Thursday, May 6, 2010

The People’s Dictator

A review of Luciano Canfora’s Julius Caesar: The Life and Times of the People’s Dictator (1999 original)
Translated by Marian Hill and Kevin Windle (2007)

(Rating:2 of 5)

This is not going to be a positive review. The problem is however; I really do not know whom to blame for it. This book was written and published in Italian, in 1999, and then translated into English in 2007. Since I do not speak Italian and do not have the original work even if I did, it is hard to pin down blame.

I think the forward was the best and most interesting part of the whole book. That part of the book is fascinating, dealing with how Caesar has been viewed over the thousands of years since he died by various individuals. The first thing the Canfora discusses is how Caesar’s reputation is dealt with through the propaganda of his heir, the Emperor Augustus. This is followed by how Caesar was viewed by the monarchs of the Early and High Middle Ages, and a whole section dedicated to how Napoleon Bonaparte viewed Caesar and himself by comparison. Although Caesar has fans throughout the ranks of the rulers, his reputation amongst republicans is not positive, to them Caesar is no hero.

After that, however, the book goes down hill very quickly. If one were to look at the table of contents, the book would seem very well organized. However, the narrative is clogged and that makes it extremely hard to follow. Often times the author interrupts what he is saying make some point about how Napoleon viewed something or another that Caesar did. For example, almost halfway though the book, at the end of part II, is a whole ‘debate’ about how brutal Caesar was while in Gaul. During which the author stops talking about Caesar’s life entirely and for a whole chapter just focus on how various historians have treated and focused on the conquests themselves. It would make an incredible article for some journal, but it completely interrupts the narrative of the book.

The book is not a total loss I did learn some interesting information that I did not know before. I was not, for example, very familiar with Sextus Caesar. The young Sextus Caesar was a young officer who was Caesar the Dictator’s young cousin. Canfora describes a relationship that is so close that had the young Sextus had lived it might have been he, not Gaius Octavius, to have been the heir and later champion.

In the end, I cannot really recommend the book. I am a lover history and I do have affection for the old Roman Empire, but this book is too choppy for me. This maybe an unfair assessment since it is, as I noted in the opening paragraph, a translation; it is however, not a translation I can strongly recommend.

{Video is a preview of the 2002 TNT movie about Julius Caesar not very accurate but a lot better then this book}

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