December 22, 2007
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Greatest Story

No, not that one.

We've been watching John Milius' Rome, and as one thing leads to another my bedtime reading of late has been The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume X. The Augustan Age. S. A. Cook, F. E. Adcock, and M. P. Charlesworth, eds.

The used book world has become a lot more efficient since ALibris, AbeBooks, and Amazon got involved. But there are still spotty areas, and this is one: you can find copies everywhere from $40 to $300. Here's the Amazon listing.

It's easy to forget just how good the story of the Caesars is, or how well we still know all these people. When I was in college, I used to tell myself, "If I didn't have all these papers due next Tuesday, I'd sit down and read the CAH." But I never have. Volume X alone weighs in at 1000 pages. It's probably out of reach this month, too, but I can indulge in a few delicious chapters.

But what fun it all is, and how well we know all these people after so many centuries.

Cruel enough when roused, he soon returned to his usual good-nature; sometimes great in adversity, in prosperity he preferred luxury and amusement; straightforward and often loyal himself, he trusted others and was easily flattered and deceived. His worst trouble was women; they existed, he believed, for his pleasure, and they had given him ample reason for this belief.

This, of course, is Antony. And here's his second wife:

Had Antony been a different character, we might have seen a different Cleopatra— perhaps the friend of philosophers, perhaps the business woman who ran a wool-mill with her slave girls; as Antony loved pleasure, we see too much of the Cleopatra who, legend said, wrote a book on coiffures and cosmetics.

Two thousand years, and we know these people. Lots of these people: Cicero, Caesar, Cato, Pompey, Sextus Pompeius, Octavian, Octavia, Livia, Julia. Even what they looked like, more or less: there are dozens of people, maybe hundreds, who've seen enough of the statues that they'd have a decent shot at recognizing any of these people walking down the street, stopping at a hot dog stand.