Machiavelli praised his military genius. European royalty sought out his secret elixir against poison. His life inspired Mozart's first opera, while for centuries poets and playwrights recited bloody, romantic tales of his victories, defeats, intrigues, concubines, and mysterious death. But until now no modern historian has recounted the full story of Mithradates, the ruthless king and visionary rebel who challenged the power of Rome in the first century BC. In this richly illustrated book--the first biography of Mithradates in fifty years--Adrienne Mayor combines a storyteller's gifts with the most recent archaeological and scientific discoveries to tell the tale of Mithradates as it has never been told before.
The Poison King describes a life brimming with spectacle and excitement. Claiming Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia as ancestors, Mithradates inherited a wealthy Black Sea kingdom at age fourteen after his mother poisoned his father. He fled into exile and returned in triumph to become a ruler of superb intelligence and fierce ambition. Hailed as a savior by his followers and feared as a second Hannibal by his enemies, he envisioned a grand Eastern empire to rival Rome. After massacring eighty thousand Roman citizens in 88 BC, he seized Greece and modern-day Turkey. Fighting some of the most spectacular battles in ancient history, he dragged Rome into a long round of wars and threatened to invade Italy itself. His uncanny ability to elude capture and surge back after devastating losses unnerved the Romans, while his mastery of poisons allowed him to foil assassination attempts and eliminate rivals.
The Poison King is a gripping account of one of Rome's most relentless but least understood foes.
Little known in the West, Mithradates has not been the subject of a full-scale biography in over 100 years, even though he remains a national hero in Armenia and Kurdistan. The publication of this biography is timely, as events of Mithradates's life parallel recent history. Mayor (visiting scholar, classics & history of science, Stanford Univ.: The First Fossil Hunters), a specialist in ancient science, fills this gap with a reappraisal of Mithradates's character and a detailed account of his scientific pursuits, notably his in-depth studies of poison. Prior depictions, particularly in popular culture, have shown a one-sided view of him as a cruel tyrant. Mayor gives us a more nuanced view of the so-called Poison King, placing him in his proper context as a Greco-Persian ruler following in the footsteps of his purported ancestor Alexander the Great. The most compelling aspect of this book is Mayor's engaging style. A true storyteller, she makes Mithradates's world come alive. Verdict This distinctive and compelling book is sure to fascinate all readers interested in the ancient world or in understanding the historical politics of the Caucasus region.-Margaret Heller, Dominician Univ. Lib., River Forest, IL Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
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Princeton University Press
September 27, 2009
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