Book Review: “Antony and Cleopatra” by Adrian Goldsworthy

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The story of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII is captivating and still fascinates us to this day. It is intense and dramatic. However, the story is filled with myths and loopholes that will make you sincerely question what the truth is.

Once I became interested in the legendary romance of Antony & Cleopatra, I decided to do as much Internet research as I possibly could. I reached the point where I felt like the same few facts (or theories) were being told to me over and over again. At this point, I concluded that if I wanted real, deep information, I would have to purchase a book about it.

Browsing through Amazon.com, I found practically hundreds of books about the love story. It turns out I’m not the only one who is interested. To my dismay, most of these books were filled with fiction in order to piece together missing information and create more drama. These types of books are fun, but I was looking for something different; I wanted facts.

Adrian Goldworthy is not just an author, but also a true historian who knows how to conduct thorough research. “Antony and Cleopatra” certainly satisfied my thirst for knowledge. His style of writing is extremely straightforward, fact-based, and unbiased. This is exactly what I was looking for.

I was remarkably impressed that the story begins even hundreds of years before Antony and Cleopatra’s time. Right away, I knew this book was going to be chuck-full of detail. I did not expect to learn so much about Alexander the Great (who lived around 300 B.C. – meanwhile Cleopatra was not born until 69 B.C.), who actually plays an important role in the story.

The book takes you into the family history of both Antony and Cleopatra, as well as their childhoods. Unfortunately, most of Cleopatra’s childhood is unknown, up until her 18th birthday when she becomes queen.

It was enjoyable to learn about the way Antony was raised, which reveals a lot about how most Roman boys were raised during that time. I was shocked to find so many similarities between the childhoods of ancient Romans verses modern-day Americans. The children went to school and were taught several subjects such as mathematics, history, literature, and P.E. (although I’m sure that Antony’s fitness routines were much more vigorous than your typical high school gym class). History lessons during ancient times focused heavily on family history as apposed to general history. I should also note that in ancient times, only those were fortunate enough to be born into a wealthy/political family received formal education, while the poor were illiterate. Unfortunately, to this day, those living in poverty are still much less educated than those with money.

It is stunning to realize that society has hardly changed in the past couple thousands of years. By the time a Roman man turned about 18-years old, he moved out of his parents’ home and rented an apartment. Sound familiar? Also, it was expected of men around that age to be a little irresponsible and engage in promiscuous activities such as drinking and gambling, however they were expected to grow out of this phase at some point. Even sons of important political figures such as Antony were granted the right to be young and crazy. In fact, Antony collected some serious debt during his 20s.

Antony claimed to be a descendant of Hercules and therefore was incredibly proud of his physique. More specifically, he was proud of his legs. While Caesar started the trend of wearing long togas that reached the floor, Antony rebelled by wearing a tight belt and pulling up his toga to show off his impressively muscular legs.

I was definitely disappointed to miss out on Cleopatra’s childhood. It is suggested that she received extensive formal education, including history of the Ptolemy family tree, and several languages that included Greek and Egyptian. We also know that she traveled alongside her father during her youth while he faced a period of exile. She was around 11-years old during this time.

Although we remember Cleopatra as the queen of Egypt, she was in fact of Macedonian (Greek) descent. Scholars debate her ethnicity because there is no concrete proof over who her mother was. We picture her with dark hair and skin, yet it is entirely possible that she was fair skinned with blonde or red hair. If her mother was indeed Macedonian like her father, then she would undoubtedly have a light complexion. Because of the lack of proof of who her mother was, scholars still debate Cleopatra’s looks. The author makes a point that we should not be so concerned with what she looked like, but rather what she did and who she was.

Cleopatra is famous for her beauty. The author suggests that it was not her looks – but her charm and aura – that made her so attractive. She was an ambitious leader who used her powerful charisma to get what she wanted. Sibling rivalry was not uncommon for royal families. Cleopatra fought with her siblings for power and won. Egypt was perhaps the least sexist ancient society; women had many rights, including the right to own land. Sadly, Cleopatra was still expected to marry her younger brother and be co-rulers. But sexism did not halt her desire for ultimate power; her brother ended up poisoned and killed when once started getting in her way.

Goldsworthy does not leave out the affair between Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. He points out that the affair was far more political than romantic. Most likely the two used each other as pawns to gain more power. There had been controversy over their son, whether or not he was truly related to Caesar. The son had been nicknamed Caezarian (or “Little Caesar”). In my opinion, I believe he is most likely the legitimate son of the pair.

