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Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough

Antony and Cleopatra (2007)

by Colleen McCullough

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The only reason I gave this book 2 stars instead of 1 is because the last third was fairly interesting.
The first third of this book could be done without! Goodness what a lot of wordy dribble - hard to follow - the "building" of characters never occurs, as such, there was no bye-in to feel any emotion as the story progressed.
The only other McCullough book I have read is "The Thorn Birds", which is a master-piece. I don't know if I will try any more of her work after ready Antony and Cleopatra. I wanted to feel emotion when characters died off but the whole story was presented in such a bland manner, I think a high school history book would be more engaging.
Don't waste your time or money! ( )
  PallanDavid | Feb 16, 2012 |
Please note: I purchased this book. The opinions in the review are my own. An expanded version of this review appears on my blog: http://faithljustice.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/book-review-anthony-and-cleopatra/

"Anthony and Cleopatra" is the last of seven novels, collectively called the Masters of Rome series, covering the end of the Roman Republic in all its twisted glory. The result of this herculean task, is a legacy of some of the best researched historical fiction of this time; meticulously covering politics, battles, people, religious rites, traditions, trade, architecture, etc. The best books of the series draw the reader in with fascinating characters, Machiavellian plots, and scintillating detail. The worst give the reader the sense of reading an entertaining history book. Which is not, necessarily, a bad thing. McCullough had intended to end the saga with "The October Horse," but avid fans prevailed and she concluded with this novel, which shows the final end of the Republic and beginning of Empire.

I found "Anthony and Cleopatra" to be one of the weaker books in the series, but still enjoyable. McCullough’s admiration for Caesar was evident in every book in which he appears. Now that he’s dead, she seems to have lost her inspiration. Octavian (Caesar’s heir and grand-nephew) is decidedly colder than Caesar, more cerebral; not good at battles, but superb at politics and manipulation. Agrippa, one of the more admirable and interesting characters, is his battle arm and sounding board; a loyal and shrewd friend who is popular with the people and the army. Although the book is titled Antony and Cleopatra, McCullough gives just as much ink to their rivals as to the titular characters. A good thing, because I knew less about their story.

Neither Antony, nor Cleopatra, come off well in this narrative. From early in the series Anthony is portrayed as brutish and limited; elevated only by his relationship with Caesar. In this story he is a depressive drunk, driven by his physical passions; an egoist with an over-inflated sense of entitlement and his own skills as a general. He’s easily manipulated by sycophants and beautiful women. Cleopatra is portrayed as the ultimate scheming Eastern monarch who uses her wealth and power to ensnare Antony with the sole purpose of using him to put her eldest son Caesarion (fathered by Caesar) on the throne of Rome; a throne which didn’t exist because Rome was still (in name) a republic. In this story, Cleopatra is robbed of any credit for her intelligence, political acumen, or many accomplishments as a ruler. Anything good is Caesar’s doing, anything wrong is hers. From pages 23-24 where we first meet Cleopatra:

"Chin on her hand, Cleopatra watched Caesarion as he bent over his wax tablets. Sosigenes at his right hand, supervising. Not that her son needed him; Caesarion was seldom wrong and never mistaken. The leaden weight of grief shifted in her chest, made her swallow painfully, to look at Caesar’s son was to look at Caesar, who at this age would have been Caesarion’s image: tall graceful, golden-haired, long bumpy nose, full humorous lips with delicate creases in their corners. Oh, Caesar, Caesar! How have I lived without you?…And always, she thought, I made the wrong decisions….Without Caesar to guide me, I proved myself a poor ruler."

McCullough tries to make up for the lack of suspense in this well-known story, by populating the book with dozens of secondary characters, exploring the twisted politics of all the various rulers, and providing wonderful and telling details that transport the reader to that faraway time and place. She is brilliant at showing us how people thought and acted in those times; their motivations, superstitions, the philosophy and culture that shaped their lives; and how different it was from our own. Unlike many novels of this time, the women don’t disappear. Not only Cleopatra, but Antony’s earlier wives come across as tough and shrewd. And where would Octavian be without his mate Livia or his sister Octavia? The misogyny of Roman men is a key element in the story and even blamed (to some extent) for the Antony’s downfall. Cleopatra was a female ruler with great power and wealth. Antony’s male Roman advisers resented her and ultimately defected. In the end, I wasn’t happy with the portrayal of Cleopatra, but McCullough’s version is well routed in the research and is true to her narrative.

