That does not stop Mayor from having an entire chapter written in novel level of detail including whispering to his trusted friend, his reasons for leaving his brother at home, even the route he took and the a description of his horses, packs and dogs. All of this for journey that it is not even known happened. He puts in phrases like "perhaps" "would have wanted to" "like other travelers of that time.
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We moved your item s to Saved for Later. There was a problem with saving your item s for later. You can go to cart and save for later there. Average rating: 3. Adrienne Mayor. Walmart Tell us if something is incorrect. Book Format: Choose an option. Add to Cart. Product Highlights A new account of one of Rome's most relentless but least understood foes. About This Item We aim to show you accurate product information. Manufacturers, suppliers and others provide what you see here, and we have not verified it.
See our disclaimer. Specifications Publisher Princeton University Press. Customer Reviews. See all reviews. Write a review. Most Helpful Review. Average rating: 5 out of 5 stars, based on reviews. See more. Average rating: 5 out of 5 stars, based on 0 reviews. GlennBell, October 20, Written by a customer while visiting librarything.
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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 a classical historian would 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 or four stars. View all 8 comments. Jan 04, Matt rated it it was ok Shelves: ancient-history. Of all historic topics, ancient history holds my interest the least.
The things I know about the ancient world could fit comfortably in the chest pocket of a pair of overalls. They also fit comfortably in my head, along with all the other neat stuff I got going on in there. Most of what I know about Rome I learned from the movies. But he was crucified along with all his men, and only Jean Of all historic topics, ancient history holds my interest the least.
But he was crucified along with all his men, and only Jean Simmons not that Gene Simmons survived. There ends most of my knowledge of the glory that was Rome. The books I have read about Roman history are mostly told from the point of view of Rome's enemies. Thus, I've read about Spartacus and his slave revolt, and about Hannibal crossing the Alps and winning his stunning victory at Cannae. These are the kinds of stories that appeal, I suppose, to most red-blooded Americans: the story of a rag-tag band of freedom-fighters attempting to defeat a colonial oppressor.
In other words, those stories remind us a little bit of us. He claimed to have descended from Alexander the Great, fought a number of wars against Rome, tried to create a universal antidote to poison, and eventually committed suicide upon his ultimate defeat. His great distinction, as far as I can tell, is in having a kickass nickname. Unfortunately, this was not the book to start my potential lifelong passion for ancient history. Despite some laudatory reviews, I was disappointed with The Poison King.
Part of this, I admit, stems from my sneaking suspicion that we just don't know what the heck happened back in those days before Christ. So much of our knowledge is based on the kind of hearsay that would be laughed out of any court in the land; even a court comprised entirely of kangaroos; even if those kangaroos were wearing wigs and black robes. Time and again when you read about these olden times, you discover that the source is a person who wrote down something based on what someone else wrote down based on what someone else wrote down.
In other words, we don't really know who the direct eyewitness was to these events, or if one even exists. Maybe Thucydides was duped by an Anatolian prankster who concocted the tales of the Mithridatic Wars after a hot afternoon of wine-drinking and sheep-licking. Adrienne Mayor is aware of these gaps, and she tries to stuff them with other evidence, such as the inscriptions on old statues, or the engraving on old coins.
When that fails, though, she is left to her suppositions. These suppositions make up the bulk of the book. During the narrative sections, there are a lot of modifiers to the language. Since Mayor doesn't know what Mithradates was doing during most of his life, she simply guesses. Accordingly, you see a lot of phrases that cause historians to shudder, such as "may have", "one senses", "we can assume" and - this is the worst - "almost certainly.
And certainly, Mayor is well-educated. The problem is that the structure of The Poison King is shoddy. The book starts with a massacre of Roman citizens in 88 BC that may have been orchestrated by Mithradates, goes back in time to cover the uncertain time-period of his birth and early life, and lurches forward with a gap-ridden description of his rise to power.
His father was murdered, possibly by his mother, and Mithradates was exiled; he later returned to murder his mother and take the throne. The known-history and the reasonably-guessed-at-history do not fit together well. The result is book that seems mostly filler, like bread made of flour and sawdust.