Cleopatra co-ruled Egypt with her son, who was too young to give orders. He would become a great threat to Octavian’s power after the stabbing of Caesar. Following Caesar’s death, Octavian (Caesar’s nephew and adopted son) claimed power over Rome and sought to eventually conquer Egypt.

Finally, about halfway through the book, we read about the union between Antony and Cleopatra. The romance was heavily filled with war and politics, which I mainly skipped over because it bored me. My favorite parts were the little details about their relationship and the silly things they would do together. It’s the kind of stuff you won’t find in a school textbook.

The couple spent the winter of 41-40 B.C. together in Alexandria, Egypt. This time was perhaps the peak of their romance. Antony taught Cleopatra how to go fishing and hunt while horseback riding (quite impressive for a queen). They formed a club with friends called “The Inimitable Livers.” Their feasts were extravagant and they typically ate less than a quarter of the large amounts of food being served to them. The funniest part: the group of friends enjoyed wandering the streets of Alexandria at night, dressed in shabby rugs, pretending to be slaves. Apparently their disguises were unconvincing, but people were happy to “play along” with them. Antony would pick fights with people in the streets and sometimes came home with bruises.

Unfortunately, Antony had to leave Egypt and he would not see Cleopatra for three and a half years. Luckily they ended up reuniting and Cleopatra bore twins: Alexander Helios (“sun”) and Cleopatra Selene (“moon”). Later in time, they would have a third child together as well.

The finale of Antony & Cleopatra’s romance is painfully tragic. In fact, it inspired Shakespeare to write a play about them; it may have also been a source of inspiration for Romeo and Juliet. After hearing the (fake) news that Cleopatra had killed herself once Antony lost a great battle against Octavian, he stabbed himself with a sword. Moments before dying, he found Cleopatra… but by then it had been too late. Afterwards, Cleopatra had a discussion with Octavian, who was not impressed by her charm and therefore did not give her the power she needed from him. Following their talk, Cleopatra joined her lover in the afterlife by committing suicide as well. Goldsworthy points out that her method of death is unknown. The most common myth is that she died of snakebite; however it is much more likely she died from a poison.

The fate of Cleopatra’s offspring remains a mystery. Historical records of Caezarian are vanished after the death of his mother. With Octavian being so threatened of Little Caesar, it is likely that he had him murdered. And if not murdered, then he must have run away. The longest (known) surviving offspring is Cleopatra Selene, who ended up marrying and having children of her own. From there, the Cleopatra/Antony lineage is lost.

I have to agree with the author of Antony and Cleopatra, who argues that this love story is so intense and dramatic that it does not need added fictitious details to entertain an audience. Simply reading the facts is enough of a thrill. (Having said that, there is nothing wrong with using a bit of imagination to build a more solid story.) If you are like me, and hoping to learn more about Antony and Cleopatra, sorting out myth verses fact, then I highly recommend this book. You will most likely skim a few of the chapters, skip a few of the pages, or reread certain lines – there is no right or wrong way to read a nonfiction text. Whether you are drawn to the story because of the politics and the war, or the romance and the drama, this book is for you!

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Overall rating: 5/5 stars

Album Review: “Lust For Life” by Lana Del Rey

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Lana Del Rey released her fourth studio album this summer called, “Lust for Life.” Her new music is classic Lana with a new twist. Overall, I really enjoyed it.

I first discovered Lana Del Rey after purchasing her first studio album (Born to Die) back in 2013. I was instantly hooked, and I was so ecstatic when she released her next album (Ultraviolence) that following year in 2014. I was even happier when she released her third album (Honeymoon) in the summer of 2015. Understandably, she took a bit more time to release the fourth. Just two years later, and Lana has gifted us with even more music. She truly spoils her fans – especially the impatient ones like me.

It is quite difficult to describe the unique style of Lana Del Rey, however I will try my best. Her music is dreamy and hazy; it takes you to another world and another time. She has a gospel voice that takes you back to the 30s, American pride that takes you back to the 50s, a psychedelic vibe that takes you back to the 70s, hip-hop beats and minimalistic electronica that takes you back to the 90s, and a modern way of mixing it all together to keep you grounded in the present day. Along with that, her lyrics are brutally honest and she is completely self-aware of how crazy she is (after all, the greatest artists are always the craziest.) Her lyrics carry the wisdom of an old sage as well as the crude humor of a teenager. Although each album is slightly different, these are the common themes that carry on throughout her music.

