Interview with Adrian Goldsworthy
Adrian Goldsworthy is a British historian and military writer. Goldsworthy went to college in Westbourne School, Penarth. Later, after studying ancient and modern history at St John's College, Oxford, he completed a D.Phil in ancient military history from Oxford University. Goldsworthy is the author of such works as The Complete Roman Army, In The Name of Rome and recently Antony and Cleopatra.
Philip Matyszak aka "Maty": Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Antony and Cleopatra is a very substantial book, and perhaps the first question to ask is why you decided to tell the story in the first place. So, why Antony and Cleopatra?
Adrian Goldsworthy, aka "Adrian": Firstly because the history of Antony and Cleopatra continues the story which I finished in Caesar: Life of a Colossus. So in a way, this was a logical next step. What drew me to this story was the same thing as I found so interesting about Caesar. I wanted to see how much of the story stood up to close examination, and while I was doing that I could understand more about the two of them [Antony and Cleopatra] and the dramatic changes that were happening in their world.
Maty: What aspect of the book has proven the most controversial?
Adrian: My portrayal of Mark Antony. He's generally believed to be the swaggering, gallant soldier. Certainly that is how he liked to portray himself, and Shakespeare, for one, took the propaganda at face value. In fact, Antony had little experience of war before Caesar was assassinated, and had to learn campaigning the hard way in the civil wars and afterwards. Antony was consul when Caesar was murdered, and he and Caesar's assassins were equally ruthless.
Maty: One gets the impression you do not like Mark Antony much.
Adrian: It's hard to like almost anyone in this period. But though Caesar and Pompey were in many ways just as unloveable, at least they had agendas. They had plans for themselves and for Rome. Antony appears simply to want power for its own sake, and the way he goes about getting it makes him one thug among many. As Cicero points out, he is a man with few redeeming features.
Maty: What about Cleopatra?
Adrian: There aren't really any heroes at this point. Roman society had completely broken down and the empire was tearing itself apart. Everyone was in deep trouble, and looked to their own interests.
Despite popular opinion, Cleopatra did not make Egypt prosperous. She did not get the chance, because she had constantly to screw money from her country to buy the support of Rome. A good part of the story is about how Cleopatra coped with the desperate situation she found herself in, but her role was not particularly heroic. Despite this, some people desperately want to like Cleopatra, and they impose their own version of her on the historical facts. They like the idea of a strong woman in these times. Others are taken with the whole 'Siren of the Nile' story, and forget that Cleopatra died in her late thirties – which means that by contemporary standards she certainly was not a young woman.
Maty: So what has been the reaction to your portrayal of Cleopatra?
Adrian: Definitely mixed. Some like this more historically accurate portrayal. Others are clearly disappointed. They like the idea of Cleopatra as a powerful role model, and are reluctant to accept anything that detracts from her iconic status.
Maty: So what lessons can we draw from this history for today?
Adrian: Well, this book is intended above all to tell what is a very good story. If there is a lesson, it is in the political aspect. The world was dominated by one state. Cleopatra does not want to stand up to that state. She desperately wants the Romans to like her, but she is forced to take a side when the Romans keep killing each other. When the nearby superpower goes into dramatic and violent decline, smaller nations get drawn in. There may be something to learn from this.
Maty: And a final question: are you a romantic?
Adrian: (laughs) Oh, I think so. I wouldn't study ancient history otherwise. Probably most of those who are interested in the subject are romantics to some degree. And with Antony and Cleopatra there is a love story there. Each of these two people was the most important person in the world to the other. But we have to accept what the evidence says, whether we like it or not. And the evidence tells us that both Antony and Cleopatra were intensely political animals above all else. Whatever their feelings, if the political situation called for it, each of them would have sacrificed the other, and done it in a heartbeat.
Maty: Dr Goldsworthy, thank you.
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