A National Book Award finalist for this epic work, Adrienne Mayor delivers a gripping account of Mithradates, the ruthless visionary who began to challenge Rome’s power in 120 B.C. Machiavelli praised his military genius. Kings coveted his secret elixir against poison. Poets celebrated his victories, intrigues, and panache. But until now, no one has told the full story of his incredible life.
©2010 Adrienne Mayor (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
A fascinating piece of Persian/Roman/Asia Minor history/biography. Mithradates makes almost every other challenger to the status quo seem inept, uncreative and not really committed. He isn't, however, a warrior king/leader you can completely admire. His methods for removing the Romans from Asia Minor were not even remotely reasonable ('Kill them all and let Zeus sort them out' wasn't tolerable even in 88 BC). However, his life was mythic. He was a brilliant linguist, military commander, scientist, and absolutely machismo to boot. He wasn't interested in playing a minor character on the world stage. He wanted to be a Darius or an Alexander the Great type of leader and for much of his life he was. The Romans were terrified of him. He fought them using terror, direct action (both naval and military), statecraft, and asymmetric warfare. He was rich, charismatic and ruthless.
The shortcoming of this book is one that would probably be the shortcoming of any historical biography of Mithradates: the lack of complete records. So much of Mithradates life is shrouded in rumor, speculation and second and third-hand sources. Those materials that exist are often biased because they were written by Romans. So Mayor is stuck, she can either try to sort out the fact from the fable and sometimes get a little loose with her narrative, or she can write a book that no one but Classical Historians would probably want to read. She chose readability, and the book was VERY readable, but it did come at a cost. The "what ifs and alternate endings and he might haves" get to be a little too much, or at least enough that I couldn't see giving this biography five stars.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is how well it is written. I think that's necessary in this case because not that much is known about Mithradates (and much of what is known comes from his Roman enemies), so the author has to try to fill in the details like a historical novelist. The author focuses quite heavily on Mithradates historical reputation as a poisoner and a concocter of antidotes. This leads to delightful details in the book such as poisonous honey from bees that drink rhododendron nectar.
I think it's useful to compare Mithradates to Cleopatra -- both Hellenistic-style monarchs who threatened Rome and therefore got trashed in (Roman) historical sources as weak, depraved, easterners who tried to conquer Rome through dishonorable, unmanly methods such as intrigue and poison (Cleopatra was reputed to be a poisoner as well). The author tries to right the balance a bit, but even she doesn't deny that Mithradates could be cruel and paranoid. You do have to look at the times -- being a "friend of Rome" was like being friends with a hungry lion -- sooner or later you end up on the menu anyway.
I agree that it helps to be into ancient history to enjoy this book -- there is a lot of recounting of internecine political intrigues and the marching of various armies around the eastern Med, but I think (hope) there is enough in here to appeal to a somewhat more casual reader as well. Think of it as Cleopatra, but with less sex (admittedly the biggest selling point) and more poisoning.
If only Jupiter would restore me those bygone years -Vergil :)
Truly interesting from beginning to end; I personally love gobbling up (any and all) information during this era. Mithridates is so interesting, I'm surprised this book has not come out sooner!
As a student of Greco-Roman history reference to Mithradates has popped up frequently from a variety of sources. That he was a "bogey man" to the Romans was hauntingly familiar to the USA's preoccupation with Osama Bin Laden. For the same reasons I am sure. Facts, historic events mixed with politics and license. Through war and mayhem on a grand scale civilizations and indeed individuals were in turn enriched and impoverished, or in other words, "made history". One must keep in mind that during these adventures millions of men, women and children were killed, injured and enslaved, and that the boundaries of the known world were increased and defined.
