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Caesar: The Life of a Colossus (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Adrian Goldsworthy

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8281910,928 (4.22)49
Member:john257hopper
Title:Caesar: The Life of a Colossus
Authors:Adrian Goldsworthy
Info:Orion (2006), Hardcover, 576 pages
Collections:Your library, Borrowed Library Books
Rating:*****
Tags:@NOT OWNED, borrowed from Bexleyheath Library, history, Roman history, biography, Roman

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Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy (2006)

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This is not an easy book to write, the biography of Caesar. The man who died at the hands of many but whose life has been revived repeatedly by numerous pens and brushes. From Plutarch, to Suetonius, to Shakespeare, to Gérôme, to the Hollywood or TV studios, to the Asterix cartoons…, we have a whole array of possible accounts to choose the version that better suits our imagination. And that is of course without counting the image that emerges from his own Memoirs, the Comentarii, and possibly from a collection of poems by him.. (De Bello…)

Gaius Julius Caesar was a solid personality. He was a devoted son, a courageous soldier and astute commander. As a resourceful engineer he built bridges across the Rhine that held the footsteps of his soldiers but shook the minds of the Germanic tribes. He was a worthy husband but also expected a worthy wife, becoming a determined divorcee as his wife had to be above suspicion. Married or not, he was also a gallant philanderer who chose well, as his penchant for the women of other senators or his picking of a legendary beauty indicates. He was a loving father to his dear Julia even if he married her with political aims to someone twice her age. He had to know what was right for her as she did fall deeply in love with Pompey, her magnificent husband. His writing became the textbook of generals in posterity providing a tool for success for figures who further changed history, and we can think of Napoleon. His clemency was also notorious, and he seemed to have relished his power most, not in punishing but in forgiving. As a reformist politician, Caesar realized that if the Roman society had to change, the core revision had to involve land laws because everything else was founded there. His reforms also extended to the calendar. He synchronized it anew with the sun, in an almost perfect convention that lasted for about sixteen centuries. As a dictator he changed the concept of his position from the Roman elected nomination for a maximum of five years, to the fuller, more modern and more odious powers. And last but not least, he was the brave and unwilling prey of one of the most famous assassinations in history.

His death features as the main plot in Shakespeare’s tragedy which coined the essence of treason in the: “Et tu, Brute?”. This death even becomes the first chapter in [b:Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician|84593|Cicero The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician|Anthony Everitt|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320502320s/84593.jpg|81654], as if the orator’s life could only be understood in reference to the figure of Julius Caesar. And this death has inspired the palette of many visionaries of which my favorite is Jean-Léon Gérôme's:




If Julius Caesar was a solid man, Goldsworthy’s book is a solid biography. The author follows a very orderly chronological line, expanding, when necessary, with elucidatory explanations of social, political or military structures. I welcomed these because they help in abridging the gap of understanding that arises when traveling in one’s mind through historical times. Goldsworthy had to fill-in the knowledge holes and, probably more difficult, empty them of Hollywood debris.

Goldsworthy’s style is very clear and clean. One wonders if he may be have been smitten by Caesar´s own, who although writing at a time when Cicero was stripping the traditional oratory style of its grandiloquence, produced an even more factual and limpid style. The author remains somewhat detached and only in a few occasions does he venture to make comparisons with later military figures and draw judgments. His is certainly the account of a historian, keeping a neutral tone and evaluating what we know and admitting what we do not. He shows particular concern and wishes to wash away the pollution produced by popular culture.

Having to keep the same distance as Goldsworthy, one feels at times a bit too removed from such a rich personality. The reading at once awakens our desire to grasp fully this character so that we can admire or hate him, while keeping him removed and remote.

The cover chosen for most editions befits the content of this book: a stony and captivating view of Caesar’s face, but as a fragment.



This book has earned five solid stars.

But please note that I would give six stars to another version that suited my imagination beautifully -- the one by Goscinny and Uderzo in their Asterix saga.