I sensed a lot of padding in The Poison King. She is obsessed with the notion of poisoning, and does not pass up the opportunity to speculate on how Mithradates killed his scheming mother: Arsenic…was almost certainly the secret ingredient. Colorless, odorless, flavorless, arsenic could be added to any drink or dish.
Mithradates knew that just sixty parts per million, or less than a tenth of an ounce, would be deadly in a goblet of rose-perfumed water or red wine…Mithradates, recalling the paradox of poisonous honey, savors the irony of creating a bittersweet treat. He stirs the arsenic powder into a pot of honey and drizzles it over the syrupy-sweet cakes…After dessert, the guests withdraw to admire the sunset. Within half an hour, the queen and her son sense a faint, metallic taste on their tongues.
The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy by Adrienne Mayor
Beads of sweat glisten on their clammy brows as they become aware of impending nausea and stomach cramps. Saliva fills their mouths, but it is impossible to swallow. Their eyes take on an uncanny reddish sparkle. Suddenly the royal pair begin clawing at their throats, drooling and moaning.
The difficulty in any biography is capturing the essence of a human life with the written word. Mayor has a tougher task, since a couple thousand years separate her from the bearded whack-job she decided to write about. We never really learn anything about the man: what he thought, or felt, or believed. The only thing Mayor tells us is that Mithradates spent a lot of time poisoning himself in small doses, sort of like Westley from The Princess Bride. Here, I can only speculate that he was preparing to beat Pompey in a battle of wits, much as Westley defeated Vizzini.
Mayor neglects to prove that Mithradates was a great general, an inspiring leader, a threat to the Roman republic. Deadlier than Hannibal, who crossed the Alps and invaded Italy proper? Hannibal, whose double envelopment at Cannae is still drooled over by military professionals? When Mayor steps away from listing poisons long enough to describe a few battles, they are all crushing defeats. He lost his kingdom, lost his armies, and resorted to mercy-killing his remaining family.
In other words, he was a lot of talk and a beard.
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This is, simply put, a weird book. It was clunky, scattershot, and surprisingly slow-moving for a story that includes a prisoner executed by having molten gold poured down his throat. Probably where George R. Martin got that scene for A Game of Thrones! There is an entire chapter speculating that its subject actually survived his own death. At one point, Mayor even includes a screenshot from a videogame to illustrate the concept of sea warfare. I didn't like your book.
Get over it. If you want to discuss the merits of the book, let's discuss. If you want to tell me to shut up, let me save you the time: I won't. View all 4 comments. When Adrienne Mayor remains within the limits of her sources both literary and archaeological , The Poison King is a solid, readable biography of a now little-known figure of the Ancient world. Unfortunately, she allows herself some wild flights of fancy better suited for a historical novel and neglects any serious analysis of the reign of Mithradates VI of Pontus, the last serious foe of Roman hegemony in what would become the eastern half of the empire.
And it is a fascinating story without ne When Adrienne Mayor remains within the limits of her sources both literary and archaeological , The Poison King is a solid, readable biography of a now little-known figure of the Ancient world. And it is a fascinating story without need for embellishments: In 88 BC, Mithradates directly controlled or dominated much of what would become provinces of the Roman Empire except for Egypt, and could even claim to have overawed the Scythians and Sarmatians — horse nomads who had cowed both Cyrus of Persia and Alexander of Macedon.
By contrast, the late Roman Republic was a failed state. Its constitution — admired throughout the civilized world — had fallen prey to the private interests of men like Marius and Sulla and a host of lesser satellites like Pompey and Lucullus, causing endemic civil war.
In Spain, Sertorius would soon be raising a revolt; in Africa, Marius and Sulla had recently put down Jugurtha; and in Italy, the Social War had finally been brought to a close. There appeared to be no better time for a successor to Alexander to overthrow the Roman tyrants.