“Born to Die” can be best described as hip-hop alternative rock with a nostalgic touch. “Ultraviolence” is dreamier and hazier, as well as more “alternative” than “pop” compared to her earlier work. Both albums have a sense of darkness to them – but not in a depressing way, more like in a romanticizing way. Onto her third album (Honeymoon), there is still a theme of rainy day gloominess, however there is also a strong sense of positivity and hope.

I was curious about her new album – would Lana’s new music slope back into total darkness, or continue growing with light? Prior to the release date, she made a note to her fans on social media about “the dark times” we have been facing these past several months, specifically regarding the U.S. election – which has been a great inspiration for her new music. Well, it seems like these dark times have inspired Lana Del Rey, the queen of darkness, to find greater hope.

This new album, “Lust for Life,” is certainly Lana Del Rey’s most inspiring album. The album artwork shows Lana with a giant, toothy grin on her face. (It should be noted that her past three albums display her with a blank, toothless expression.) Something distinctly different about this album is that it includes featuring artists on several tracks. I was a little disappointed when I first found out she would be collaborating with others – Lana Del Rey is such a strong and unique artist who can sing on her own. However, she made it work, and I’m glad she tried something new.

“Lust for Life” begins with the track “Love,” which sets a theme of hope for the entire album. It emphasizes the power of love over worry & anxiety. It is about embracing the moment as a new beginning and a blank slate, verses fear of what could go wrong in the future. “Doesn’t matter if I’m not enough for the future or the things to come, cause I’m young and in love.”

The next track is titled “Lust for Life,” featuring The Weeknd. The message of the song is straightforward: a lust for life keeps us alive. “We’re the masters of our own fate, we’re the captains of our own souls.” It’s another hopeful track, possibly even more positive than the previous one. As the line “take off, take off…” is repeated, I believe on a deeper level it refers to taking off the invisible masks we wear in life to protect ourselves, which holds us back from experiencing living life to the fullest.

“13 Beaches” is dreamy, catchy, and peaceful. It reminds you of being on the beach… all by yourself. “Cherry” is completely random, but is also another track with an uplifting message about the power of love. “Summer Bummer” and “Groupie Love” both feature rapper A$AP Rocky.

The following tracks (“Coachella – Woodstock in My Mind,” “God Bless America – And All The Beautiful Women In It,” and “When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing” continues with the optimistic and positive vibes. Her lyrics state that the world is constantly crumbling but the human race still goes on with faith.

“Tomorrow Never Came” and “Heroin” are sadder songs that easily fit onto older Lana Del Rey albums. However the album ends by swinging back onto happier feelings with “Change” and “Get Free.”

Lana Del Rey continues to satisfy with her new music. I can’t say that this album beats her previous ones – however it is still spectacular! I am happy to see a greater theme of hope in Lana Del Rey’s music while she still carries on with her romanticized, dreamy despair. She acknowledges that war and conflict is a part of life, and once you accept that, you can begin to make a change.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars

Album Review: “Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1” by Calvin Harris

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DJ Calvin Harris just dropped a new album that sounds like the perfect summer anthem. “Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1” is indeed funky, wavy, and bouncy. I’m really hoping there will be a volume 2 (maybe 3, 4, 5…) to this short, 10-track collection. I first discovered Calvin Harris in 2012 when I heard “Feel So Close” and “We Found Love” on the radio. I continued following his career and especially enjoyed “Thinking About You” and “I Need Your Love” which features Ellie Goulding. This past year, Calvin Harris has really switched up his style. His music used to feel more choppy (in the best way possible), and now it feels much smoother and calmer. I liked his old style but I’m really happy he made the change because the music was starting to sound so repetitive. His new album will make you feel like you are sipping a pina colada on a tropical island. It’s full of good vibes and will totally make you want to get up and dance.

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1. Slide (featuring Frank Ocean and Migos)

4/5 stars

“Slide” sets the tone for the entire album. It is instantly catchy, feel-good, and smooth. The rest of the tracks have the same themes without feeling repetitive. It’s a great party song.

2. Cash Out (featuring ScHoolboyQ, PARTYNEXTDOOR, D.R.A.M)

4/5 stars

Another great party song, the lyrics begin with “party like it’s 1980.” I mean, it doesn’t get anymore party than that. “Party like the 70s,” they say later on. Even better.

3. Heatstroke (featuring Young Thug, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams)

4.5/5 stars

I was initially bummed when I saw Ariana Grande featured on the track because I’m really not a fan of her, but her voice sounds really good on this track. His songs sound better with a female voice.

