Caesar: Let the Dice Fly (Masters of Rome, Book 5)

Caesar  - Colleen McCullough Caesar is the fifth in McCullough's Masters of Rome Series about the late Roman Republic which entranced me from the first book with its picture of a world surprisingly modern in some respects as well as truly alien as only the past can be. A lot of the appeal of this book and this series is her ability to crack the stodgy marble image we have of Romans, and that's epitomized in the book's subtitle: Let the Dice Fly! The more commonly known quote of what Caesar said when crossing the Rubicon and touching off a civil war was "the die is cast." But McCullough chooses another version from an ancient source saying: "'The die is cast' is gloomy and fatalistic. 'Let the dice fly high!' is a shrug, an admission that anything can happen. Caesar was not fatalistic. He was a risk taker." And that's McCullough's Caesar in a nutshell. I wasn't a fan of Caesar before reading this series, and I'm still somewhat resistant. My idea of him was formed by Shakespeare where Brutus and Cassius strove to save their republic from a tyrant. As a "small r" and "small d" republican and democrat, it's hard for me to allow myself to admire a dictator. McCullough's Caesar seems too good to be true and I believed she had Mary Renault syndrome. Renault obviously loved her Alexander the Great to the point of near worship. McCullough seemed in love with her Caesar from the minute he appeared in her series. Early on in this novel she even has Caesar inventing the book--stitching together rolls so he could read by turning pages. Ridiculous I thought! Except when I looked it up I found apparently there are credible sources for this--McCullough didn't make it up. I mentioned my near irritation about how unbelievably gifted Caesar is in these books to a friend who is a Classicist--she teaches Latin for a living. Her response? "Caesar is awesome." McCullough's picture of Caesar is of someone who didn't want to end the republic or become king, but wanted to strive to be the best among equals--only he had no equals--only jealous rivals. That does reconcile me to him a bit. And he's certainly fascinating enough to propel me through the 600 plus pages. And in this book we begin to glimpse the most famous aspects of the story of Julius Caesar. Marc Anthony, Brutus, Cato, Octavian the future Augustus are here. And the young Cleopatra appears towards the end of the book. So I'd say for me, at least, McCullough has succeeded in weaving a great spell for another book.