Military History Book Review: The Poison King
Mithradates was that man, if anyone was. He was born around BC to parents who could trace their lines back to Cyrus and Alexander. Sometime before , Mithradates removed his mother and her favorite and assumed full control over Pontus. True to form, it was Roman rapacity that provided a proximate cause to justify the First Mithradatic War. Manius Aquillius led an illegal i. As I mentioned, when Mayor sticks to sources she presents a readable account of this interesting period and man. He had the intelligence, the energy and the resources to do so.
Recommended with reservations. The computer image probably has fewer anachronisms as we live in an era that likes verisimilitude. View all 6 comments. Feb 25, Kyle rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction. There are very few books on Mithridates, and even fewer dedicated biograpies; in fact, The Poison King is the only one written in over a century, which was part of the reason I was so excited to read it.
Unfortunately, the book failed to contribute too much more to the literature of the ancient Near-East; this might not have disappointed me too much, except for the length of the book, which was not brimming with unique historical insights but instead brimming with Adrienne Mayor's Mithradates fa There are very few books on Mithridates, and even fewer dedicated biograpies; in fact, The Poison King is the only one written in over a century, which was part of the reason I was so excited to read it.
- The Poison King by Adrienne Mayor.
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- The Poison King.
Unfortunately, the book failed to contribute too much more to the literature of the ancient Near-East; this might not have disappointed me too much, except for the length of the book, which was not brimming with unique historical insights but instead brimming with Adrienne Mayor's Mithradates fangirl speculations and musings. Don't get me wrong, as Mayor obviously put in a lot of historical research and the actual historical analysis that is in the book is perfectly fine; the disappointing part was that huge swathes of the book were not actually historical analysis or often even exposition.
Mithridates VI, was the king of Pontus a little kingdom in what is today Northern Turkey during the final expansions of the Roman Republic, and built Pontus into a Near-East powerhouse with the intent of challenging Rome's growing power. Unlike many of Rome's other famous enemies Mithradates actually represented a very real threat to Roman power, and The Roman Republic's only serious rival in the Mediterranean.
The allure of course, is that much of Mithridates's character is behind the veil of fiction and propaganda; as the title The Poison King suggests, Mithridates had a history with experimentation with poisons and searching for antidotes. Adriennne Mayor's book however, seems to represent Mayor's own struggle between recognizing fact and being drawn towards legend; The Poison King almost feels like two books blended together in one: the first being a well researched and clear historical monograph from a rare non-Roman perspective, the second being a historical fiction novel that Mayor desperately wants to be true.
Again, don't get me wrong, Adrienne Mayor is not trying to pass off fiction as fact in the book at least, not intentionally ; she notifies the reader of fact-fiction discontinuities by prefacing sections with "One can imagine Mithradates riding on his horse and [saying X to his friend Y] This either angers history purists who think shame on her for presenting speculation as history, or this leads people who don't know any better to think she may be actually presenting history. I personally don't think she is trying to misrepresent fact, nor do I think she is intentionally trying to allow her own imagination to take over her book.
However, I do think she often runs the danger of both of those things throughout much of this book, and it makes the book less clear than it should be. She chose to present Mithradates or Mithridates because, frankly, he's simply a very interesting character. He's one of my favorite ancient figures up there along with Alcibiades. However, Mayor's own personal admiration for Mithradates gets in the way of her writing a professional expository non-fiction.
This issue is perhaps even compounded by the fact that she is actually a very good fiction writer! Her little musings and tangent-style speculations about the personal life of Mithridates actually makes for engaging reading; I just really wish she would have put those into a historical fiction novel. It would have made for an engaging yarn. I've read some of Adrienne Mayor's other work and articles she's written, and I know she is capable of good historical work; however, she does seem to occasionally have the problem of getting carried away with the story aspect of history, rather than the evidence and interpretation aspect of history.
Time for my own biases to come forth now Again, my biases. Meaning, what I'm about to say will likely be unfair, possibly narrow-minded, and not based upon observable evidence : Adrienne Mayor is employed by Stanford as a research scholar. Yet, as far as I know she holds no graduate degree in anything, let alone the field she is studying. Assuming that is true, Stanford is obviously okay with that fact; however, I can't help but wonder if going through the dissertation process would be a big help to Mrs.