4. Rollin (featuring Future and Khalid)

5/5 stars

Awesome beat with a really great flow.

5. Prayers Up (featuring Travis Scott and A-Trak)

4/5 stars

The beat is very similar to the previous track and just as awesome. But the flow is somewhat lacking.

6. Holiday (featuring Snoop Dogg, John Legend, Takeoff)

3/5 stars

It’s a good song, although it doesn’t really stand out to me. Snoop Dogg always has a good flow but John Legend did not meet my expectations.

7. Skrt on Me (featuring Nicki Minaj)

3/5 stars

I don’t really mind Nicki Minaj in small doses… she should have shared the song with other singers.

8. Feels (featuring Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, and Big Sean)

5/5 stars

Love it! Best track on the album! Katy Perry sounds wonderful because she her voice has that beach girl vibe which fits the theme of the album. Pharrell Williams and Big Sean do not disappoint.

9. Faking It (featuring Kehlani and Lil Yachty)

5/5 stars

A little depressing, but fun and uplifting at the same time. It’s about trying to get over a breakup but instead of making you cry it still makes you want to dance.

10. Hard to Love (featuring Jessie Reyez)

5/5 stars

Really awesome lyrics. It’s coming from the viewpoint of a girl who breaks hearts because she would “rather be hard to love than easy to leave.” Poor Calvin Harris, must’ve been inspired by one of his exes…

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Film Review: The Love Witch

“The Love Witch” is a horror-comedy that was released just last year. The most captivating aspect about the movie is that it seems like it was filmed and released back in the 60s. As I began watching, I started to wonder if the film was supposed to take place in current times or from a few decades ago. It wasn’t until DNA testing was mentioned, when I knew it couldn’t have taken place in the 60s or 70s. But I really love the vintage vibe.

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The main character, Elaine, is such an enchanting character that you really want to like her when you know that you shouldn’t. Elaine is witchcraft practitioner who uses spells and whatnot to find true love. However, her spells work too well, and she ends up somehow killing every man who falls for her.

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This film is not exactly a ha-ha comedy, although some parts will make you laugh, don’t expect to be smiling the entire time. It’s also not your typical horror film; there are a few graphic scenes, but nothing that will give you nightmares. The film mixes a bit of comedy and a bit of horror to create its own unique genre.

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The 2-hour film takes it time to tell the story without rushing everything so you don’t miss a single detail. (Another characteristic of old films – not too fast-paced.) The plot line is quite interesting, but it would be nothing without the remarkable film style that makes you feel like you have truly entered another world.

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Because the movie revolves around witchcraft, there is also a great emphasis on the medieval and Victorian eras. I absolutely adored the makeup, costumes, and scenery setup. This film is a piece of art.

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Overall rating: 5/5 stars

Album review: “Divide” by Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran just recently released his third new album, “Divide.” I bought his last album, “Multiply (X)” when it was released back in 2014. I am a big fan of Ed Sheeran’s music, including his duets such as “All About It” with Hoodie Allen and “Lay It All On Me” with Rudemental. His new album is quite similar to his last one, however, I would say that this one is even better. Sheeran continues to show raw honesty through his lyrics and spill the details about his family, friends, and romances.

1. “Eraser”

5/5 stars

Favorite line: “I used to think that nothing could be better than touring the world with my songs, I chased the picture-perfect life, I think they painted it wrong.”

The album starts very strong with this track. It’s one of those tracks where he sounds like he’s rapping but he’s “just a singer with a game plan” (direct quote from “All About It”). This song is extremely honest and blunt. Sheeran discusses the psychological torture that comes with fame. You don’t really hear singers talk about that kind of stuff in their music.

2. “Castle on a Hill”

5/5 stars

Favorite line: “Tasted the sweet perfume of the mountain grass I rolled down, well I was younger then, take me back to when…”

This track is also quite strong. It’s pretty cute, too. He sings about his childhood memories (hey Ed, I also broke my leg when I was 6-years old!) and how he misses the good old days. This song is extremely uplifting.

3. “Dive”

4/5 stars

Favorite line: “I’ve been known to give my all and jumping in harder than ten thousand rocks on the lake.”

This is a song about falling for a person who seems like a player. Sheeran debates whether or not he should pursue someone who seems to be stringing him along. In my opinion, the lyrics are strong, but the melody isn’t my favorite.

4. “Shape of You”

5/5 stars

Favorite line: “One weekend we let the story begin, we’re going out on our first date. You and me are thrifty so go all-you-can-eat, fill up your bag, and I fill up your plate.”

