Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Well, what can I say about Cleopatra? I know the rumors - that she was a harlot at best. A woman who used her charm to ensnare not only Caesar but Mark Antony, a woman who would do anything to control everyone and everything. Well she was something quite different according to Stacy Schiff. Schiff, an award winning author tries to put Cleopatra's reputation in a more flattering light. An exhaustively researched book, Cleopatra; A Life gives a new spin on Cleopatra VII. The bibliography and notes at the end of the book run approximately 25 pages.

Born in 69BCE, Cleopatra VII took the throne after her father passed away. The Ptolemies had ruled Egypt for more than 100 years. The family was dysfunctional at best. Marrying siblings to consolidate the power within the family was a common practice. So was killing those same siblings when it suited a political purpose. Cleopatra came to the throne at a perilous time. The world was unstable and Egypt was ripe for a takeover by Rome. Cleopatra, approximately 17 years old, decided that she needed to make Caesar her ally. So she had herself shipped to Rome, not in a carpet but in a bag of cloth. The story about the rug is just a myth.

Much of Cleopatra's life seems to be a myth. The records of Cleopatra's life that are available were written years sometimes centuries after her death. Schiff uses the writings of Cicero, Plutarch and even Shakespeare, among others to put this book together. According to her original biographers, either she got her way because she seduced everyone or because she was uncommonly politically astute. Either way the chroniclers of her life criticized her. What they all agree on is that Egypt was the wealthiest country in the Mediterranean and that Cleopatra was running it.

The book tells of an extraordinary life. Cleopatra was the richest woman in the world at that time. She controlled vast areas of land, she was politically shrewd and extremely intelligent. The Ptolemies educated all their children well and Cleopatra absorbed everything she could. She had power and wealth and knew how to use them. The story is told in a straight forward manner. The book contains the history of the time. Caesar and Marc Anthony and their political troubles figure prominently. The story of Cleopatra would not be complete without the two men who tried to control her life.

Cleopatra ruled for 22 years. She had children with both Caesar and Mark Antony. She committed suicide in 30 BCE after thinking that Mark Antony had killed himself rather that surrender to Octavian. Cleopatra and Antony had lost Alexandria to Octavian in a last desperate attempt to conquer the Roman.

The story moves quickly despite being full of historical facts. Schiff readily admits that the history is muddled and notes different viewpoints of what actually happened. She does however piece together a coherent rendering of Cleopatra. She dispels rumor and replaces it with well researched facts. This is an excellent book. The life of Cleopatra makes for a fascinating read.

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1 comment:

  1. In this book, Cleopatra: A Life" Stacy Schiff tries to reconstruct the biography of the of the most fascinating woman in history. History has remembered Cleopatra as a queen of great beauty who trapped in her tangled web to of the most powerful Romans in history.


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