Being constantly challenged by peers and mentors, having to defend propositions in an open forum, painstakingly making sure each fact is backed up with evidence, each reference properly cited Having to publish papers through a peer review process might work out some of the criticisms a popular audience book like this faces.
Adrienne Mayor's book is the first biography of Mithradates in over a century; is it because there is so much more new information we know now that has been recently discovered and allows a publication of this book now? Was Adrienne Mayor simply the first write it?
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Or, is it because what little we do know of Mithradates is so wrapped up in propaganda and legend that the attempt to write a historical biography of him never passed the publication standards of other historians? View 2 comments. Jul 29, Jane rated it really liked it Shelves: library , nonfiction , biography , ancient-rome , reviewed. Very complete, detailed and readable biography of Mithradates, King of Pontus, during the time of the Roman Republic. The book covers from his boyhood until his death in his 70s, still a fighter till the last.
Raised among court intrigue: Persian and Greek, he early on began a lifelong study of poisons and their antidotes, testing them on criminals and each day of his life ingesting a bit, to render himself immune to their effects. He supposedly came up with a theriac [also called Mithridatium ], Very complete, detailed and readable biography of Mithradates, King of Pontus, during the time of the Roman Republic. He supposedly came up with a theriac [also called Mithridatium ], a universal antidote; the formula for that has been lost.
So far there has been no comprehensive biography of this man who led an amazing life: expansion from Pontus into a Black Sea Empire, and three wars attempting to ward off Romans and subjugation to them. Successful at first against Aquillius, Sulla and Lucullus, he finally succumbed to Pompey. His life was a series of highs and lows, victories and defeats, betrayals and loyalties. Cicero called him "the greatest king since Alexander. The man was also a lover of the arts and a polyglot, so he was not ONLY a warrior. My only quibble was the amount of speculation: "perhaps", "it could have been this way But this work seemed well researched as far as it went, with incomplete primary sources.
All in all, a fascinating dip into history of the late Roman Republic. You might think that quote makes more sense in context, but it really doesn't. The context is that Mayor is trying to fill the gap in our sources and hypothesizing what Mithradetes' did for two years in Armenia while on the run from Rome. Her answer: milita "Beavers abound in Armenia's lakes and streams - perhaps their testicles contributed to Mithradates' celebrated vigor. Her answer: military drills and sex a lot of each , with a little hunting and poison research thrown in.
In general, I liked the book. It was well-written and covered a subject too often left on the sidelines of Rome's civil wars of the 1st century BC. However, every time I would start to get sucked in, I would quickly get frustrated by the narrative methodology of the book.
Mayor uses techniques to "flesh out" missing details of the historical record with "what-if" scenarios and hypotheticals. Maybe I am just not used to those techniques, but they drove me nuts for a couple of reasons. First, it leads to situations like the above where there are actually hypothetical scenarios to hypothetical scenarios to hypothetical scenarios that, in the end, seem twisted to the original point and unnecessary. Does the postulation that perhaps Mithradates ate beaver testicles while hypothetically visiting temples of love in Armenia really give much insight into Mithradates?
I would say not The second issue was that it led to some odd narrative choices. There are whole chapters devoted to hypotheticals, let I found myself lost in some of the main threads of the Mithradatic Wars.
The Poison King by Adrienne Mayor
I still can't, with any confidence, define the beginning or end of the Second Mithradatic War. I am assuming there are gaps in the sources to skip over at times years of Mithradates life. But because she usually filled those in with hypotheticals and other times just left the narrative run, blithely skipping over the gaps. It led to confusion. In the end, I would tepidly recommend the book.
As I mentioned, the prose is nice and maybe my dislike of the narrative techniques used by Mayor are not universally shared. Be warned, however, that I was not able to answer a fundamental paradox raised by the book: Mithradates seemed to lose badly every battle he fought with Rome; Mithradates ranked with Hannibal on the list of enemies who terrified Rome.
View 1 comment. Nov 27, Thomas T rated it did not like it. What is this book? I really don't know what point the author was trying to make with this book, for all the repetitive babble Mithridates was really nothing more than a somewhat interesting character on the fringes of the Roman World, hardly the New Alexander that the author seems to imply, Romes deadliest enemy?