Chances are you have already heard this song on the radio since it’s the lead single! I absolutely love this song! The beat is my favorite part about it. On top of it, the lyrics are adorable. The song is about Sheeran beginning to date a new girl and feeling excited about it.

5. “Perfect”

4/5 stars

Favorite line: “She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I share her home.”

Such a sweet song! It is the first slow-paced ballad on the album. People count on Ed Sheeran to deliver beautiful love songs like this. This is Sheeran’s ode to the love of his life.

6. “Galway Girl”

5/5 stars

Favorite line: “She played the fiddle in an Irish band but she fell in love with an English man.”

Oh my gosh. One of my favorite tracks on the album. It is a beautiful blend of modern hip-hop and Celtic folk. Only Sheeran could pull off a melody like this. This song is extremely catchy and lighthearted. It makes me very happy.

7. “Happier”

4/5 stars

Favorite line: “You look happier, you do. My friends told me one day I’ll feel it too.”

Here comes another ballad. This song is both happy and sad, both full of peacefulness and regret. Sheeran runs into an ex who looks happier with her new man than she ever was with him. He misses her; but he is happy that she is happier now.

8. “New Man”

5/5 stars

Favorite line: “He wears sunglasses indoors, in winter, at nighttime.”

Just like Galway Girl, this song is also super catchy. Sheeran’s lyrics are full of sass. He don’t wanna hear about your new man! It seems to me that Sheeran is describing an old lover who still talks to him, but she’s changed into a prissy narcissist because she started dating a total d-bag.

9. “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here”

3/5 stars

Favorite line: “Daisies, daisies, perched upon your forehead.”

It’s a pretty cute song. Once again, the sweet ballads continue. However, it doesn’t necessarily stand out to me. It’s a wonderful song but it’s not my favorite.

10. “What Do I Know?”

5/5 stars

Favorite line: “Everybody’s talking ’bout exponential growth and the stock market crashing and their portfolios, while I’ll be sitting here with a song that I wrote saying, ‘love can change the world in a moment,’ but what do I know?”

This is a song about politics. In the first line, Sheeran mentions how his father always told him to stay away from political issues. Sheeran partially agrees, but also feels like he should use his music to make a difference. What he wants to do with his music is spread the love because he believes that love is powerful enough to heal us.

11. “How Would You Feel (Paean)”

3/5 stars

Favorite line: “I’ll be taking my time, spending my life, falling deeper in love with you.”

Not one of my favorites, perhaps it still needs to grow on me. In this track, Sheeran expresses his adoration and gratefulness for his woman. What a sweetheart.

12. “Supermarket Flowers”

4/5 stars

Favorite line: “When God takes you back, you’ll say hallelujah, you’re home.”

This is a real tear-jerker. It’s a song about the death of Sheeran’s grandmother. The melody is sweet, simple, and calming. (Very sad way to end an album…)

DELUXE TRACKS:

13. “Barcellona”

5/5 stars

Favorite line: “Get up-up on the dance floor tonight, I’ve got two left feet and a bottle of red wine.”

This acoustic guitar track is also a party anthem. I love the way he mixes different styles together to create something new. Best dance track on the album.

14. “Bibia Be Ye Ye”

2/5 stars

Favorite line: “I tell myself in every way I won’t be doing this again and tomorrow’s a brand new day.”

Fun, light-hearted track. However, also very all-over-the-place and kind of cheesy. Personally, I don’t think it’s so great.

15. “Nancy Mulligan”

5/5 stars

Favorite line: “She was Nancy Mulligan and I was William Sheeran. She took my name and then we were one, down by the wexford border.”

Amazing song! It’s very, very Irish-sounding! This is about Sheeran’s grandfather and grandmother when they first met and got married. It’s so heartwarming.

16. “Save Myself”

4/5 stars

Favorite line: “I gave all my oxygen to people that could breathe.”

Good song about how Sheeran realizes that he tries too hard to make people happy or “fix them” while they give him nothing in return, thus draining him. He concludes that before he can try to save anyone else, he first needs to save himself. It’s a great message.

OVERALL: 5/5 stars

In conclusion, this is an amazing album with many strong tracks. Even the weaker tracks are still enjoyable. I highly recommend buying “Division” by Ed Sheeran.

(Author’s note: I seem to give the slower songs lower ratings. The slower songs are just as good though… I guess it’s because his uplifting songs make me happier.)