At the start of the book, Goldsworthy acknowledges that a firm image of Augustus hasn't stayed in the public consciousness despite his colossal influence on the Western world. Partly this is down to poor record keeping - by comparison Julius Caesar can be reliably portrayed as a logical, methodical and charismatic military man and ruler based on his own surviving books. Then as now, these works please and entertain the people interested in them.
With Augustus things aren't as clear-cut - at the start of the book, Goldsworthy briefly runs through various contrasting fictional portrayals of Augustus, including his appearance in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, the 1963 Hollywood classic Cleopatra, and of course the 1976 drama I, Claudius. He concludes by saying his image is treated with wild contrast; he's variously a wimpy master of realpolitik slinking away from confrontation, or a loud hapless man outwitted by his manipulative wife.
Probably the best quality of the book is its uniting of all the sources into one, convincing narration of Augustus' life - something that hadn't been done before. Though a truly accurate account is impossible, the author makes a pretty good go of it.
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