I got sucked right into this story from the start, and finally, I got to find out what happened between two of Colleen McCullough's novels. There's war, love, poisoning, treachery, murder on a mass scale, and all sorts of things that make history fun. While the writing style is a bit light in spots, I found this to be a great read, and worth it to find.
Those who enjoy history won't need any further urging to read this one, and it's one that I can happily recommend at all. Four stars overall. Fo I got sucked right into this story from the start, and finally, I got to find out what happened between two of Colleen McCullough's novels. Mar 09, Ed rated it really liked it Shelves: classics. Mithradates VI of Pontus did nothing by half measures. In the spring of 88 BC he organized the slaughter of essentially all the Roman and Italian residents of the Province of Asia which encompassed western Turkey.
Men, women and children, masters and slaves were rounded up and killed without mercy. Those who attempted to gain sanctuary in the temples were murdered and the temples burned. Their property was confiscated; people who killed Roman moneylenders had their debts cancelled; bounties were Mithradates VI of Pontus did nothing by half measures.
Their property was confiscated; people who killed Roman moneylenders had their debts cancelled; bounties were offered for informers and the killers of Romans in hiding. As least 80, Romans and Italians living in Anatolia and the Aegean islands massacred—thousands of merchants and tax collectors with their slaves and families had emigrated from Italy to the newly conquered Asian province of the Roman Republic. In addition to the number of people killed, that the plot was kept secret from the Romans was one of the great intelligence coups and mysteries of the ancient world.
Ordinary people from all ethnic groups and social classes were part of the poplar alliance to wipe out the Romans. Mithradates appealed to the wealthy and the poor because all had felt the sting of the Roman lash and suffered under its yoke. The events of 88 BC were extreme, even in that ultra-sanguine era.
It was explicitly designed to eliminate and entire ethnic and linguistic group. While the first century BC was rife with state-sponsored, collective and private acts of violence, nothing was as cold-blooded and of such a large scale. Like all kings, Mithradates wanted to keep his dynasty intact.
He claimed to be descended from the generals of Alexander the Great through his father and Darius I of Persia through his mother and since there was no other examples of such impeccable breeding he made on of his sisters his wife. While this was not uncommon in the eastern Mediterranean in the classical period—Egypt was rife with brothers who were their own brothers-in-law for example—he went even further, imprisoning his remaining sisters in enforced virginity in case a substitute breeder was necessary. He was a symbol of cruelty and a hero confronting the unstoppable merciless expansion of empire.
He freed thousands of slaves, pardoned prisoners of war and enemy captives, granted democratic rights throughout the lands he ruled and shared the spoils of war widely among his followers. At the same time Mithradates was cruel, unscrupulous; his tactics were both successful and devastating. For Rome he was the most feared enemy general since Hannibal. Adrienne Mayor has spent years reading the sources in several ancient and modern languages and obviously knows her stuff.
Jan 28, Ilana rated it liked it Shelves: read History is a lot more fun to make than I thought.
Jan 31, Louise rated it it was amazing Shelves: biography , turkey , roman-history. Literature on ancient Rome can overtly or subtly applaud the level of civilization it provided for its people. Little note is made that the beneficiaries were a small percentage of the population. The beneficiary proportion is smaller still when the people of conquered lands are counted. Rome's enemies skirmished and revolted, but Rome's strong aggressive armies fended them all off for centuries. Adrienne Mayor provides an antidote pun intended to the genuine, and highly touted, accomplishments Literature on ancient Rome can overtly or subtly applaud the level of civilization it provided for its people.
Adrienne Mayor provides an antidote pun intended to the genuine, and highly touted, accomplishments of Rome. Within the context of Mithradates' life you can see the point of view of Rome's enemies, slaves and clients. You see how they mocked Rome's cherished myth of being founded by orphans suckled by wolves. You see sympathy for Jugurtha and other royals humiliated by Rome's triumphs. You see resentment of a former middle class reduced to paupers by taxes and tributes.
