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The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy
Date of Review: 
Sep.01.2009
Source: 
Library Journal

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.