Not since reading "Funeral games" regarding the aftermath of the death of Alexander had I been so uniquely informed of the post Alexandrian politics of the near east. Mithradates life and times were fascinating. The author Adrienne Mayor continually alludes to the myth of Mithradates . The myth goes as follows. An individual of royal (elite) birth, born under an under an eastern star and destined by the gods to be the savior of the east(the light) from the tyranny of Rome (the dark). An old, old story. She did an excellent job of utilizing the historic biographic resources available. One criticism however was her annoying use of repetition of events and perceptions, as if the more times something was repeated the more significant to the total narrative it was meant to be. In fact, Mithradates was a tyrant, bent on conquering all of his Pontic neighbors and subjugating them to his will through any means possible. Mayor oft repeats stories of the fabulous wealth of Mithradates and suggests that his wealth came from the richness of his lands and his wise judgments in their utilization, all the while ignoring the fact that he lived off of the toil of the very people he proposed to be the savior of. Also, in his wars of acquisition and wars of defense against Rome perhaps more than a million of his people died.
As to the verity of the history of the wars, Adrienne Mayor describes the Roman legions as near perfect killing machines. An army that sliced through the myrid polyglot armies of the potentates of the near east like a knife through butter, regardless of the size of their enemy. This smacks of Roman revisionist history, a la Julius Caesar's gallic wars. But then of course, most of Mayors sources for this material were Romans or under Roman influence.
Reader Paul Hecht did a credible job with the material he had to work with. He did not, by tone or inflection, try to lead the listener toward a conclusion or point of view. He kept some of the "acting" out of the narrative that is the downfall of so many other readers. Well done Paul.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history and is a rousing adventure story as well.
I found the book informative and enjoyable. It was annoying that for all Mithradates skill, he just could not beat the Romans when it counted. Anyone who thinks the Romans are the good guys will be shocked by this book, they were violent scum of the highest order.
If you enjoy ancient history, you might enjoy this well research book about Mithradates. I had a hard time keeping the names of people, tribes, realms etc straight and of course I had never heard of Mithradates before,,, apparently everyone else in the world has :::sigh:::
Anyway, it is still a fascinating story and well worth the listen, but it is NOT for the faint of heart. The cruelty and brutally that was common in that time absolutely takes my breath away and not in a good way
I appreciate the effort to flesh out the story of Mithradates, a fascinating character. The book falls short on several points. There are long stretches devoted to speculation about Mithradates childhood and lifestyle in court. These passages take up a lot of air time for something that is unverifiable. In the meantime his descriptions of the battles, in particular of the third Mithradatic War are incomplete and don't give a clear picture. It also seems as though he is using some inflated numbers.
I also found the reader monotone and hard to listen to at times.
Overall the book is ok, it has good moments, the author does a good job of describing the political climate. It could have done with less speculation and more description of actual verifiable events.
There are very few audiobooks that can hold my attention the way this presentation did. I listen to each four hour section at one go; with a small break in the middle. The history flows and the story moves at such a furious pace that is hard to break away.
Adrienne Mayor delivers a history that dashes along like a best selling novel. The story is absolutely riveting. The biography has an arc that is cinematic, and in a good way. In the right hands I can see this history becoming a Hollywood blockbuster.
Granted some of the biography is speculative, a what if scenario. But Mayor always warns you when hard history ends and where speculation begins. Mayor is ever the helpful tour guide, and Counter-factual History does add depth to a history lacking in primary sources.
Mayor does an excellent job of dealing with the issues of Ancient History in general and how they deal with the subject of the book, Mithradates. The primary sources are lacking and what few have survived suffer from the biases of the Roman authors. Recasting these ancient histories for a modern audience is real minefield for any serious author. Mayor deftly navigates this mine field, and delivers a gem of a narrative for the lucky listener.
A word or two on the actual narration. Overall it is solid. It is a well delivered journeyman performance. The performer never gets carried away. He never laps into monotony either. He lets the story tell itself, getting out of the way of narrative as much as possible. Pacing is spot on. The actual presentation is buttoned down and pitched properly.