( )
  KalliopeMuse | Apr 2, 2013 |
Eloquent and incredibly well-researched biography of a somewhat familiar historical figure. Provides an astonishing amount of new insights about this multifaceted and absorbing person. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 29, 2013 |
This is a fairly monumental life of Caesar, weighing in at over 500 pages of small text in hardback. It is extremely well researched and surely offers the most detailed and balanced assessment of the life of this political and military giant that we are ever likely to possess, given that, notwithstanding the fact that Republican Rome in the 1st century BC is one of the most documented eras of the pre-technological world, there is still much that we do not know about Caesar the man, particularly his early life and his ultimate motivations. I did get rather bogged down in the endless military manoeuvres, especially during the Gallic wars, and found this very hardgoing in places, but then descriptions of the actual fighting have always been my least favourite aspect of military history. Excellent biography. ( )
  john257hopper | Dec 26, 2012 |
What a complex figure...pardoning his enemies, sometimes more than once, yet clearly calculatedly ruthless when he had to be (by the way, is anybody ever ruthful?). Writing not only books to glorify his own deeds, but also texts on philosophy, poetry, plays, biographies, clearly he was one of history's most interesting characters. I wonder what the world would have been like had he lived longer and established a new Roman Republic.
  hmessing | Mar 30, 2012 |
In his introduction Goldsworthy says that, "Unlike those studying more recent history, ancient historians often have to make the best of limited and possibly unreliable sources, as well as balancing apparently contradictory accounts." In my opinion he does this very successfully in a readable book that doesn't try to present academic disputes.

The basic outlines are clear with one paragraph in the introduction opening with the sentence, "Ceasar was a great man", and another opening with the sentence, "Caesar was not a moral man....", the two sides of his character being amply illustrated throughout the 23 chapters. Goldsworthy gives cognisance to the fact that the 1st century B.C. Roman Republic were not moral times and that ancient history needs to be judged in its own context, for example Roman pride in "virtu" which could be expressed by conquering weak neighbours or the mass entertainment of gladiatorial combat. Ceasar was a famous philanderer of the aristocratic wives of Rome which caused him some obvious difficulties, and he could bribe his way through politics and ally himself with armed gangs as well as the best of them, finally breaking the Republic by crossing the Rubicon and imposing himself as dictator.

Militarily, he was as consistently successful as he had been with the Roman wives, conquering Gaul and eventually reaching the pinnacle of power that he had always sought through the defeat of Pompey, his only credible rival in wealth, political influence and armed might. He combined cunning with aggressiveness, succeeding in subduing Gaul in good measure by his clemency and willingness to grant Roman rights, and it is notable that his well designed legislation continued to proved its worth under the subsequent rule of Augustus.

I found this a very rewarding and recommendable book (much better than Tom Holland's "Rubicon"). ( )
  Miro | Aug 28, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300120486, Hardcover)

Tracing the extraordinary trajectory of the great Roman emperor’s life, Goldsworthy covers not only the great Roman emperor’s accomplishments as charismatic orator, conquering general, and powerful dictator but also lesser-known chapters during which he was high priest of an exotic cult, captive of pirates, seducer not only of Cleopatra but also of the wives of his two main political rivals, and rebel condemned by his own country. Ultimately, Goldsworthy realizes the full complexity of Caesar’s character and shows why his political and military leadership continues to resonate some two thousand years later.

In the introduction to his biography of the great Roman emperor, Adrian Goldsworthy writes, “Caesar was at times many things, including a fugitive, prisoner, rising politician, army leader, legal advocate, rebel, dictator . . . as well as husband, father, lover and adulterer.” In this landmark biography, Goldsworthy examines Caesar as military leader, all of these roles and places his subject firmly within the context of Roman society in the first century B.C.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:23 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Tracing the extraordinary trajectory of Caesar's life from birth through assassination, historian Goldsworthy covers not only Caesar's accomplishments as charismatic orator, conquering general, and powerful dictator, but also lesser-known chapters during which he was high priest of an exotic cult, captive of pirates, seducer not only of Cleopatra but also of the wives of his two main political rivals, and a rebel condemned by his own country. Goldsworthy realizes the full complexity of Caesar's character, places his subject firmly within the context of Roman society in the first century B.C., and shows why his political and military leadership continues to resonate some two thousand years later.--From publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Yale University Press

Two editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300120486, 0300126891

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