The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt.
Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.
Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and -- after his murder -- three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.
Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Well written biography about someone who is still wrapped in mystery and only partially revealed because of the lack of recorded information by consistent and reliable historians.
Not Much that Wasn’t Written by Rome
I was not impressed by the supposed scholarship of this work. In fact, I’d go as far as to say this is more pseudo scholarship. There is no clear thesis, but it seems Schiff is attempting to “restore Cleopatra“ to her rightful place in history (11). Sadly, nowhere in this book does that happen.
This book has about as much gossip as a celebrity magazine. If that’s your thing and you want to say you read a book about Cleopatra, knock yourself out. If you want actual scholarship, look elsewhere.
Schiff talks about the sexism that built up the myth and legend of Cleopatra, but turns around to be supremely sexist to Fulvia, Antony’s second wife. She describes Fulvia as dying of “incessant meddling” and Cleopatra as “wanton” (154). These were Schiff’s words, not a quote. So much for telling the story sans sexism.
This book is far longer than it needs to be. The vast majority of the book isn’t actually about Cleopatra, but about the men in her life and occasionally how she pulled the strings in their lives to get what she wanted. There is little here that wasn’t done by Rome 2,000 years ago.
Some of the information is interesting - Cleopatra is Greek, not Egyptian; Cleopatra knew Herod of Israel - but there is not nearly enough of that to float this book or justify its length. I won’t be reading any more by Schiff.
I thought I knew about Cleopatra until I read this book! I feel like I know her and all the major players in her life. The authors research and her ability to write nonfiction like a novel makes this book one that cannot be put down.