BARRY STRAUSS: Caesar's one of the most remarkable people in history. He was a great general, a great statesman, a great writer, a man of superb political instincts, a man of endless charm and wit, but also a man who had the talent and, perhaps, the curse of seeing what was wrong with Roman society and knowing how to change it. And in doing so, he made many enemies.
He'd also reached a point in his life where he felt that he deserved to enjoy some of his success, to become dictator for life, to behave in ways that made some people think that he wanted to be a King. He felt he deserved it. And yet these very things were the things that brought him down.
The book is about the assassination of Julius Caesar. It's about Caesar himself. It's about the men who killed him. It's about the women who inspired them.
It's about how they did it, why they did it, how they managed to pull it off, and why it all went sour for them. And in the end, they failed to save the Republic.
This book will appeal to a wide audience because what I do in it is I humanize the characters. I take them out of history. And by using their own letters and their own words, I make them real people, characters who we might meet today. And I give you a sense of their motivation.
And one of the things that few people know about this story because it's not in Shakespeare is that Cleopatra was there. She was in Rome at the time. She was the queen of Egypt. She was visiting on a diplomatic mission.
But she was also Caesar's mistress and the mother of their illegitimate son, named Little Caesar. And she was installed in Caesar's villa right outside the city, right across the Tiber River. And to a lot of people in Rome, not just to Caesar's wife, this was a subject of discontent because it suggested that this guy who had the queen of Egypt as his mistress and who had her right there in Rome, that he really wanted to be the King.
Another of the famous characters in the story is Antony. And we all think of Antony and Cleopatra. And indeed, in later years, Antony and Cleopatra are one of history's great power couples. But in this period, there's another woman who is number one in Antony's life, and that is his wife, Fulvia.
Fulvia is a great political player in her own right, a brilliant woman. And it's almost certainly Fulvia who gives Antony the idea of how to behave at Caesar's funeral. She inspires Antony to take the famous moves that change his career and change the course of history.
The questions that faced Caesar still face us today. They're the questions about how you bring change to a society that is resistant. How do you persuade people that change is necessary?
And how do you move those people who you can't quite persuade? How can you be an innovative leader without being a dictator? How can you be a reformer without being a tyrant? And how can you bring everybody on-board without generating so much resistance that the whole thing fails.
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Barry Strauss, chair of Cornell's Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences, discusses his new book, "The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination."