What I am Reading
Posted November 20, 2006on:
My interest in Augustus Caesar was ignited by re-runs of HBO’s Rome on TMN. I am fascinated by the boy who handled figures like Cicero and Antony to eventually become emperor of Rome. Ancient Roman history, I am beginning to find, is an absolutely delicious offering of the kind of intrigue, violence, and ruthless political maneuvers that can make even the dryest history book succulent.
I tasted some of this before through Cicero. Julius Caesar does not cut quite as compelling a figure, a reaction which puzzles me. Antony is a mad man and I will no doubt get to him later. It is Octavian who currently absorbs. As you can see, I am drawn to prominent figures during the fall of the Republic.
The Architect of the Roman Empire by T.R. Holmes is the first book I acquired to read about Octavian’s rise to power. His writing style is brisk, straightforward and his annotations are extremely helpful; there are maps to help me follow the movements of the main players. He starts at the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination, establishing Antony’s, Dolabella’s and the tyrannicides’s–mainly Brutus and Cassius–positions. Octavian is brought in when he learns of his adopted father’s death from his mother Atia.
It is a real crime that these were not the sort of history texts we had in high school. I never realised that history could be an exciting topic until I entered university and was assigned real books.
Another book I considered was Tom Holland’s Rubicon because I spied it on the library shelves. A skim through the introduction revealed a dramatic opening that set off all alarm bells. Aha, the dreaded popular history book, I should have known; look at it’s bright red binding and excessively large dimensions. Further research proved my impressions correct. As a novice I prefer “dry” history tomes to “accessible” mainstream fare because I wish to be misled as little as is possible. The latter are known for over-simplifying and sacrificing accuracy for an easy-to-follow, melodramatic narrative. This period of ancient Rome is exciting enough without further embellishment.
Part of Rubicon‘s lure was that it dealt more with Gaius Julius Caesar, a historical figure I felt obliged to read about despite my minor indifference. To appease my conscience I signed out a slim volume titled Julius Caesar, a biography from the Teach Yourself History series. I hate biographies but this sucker is tiny and therefore a decent compromise between conscience and taste. (Afterall it is not a literary biography so there shall be no odious effort to make map the writer’s entire life on his/her oeuvre as if novels, stories, poems and plays are nothing but fucking artistic diaries. Puke. Uhh, but that is a rant for another time.)
Now, all I need is some fiction.