In summary, I enjoyed the book, but not as much as the earlier ones. I have nothing but admiration for the McCullough’s accomplishment with this series, but some readers might find her writing tough going. For people who like a complicated story, multiple characters and meticulous details, I recommend the series. Reading from the beginning is best, but "Antony and Cleopatra" can stand on its own. If you want a more rounded take on Cleopatra, I’d recommend the biography" Cleopatra: a Life" by Stacy Schiff (reviewed here:http://faithljustice.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/book-review-cleopatra/)

The Masters of Rome series:

The First Man in Rome (1990); The rise of General Marius, (110–100 BC)
The Grass Crown (1991); Marius, Sulla and the Social War (97–86 BC)
Fortune’s Favorites (1993); Sulla’s dictatorship, Caesar’s youth (83–69 BC)
Caesar’s Women (1997); Caesar’ early politics in Rome (67–59 BC)
Caesar (1998); Caesar in Gaul and the Civil War (54–48 BC)
The October Horse (2002); Caesar in Egypt, his death and the Battle of Phillipi (48–41 BC)
Antony and Cleopatra (2007); The second triumvirate and end of the republic (41–27 BC) ( )
4 vote MarysGirl | May 1, 2011 |
Although I am usually intrigued by historical fiction, as it can make some dry history a bit more interesting by providing some colorful characters, I can't say that about this book. It seemed quite long and I felt, in need of editing. McCullough can usually be counted on to be accurate in her historical facts, but the book seemed too long. If the reader is going to lose interest, the story will never be told, no matter how factual it is. Cleopatra was interesting but Antony seemed rather blah and I was not drawn to either of them to find out what drew them to each other. I was expecting more of a love story but while there was a great deal of information, regarding military and ploitical facts that drove Cleopatra and Anthony to behave as they did, I didn't notice much that indicated a great love between them. ( )
  mmignano11 | Mar 28, 2011 |
Another Roman historical novel, but this one seems a bit tired – there doesn’t seem to be the same creative flair in the fiction side of the equation. It seems more like a recitation of the history, with the fictional characters made up simply to fill the gaps. The earlier novels in the Roman series were more deft. Read March 2008 ( )
1 vote mbmackay | Jul 25, 2009 |
I have enjoyed McCullogh's other novels set in ancient Rome, but this one was a disappointment. I was never drawn to either Anthony or Cleopatra. I stopped reading about one-third of the way through. ( )
  odkins | Jul 11, 2009 |
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For the unsinkable Anthony Cheetham

with love and enormous respect
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Quintus Dellius was not a warlike man, nor a warrior when in battle.
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Caesar is dead, and Rome is, again, divided.  Lepidus has retreated to Africa, while Antony rules the opulent East, and Octavian clims the West, the heart of Rome, as his domain.  Though this tense truce hold civil war at bay, Rome seems ripe for an emperor--a true Julian heir to lay claim to Caesar's legacy.  With the bearing of a hero, and the riches of the East at his disposal, Antony seems poised to take the prize.   Like a true warrior-king, he is a seasoned general whose lust for power burns alongside a passion for women, feasts, and Chian wine.   His rival, Octavian, seems a less convincing candidate: the slight, golden-haired boy is as controlled as Antony is impulsive.  Indeed, the two are matched only in ambition.

And though politics and war are decidely the provinces of men in ancient Rome, women are adept at using their wits and charms to gain influence outside their traditional sphere.  Cleopatra, the ruthless, golden-eyed queen, welcomes Antony to her court and her bed but keeps her heart well guarded.  A ruler first and a woman second, Cleopatra has but one desire: to place her child on his father's, Julius Caesar's, vacant throne.  Octavian, too, has a strong woman by his side: his exquisite wife, raven haired Livia Drusilla, who learns to wield quiet power to help her husband in his quest for ascendancy.   As the plot races toward its inevitable conclusion--with battles on land and sea--conspiracy and murder, love and politics become irrevocably entwined.  [adapted from the jacket]
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Passion, politics, love and death combine in a novel of the legendary love triangle between the three leaders of Rome: Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Octavian.

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