all its associated benefits of roads, bridges, baths, etc (see Monty Python's Life of Brian for further details). He was also famed for his mercifulness to his conquered enemies; responded to his own troops' rude songs about his bedroom antics with a cheerful and tolerant laugh; and you can't help warming to a man so upset about his receding hairline that he wore his laurel wreath on all possible occasions to hide it.

Goldsworthy is renowned as a military historian, but his coverage here of messy late Republican politics is also authoritative and crystal clear. He gives us a colourful sense of the wider world and Roman society at this time, and above all, the commanding, unmistakable presence of the timelessly fascinating man himself: a character of limitless energy and ambition, unscrupulousness and opportunism, combined with the saving graces of magnanimity, stoicism and humour."
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