Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Subject: Egyptian history
Setting: Alexandria, Rome
Main Characters: Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Octavius
Dates Read: September 18 - September 25
Number of pages: 432
Off the Shelf (pre-2012)? Source?: no, loan from tutu
Category for 12 in 12 challenge: Speech Class, Lunch
I will admit that when I started reading this book I was expecting a fictionalized life story, not realizing until I looked closer that this was a non-fiction biography by a Pulitzer Prize winning author. So the opening made me sit up and take notice with the statement "She was a Greek woman who's history fell to men's whose futures lay with Rome." and "Cleopatra's Egypt produced no fine historians."
There were many facts that were conveyed about Cleopatra of which I was unaware. She came to throne of Egypt with her younger brother when she was eighteen and he was ten during the last century before the birth of Christ. He was her husband - intermarriage being the norm of the Ptolemys. "While the inbreeding was meant to stabilize the family, it had a paradoxical effect. Succession became a perennial crisis for the Ptolemys, who exacerbated the matter with poison and daggers. Intermarriage consolidated wealth and power but leant a new meaning to sibling rivalry."
At the same time as Cleopatra's accession, Pompey the Great of Rome was defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus, he sought refuge in Egypt, where he was assassinated. Cleopatra had sided with Julius Caesar who was in Alexandria when she needed a little assistance to assume the power of the Egyptian throne. Caesar claimed her as an ally as well as a lover. While in Egypt, Caesar was exposed to the enormous amount of knowledge that was stored in the library at Alexandria. After his return to Rome, Cleopatra gave birth to his son, Caesarion.
"The personal inevitably trumps the political, and the erotic trumps all. We will remember that Cleopatra slept with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony long after we have forgotten what she accomplished in doing so, that she sustained a vast, rich, densely populated empire in its troubled twilight, in the name of a proud and cultivated dynasty." She was an intelligent, well-educated, politically adept ruler beloved of her people.
The author managed to divulge enormous amount of facts while keeping this reader's interest throughout. Highly recommended to those interested in ancient history. Ancient Egypt may not have had any great historians, but this author filled in extremely well.