Monday, October 25, 2010

Recent Reading

Things have been quiet on the blog lately, not for artistic reasons but because real life is intruding more than the ideal.  (Without burdening the casual reader with excessive detail, it is not the best time to be working in the UK public sector at the moment).

I have also been immersed in Adrian Goldsworthy's monumental biography Caesar, essential reading for anyone interested in the late Roman Republic.  Goldsworthy reviews the sources for the period to synthesise a fascinating account of Caesar's military and political career.  With a supporting cast as vivid as Pompey, Cicero, Crassus and Cato, it's hard to make this dull, and Goldsworthy seizes his opportunity.  I'd have regarded myself as a relatively well-informed general reader on the period, but I learned a huge amount from the book.

I found the political machinations more interesting than Caesar's military campaigns.  The difficulty in writing about the latter is that the only real source is Caesar's own Commentaries, which are simply propaganda written for the Roman Senate.  The various Gaulish tribes are never fully realised, being only legion-fodder for Caesar's conquests.

Caesar is a balanced assessment of Rome's most famous figure, and illuminates by showing him firmly in the context of his times and society.  I highly recommend the book, but make sure you have some time on your hands!

6 comments:

Matt Curran said...

Know the feeling, Tim.  The day-job is definitely intruding on the writing side of things - encroaching like an unwanted passenger on an already packed bus to the point it's sitting on my lap while I write.  Very distracting and annoying.  I guess I'm weathering the storm while at the same time looking at the opportunity of kicking the unwanted passenger off the bus.  Hasn't crossed my mind to get off that bus myself - I'm enjoying the writing far too much for it to be a secondary concern.  The day-job, on the other hand, is rapidly becoming too much of a hindrance.  I guess messrs Clegg, Cameron and Osborne are rubbing their hands with glee - annoy the workforce enough and they'll bail out!

C. N. Nevets said...

I was about to say that I hope real life steps aside for a while, but I'm not sure that's the best way to put it. I hope real life takes a turn to the less burdensome for you.

Thanks for the tip on the book, by the way. I might have to look into later. I've always found the layer of legend and propaganda around Caesar so thick that he ended up boring me. Sounds like this book might have moments of cutting through some of that and making things interesting.

Tim Stretton said...

Nevets, I have to say I'm finding both Republican and Imperial Rome increasingly interesting.

Caesar's Rome is undeniably appealing for a writer of my concerns--the elaborate political structures, the intrigues, the vivid characters of the elite. Caesar himself is recognisably an individual rather than an archetype in Goldsworthy's book: his career follows a well-worn Roman pattern right up until the civil war. Indeed, for most of his life he is overshadowed by Pompey.

If you need convincing as to the gripping drama the period can provide, the HBO series Rome is required viewing. The best TV show ever?

C. N. Nevets said...

I'll have to check out the HBO series. I've always had a keen interest in early republic, and there are a lot of compelling things about late republic and empire, but I have a hard time getting past the larger than life figures whose shadows always seem to obscure the most interesting bits.

If Caeser sheds his archetypal skin, then I will definitely need to get my hands on that book.

Tim Stretton said...

One of the best things about the HBO series is that it manages to humanise, and reinvigorate, characters who are excessively familiar to us. It comes with my highest recommendation!

C. N. Nevets said...

Sounds better all the time! I will definitely get my hands on it!