What’s There Not To Like About This Caesar?
What’s there not to like about Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar? First, it’s too long and his editor should have been a tad more liberal with the Delete button. A bit too much waffle as Goldsworthy debates the whys and wherefores of Caesar’s many decisions. Secondly, the writing style appeared to me dumbed down as if aimed at your average teen. My preference is for something more literary than the average novel. This is however about personal style and other readers may well like the book just the way it is.
Now that the “bad” stuff’s out of the way what about the good stuff? First, this is a terrific biography. It really is. You get more the measure of the MAN rather than the villain. Goldsworthy does a superb job of painting a picture of what it was like to grow up in pre-Augustan Rome as part of the aristocracy – the pressure to emulate one’s illustrious forebears, the necessity of preserving and enhancing one’s dignitas and auctoritas, the hunger for wealth and fame, the corruption to get elected, the race for high office from a young age, the treachery of politics and so on. By the end of the book you accept that Caesar was neither more ambitious nor more of a villain than the best of his contemporaries. He was just more successful and perhaps luckier at the game. He played his cards supremely well and his genius did the rest. There’s no doubt, of course, that the man was a genius.
The second thing I gelled with was the idea that there was nothing foreordained about Caesar’s rise to Dictator. Since I do not believe in God or Fate or Destiny this is more in keeping with my philosophy. That definitely made me a sympathetic reader and won me round to Caesar’s side. Like he (was supposed to have) said before he crossed the Rubicon, “The die is cast”. In other words, let the future take its course. That’s all we can do.
Next thing I liked was the attention given to Caesar’s near misses. He could have been executed by Sulla. He could have been killed in more than ten years of war. He could have been assassinated by his many well-connected mistresses. He could have been sidelined because of his epileptic fits. His closest generals could have mutinied and killed him. He had his share of war-time blunders. Yet, the man kept his nerve. He didn’t rush to the nearest Starbucks and sulk over a cup of coffee. He learnt from his mistakes, adjusted his strategy and moved on. True, he exploited people using intimidation, influence and money to coerce and cajole and he was also a gifted orator and had charisma in his arsenal. But then he wasn’t a prophet and you don’t get to heaven by playing for power.
Before this book I did not even know the man was a respected writer and wrote very highly regarded commentaries of his wars. Those I’ve since bought. All in all I much enjoyed reading Goldsworthy’s book. Am I in love with “Caesar”? You can say that, at least with the hero. With the man, who knows? Perhaps if I’d been one of his victorious soldiers I would have been. There’s something special about that Caesar.