Feelings obviously ran deep such that thousands of coordinated guerrilla attacks on Black Sea based Romans could kill perhaps 80, in one day in 88 BCE. This book describes not only the complex character of Mithradates but also the complex world in which he lived. Mayor takes you through Mithradates life as a wandering youth, to his study and use of poisons, to his benign for its times rule, to his raising great armies, to his murder of relatives, to his marriages and mistresses losing track of the children to the death that is recorded for him.
She also poses some alternative history, worth considering, of later life for Mithradates and his warrior wife Hypsicratea. At the end there is a discussion entitled "Hero or Deviant? I've long wondered psychology as an evolutionary trait. What would be the psychology of the thousands of people vulnerable to total loss of home and family in wars to say nothing of earthquakes and diseases for which they know very little about?
Are there specific psychological traits that result from being in line for succession to a throne in a world where the winner takes all leadership and wealth? What of the psychology of the soldier who marches thousands of miles sometimes foraging for food before the fight even begins? This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in this period. Jan 02, Katy L. The book was an incredibly fascinating look into a major part of history that was, surprise surprise, never even mentioned during my time in school. It is a comprehensive biography of King Mithradates of Pontus who waged war against the Roman Empire for most of his life and established a huge empire encompassing the Black Sea.
It brings together a myriad of resources including ancient texts, modern discoveries, and educated guesswork based on all available facts to put together a fascinating portrait of this long-living master of poisons who dared to stand up to the Roman juggernaut. It discusses the many mythical and heroic qualities possessed by King Mithradates, including that his birth and his rise to power—as well as his battle against Rome—were foretold by a variety of omens, his fascination and skill with poisons and their antidotes, and the other incredible details of his life.
The book does get a tad slow towards the middle when it focuses more on the wars and other people involved in them than on King Mithradates himself, but it picks back up in the final third when it focuses back in on Mithradates and his final attempts to take down Rome. To me though, one of the most fascinating theories proposed by the books involves Mithradates final wife: Hypsicrates.
She came from a warrior tribe and was trained her whole life to ride and fight and she spent her marriage to Mithradates fighting by his side across the lands around the Black Sea. All in all, this was an incredibly interesting read and I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good ancient-history biography to read. Sep 05, Shannon rated it liked it Shelves: audio , history. There have been several reviews lamenting the amount of conjecture regarding the historically undocumented parts of the life of Mithradates.
I find that kind of funny since the thing I love most about ancient history are the spaces between what has been recorded, where you can use what you already know to imagine what might have happened. I guess I'm just more of a writer than a strict historian, but it always bugs me in these kinds of books when the author says "We won't speculate on this perio There have been several reviews lamenting the amount of conjecture regarding the historically undocumented parts of the life of Mithradates.
I guess I'm just more of a writer than a strict historian, but it always bugs me in these kinds of books when the author says "We won't speculate on this period since no record exists. Give us a few potential scenarios based on what you know of the person in question, the time period, etc. As long as the reader knows when an author is speculating and when they are following a historical record, I don't see the problem. I appreciated that about this book.
Granted, wiping out thousands of Roman men women and children in 88 BC probably had a lot to do with it. And sure he was a troublemaker, and a ruthless, brutal one after that. But aside from a scant handful of victories most of them due to lumbering Roman bureaucracy and internal conflict or sheer good luck , he was soundly defeated time and again. Maybe because he managed to escape every time and keep coming back for more, dodging capture until he was an old man. Either way, it's a testament to the author's writing that I found myself rooting for him despite the accounts of his brutality.
In fact it was a little disappointing to realize as the book progressed that he had so few real victories, and none were due to any sort of brilliance on his part. It was an enjoyable, if occasionally frustrating read. May 29, Jen rated it liked it Shelves: biography , ancient-history. This book is well out of my comfort zone of history. Only lately, thanks to History of Rome podcast, have I truly gotten into ancient history as a subject.
And even this predates my own limited knowledge of Rome. As much as I have heard of the name Mithradates, I knew little about him.
Related The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Romes Deadliest Enemy
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