The story of Antony and Cleopatra is one of love, but also one of politics, war and ambition. The actual events were intensely dramatic – hence the appeal to novelists, dramatists and screenwriters. Looking at the facts as far as we know or can confidently guess them only reinforces the drama. So does the acknowledgment of what we do not know, for many of the mysteries remain fascinating in themselves. A closer look at the truth exposes an episode of human history more remarkable than any invention. It may not be the story we expect, or even perhaps like to believe, but is one of lives lived intensely at a time when the world was changing profoundly.
Some of what I found surprised me, and – though this was less unexpected – there were vast differences to the popular impression of the story. If it was valuable to look at Caesar's career with a straightforward chronology, and to emphasise the human element in his own behaviour and that of his associates and opponents, it soon became clear that most other aspects of the period would benefit from the same approach.
This approach also is a very careful one; as the author writes, "There is much we simply do not know about both Antony and Cleopatra – and indeed most other figures from this period. The gaps should not be filled by confident assertions drawn from the author's own mental picture of Cleopatra as she ought to have been."
I like the new (revived?) practice of writing about Ancient history for the general reader. Adrian Goldsworthy is a master of this genre, and "Antony and Cleopatra" does not disappoint.
The author advises his readers that this is not a history of Ancient Rome and Egypt but a biography, and that he will only relate those events that are directly related to the lives of the protagonists. However, he creates enough of an historical and social background to give the general reader a good understanding of where we are – and maybe an increased interest in the Ancient world per se. … Mr. Goldsworthy's approach is very similar to the one he used in Caesar: Life of a Colossus.
The story of Antony and Cleopatra as portrayed here is no less fascinating than if they were the romantic characters their afterlife makes us believe. Mr. Goldsworthy's exhaustive examination of their lives and his easy writing style make them real life personae and fascinating characters. There is enough drama without the propaganda and the later inventions, from companionship, high living and pageantry to the final tragedy.
Readers might also be interested in N.S. Gill's review of the book.