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Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough

Antony and Cleopatra (2007)

by Colleen McCullough

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Oh. My. Goodnes. What a slog! I never once had any compassion or connection to a single character in this story, least of all Antony or Cleopatra. The only sympathetic character was Octavia. And the dozens of name for each character! And sooooo many characters!

The story is filled with interesting historical detail, almost to distraction at times. This is my first novel by Colleen McCullough, and I don't know if I'll read another. ( )
  dkhiggin | Jun 26, 2015 |
In this breathtaking follow-up to The October Horse, Colleen McCullough turns her attention to the legendary romance of Antony and Cleopatra, and in this timeless tale of love, politics, and power, proves once again that she is the best historical novelist of our time.

Caesar is dead, and Rome is, again, divided. Lepidus has retreated to Africa, while Antony rules the opulent East, and Octavian claims the West, the heart of Rome, as his domain.... ( )
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  Tutter | Feb 27, 2015 |
Upon the completion of reading "Masters of Rome" I find myself mentally drained and sad. Sad for the tragic outcome of this once powerful nation, sad that the series is over, and drained from the non-stop reading of this 7 book classic. Alas, to complete this incredible journey of traveling through 100 of Rome’s most tumultuous years in history - 4,943 precious pages of absolute pure enjoyment.

Book 1 - "The First Man of Rome" started in 110 BC when Rome was a thriving republic with reasonably legitimate elections.... albeit the power was ultimately based on wealth and family name. And elections could be bought by bribery, blackmail or coercion. But there was a democratic process and balanced distribution of power. At the time, any of the famed leaders were looked upon as honorable statesman.

Unfortunately in the short 100 years of the "Masters of Rome" series, the Roman elite managed to cause several civil wars killing millions of their own citizens, and aggressively invade surrounding foreign lands causing mass destruction and confiscating foreign treasuries. They killed millions of innocent foreigners who were fighting back simply to protect their own freedom. And they send millions more (including women and children) into slavery - all in the name of preserving Roman glory and growing the empire. They were greedy bullies - heros and villains all at the same time.

The final book of the "Masters of Rome" series, "Antony and Cleopatra", covers fourteen years - from 41BC to 27 BC. As the book begins, the power of Rome is amiably split three ways between Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) who controls Egypt and everything east of Rome, Octavianus (Augustus Caesar) who controls Rome and everything west of Rome, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus who controls Africa. Sextus Pompey is the legal governor of Sicily where most of Rome’s grain is grown, but after he sells all the grain to the highest bidder (outside of Rome) for his own financial gain, Rome is left to starve.... which causes yet another civil war.

And the grand finale - Egypt goes to war against Rome. Mark Antony and Cleopatra try to take over Rome for Cleopatra’s son by Julius Caesar - the 14 year old Caesarion - to become the King of a Roman/Egyptian empire.

And here’s some food for thought. The Caesars all thought they had divine right to rule. Gaius Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar were both supposedly descendants of Romulus who’s mother was a Vestal Virgin impregnated by the God Mars. Much like Jesus - the Caesars were thought to be Gods. And Caesarion not only had the Caesar Roman God ancestry but Cleopatra’s divine heritage as well - holding the coveted title of Pharaoh of Egypt.

If this series had been pure fiction, it would have been discarded as grossly exaggerated, overly dramatic, and too ludicrous to ever be considered as a realistic story. Yet, it was all based on fact! Once again, truth is stranger than fiction. And I wish I could say at the end they all lived happily ever after.... that the end did justify the means, but we all know that didn’t happen. The persistent wars drained Rome of it’s wealth and irreplaceable man power and ultimately contributed significantly to the collapse of the Empire and the onset of the dark ages.

"Antony and Cleopatra" was the shortest book of the series. Perhaps that is why it seemed to end so quickly - the now familiar names rolling off my tongue, words dissolving in a blur, chapters whirling by, and the pages turning as though riffled by the wind. My only disappointment is that the series did not continue.

I would love to read Colleen McCullough’s interpretation of the birth of Christianity and the demise of the empire. It is with incredible insight that Colleen McCullough could write with such depth. She details so well the historical events that took place over 2000 years ago. Absolutely amazing! ( )
  LadyLo | Apr 23, 2014 |
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 |
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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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