This audiobook is a triple threat, if you are lover of ancient history, this is your audiobook. If you are lover of biography, this is your audiobook. Finally if you are a lover of finely crafted literature, of the Novel, this is your audiobook. The audiobook has love, betrayal, murder most foul, slaughter, dark experiments, glittering riches and a central character many times lager than life. And its all true; it is story of real man who lived in a real time, and did real (sometimes awful) things. It is a worthy addition to any listeners collection.
This work does an excellent job of giving life and color to the life and world of Mithradates and regions which he travelled and ruled. Adrienne Mayor's descriptions of place, clothing, and customs were a clear kernel around which my mind's eye could build the scenes she described. She occasionally aids the reader by employing some speculative narration of an event or action where the historical record is absent or too muddled to trust. These speculations are always clearly noted and she uses the technique well. The life of Mithradates contains so many extraordinary, almost incredible, events as recorded by the ancients that she could be forgiven if she had indulged too much in these narratives, but she avoids doing so and the work is the more engaging for it.
There are many details: names, places, relationships, troop movements, and the like and to some these might seem a distraction but to me they were indispensable details that brought the many events over the long years of Mithradates life into a single astounding tableau. This is a fascinating life in a fascinating time and I enjoyed this book very much.
Paul Hecht's performance was similarly engaging and well paired to the subject matter and style.
A gripping and intrinsically interesting story line, enriched with an enjoyable spattering of broader contemporary facts and contexts aiding the further understanding of the classical world - and admittedly more distantly, today's Middle East /USA relationship. The parallel theme of "dirty War" technology in the ancient world alone justifies the read. In other words much more than just a biography of a fascinating ancient player!
Pass - some reminiscence of Hannibal biographies, but Hannibal's elephants are somewhat passé compared to the Author's treatment of ancient poisons and trickery
On reflection none in particular stand out more than any other - all were enjoyable
"Dirty War" ancient style
For most listeners this book may pretty well bully its way into your 'must read' recommendations - molto piacevole!
"Great book, probably not best suited for audio"
The story of Mithradates is truly legendary and encompasses some of the most turbulent times in the formation of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately this exciting and intriguing story is damaged by a slow, dull narration full of mis-pronunciations. If you are interested in this subject I would recommend buying the book and get the full use of maps, glossary and references.
"too much speculation but still a fine read"
too much speculation, however still an interesting and informative biography
Overall I would recomend this book because its subject matter (The Poison King of Ponthus) is little understood - outside of a narrow Roman perspective. However be careful of the author's habit to make up or speculate about facts that we don't have exact information for from the sources.
Hecht provides an interesting voice.
Despite it's faults, yes I would say this is a book that I found (very) hard to get away from and I almost did end up listning to it in one sitting
The first part of the biography is fillied with the author's own theories that mostly fall into the dangerous 'what if?' category...This is the same for the last few minutes or so of the book which sort of damages it's factual biographical nature. However everything else is laid out in fact with an overall sympathetic but not overly-flattering view of our main player - the King himself and his struggle against the Roman Republic.
"A significant life worth listening to"
Not that many people will have heard of Mithradates today, yet if you are interested in the late Roman Republic then he is a colossus of the period. Nothing if not energetic and colourful, this Anatolian king was one of Rome's most constant enemies who ranks with Hannibal in his potential threat to the Latin empire. His life-long fight with Rome is only half the story however, as his various scientific experiments - particularly poisons - and his unorthodox private life all combine to make this a life well worth knowing more about.
This was an interesting book that told the story well. Inevitably we know less about his life than we would like, and at times the book does wander into peripheral subjects or simply goes off at a tangent in order to fill the pages. However this is true of many ancient biographies, and there is plenty of actual facts and background information to paint a pretty vivid picture. The reader does a pretty good job if a little monotone, but I found the pace of the book was mostly good enough to keep me interested in the next twist and turn.
While not brilliant (hence only 4 stars) this recording is certainly worth listening to if this is your area of interest, and if the only figures from pre-Imperial Rome that you can name are Hannibal and Julius Caesar then you will certainly find this book enlightening, and a good story to boot.
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