Cleopatra and Antony
Diana Preston’s book examines the dying gasps of the Roman Republic through the lives of four protagonists: Cleopatra, Antony, Julius Caesar and the future emperor, Octavian. She illuminates 1st century BC political complexities, from the dangerous power vacuum created by Caesar’s assassination; to the dynastic struggles of the Ptolemies (Cleopatra’s father murdered his daughter Berenike; Cleopatra poisoned her brother), and the incursions of war-like Parthians which threatened both Egypt and Rome.
I learnt much from this book. For example, I hadn’t known that Cleopatra was in Rome, as Caesar’s guest, at the time of his murder – and had been there for some time, together with their son, Caesarion.
The writing is informal and frequently borrows from fictional techniques: chapters ending on mini cliff-hangers, e.g. It was an ominous clearing of the decks; invention: e.g. a barber who was no doubt coaxing Caesar’s remaining strands of hair into the most becoming position; and distinctly slangy words like glitz.
Some may feel that this approach lacks academic rigour but it certainly makes for lively, accessible reading. I enjoyed it.