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This is Goldsworthy’s most recent, most populist – note that the chapter about Lepidus being dropped from the Triumvirate is dubbed “and then there were two” – and (perhaps consequently) least interesting book to date. I’ve read all his works, aside from the shorter to-go editions, and I found this one lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Perhaps it’s because the couple in the title evoke a certain passion, and Goldsworthy sets out explicitly to squash everything that has been invented about the couple. This shouldn’t surprise me, because his standard approach is to return to the sources and cut through the flights of fancy and invented traditions that generally come with ancient history, from the Punic Wars to Caesar to Antony and Cleopatra. Still, it felt as though his heart wasn’t really in it.The narrative meanders a bit towards the end, almost as if Antony’s supposed lethargy had a sympathetic effect on the author. Goldsworthy wanted to make this book accessible to a larger audience, and this means that he doesn’t always have or take too much time to explain theories or backgrounds. This is traditionally one of his strengths, but this time he seems to have sacrificed it for pace. As anyone with any position of responsibility knows, you can’t please everyone, and I think that Goldsworthy tried to please too many people, in the end definitely not pleasing me. Perhaps the sales-figures have justified this approach (or will), but I can’t help but wonder.As for the book itself, it’s not a bad book. It faithfully tracks the lives of Antony and Cleopatra, starting with their ancestors (Antony’s grandfather, and Ptolemy I for Cleopatra). This part of the book is still quite good, and I found the introduction to the Ptolemies and Ptolemaic Egypt particularly insightful.* It was also thoroughly confusing, considering their incestuous dynastic policy. Goldsworthy always takes pleasure from debunking invented traditions, and this book is no exception. He takes the time to point out that the Ptolemies were Greeks from a Greek tradition, and that we do not know what Cleopatra really looked like. Another point he repeatedly makes is that Cleopatra was utterly dependent upon Roman backing, which is why she attached herself to Caesar and Antony. Augustan propaganda has muddied the waters insofar as it served Octavian to paint a picture of Antony as held in thrall by an alien female monarch (three words to send any Roman aristocrat into apoplexy), and Antony himself did not help himself with his increasingly erratic behavior. Furthermore, Goldsworthy points out that luck and opportunity played a part in Antony’s career (for instance he happened to be consul, i.e. in power, when Caesar was murdered) which helped to obscure the fact that he was not as capable as he would like to present himself. Antony seems to have dropped the ball after the disastrous campaign against Parthia, in a way that is hard to explain without giving the impression of lethargy.In the end, this is a reasonable retelling of a famous episode from ancient history. Goldsworthy is definitely capable, and this book is not bad. However, I don’t think it’s particularly engaging either, which is a pity.* If you who read this review know of a good book on this subject, feel free to let me know.

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