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Cleopatra: A Life Paperback – 6 Sep 2011
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"Stacy Schiff has managed to create a masterpiece."―Michael Korda, The Daily Beast
"[Schiff] writes against the fabulous grain...There are countless books about Cleopatra, but this one, I suspect, would have been one of her favorites."―Laura Miller, Salon.com
"Captivating...Ms. Schiff strips away the accretions of myth that have built up around the Egyptian queen and plucks off the imaginative embroiderings of Shakespeare, Shaw and Elizabeth Taylor. In doing so, she gives us a cinematic portrait of a historical figure far more complex and compelling than any fictional creation, and a wide, panning, panoramic picture of her world."―Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"A swift, sympathetic life of one of history's most maligned and legendary women."―Kirkus
"[A] dazzling, meticulous biography."―Caryn James, More
"Schiff excavates truth from myth with vivid eloquence, taking us back to a life in a time and place that was both 'an orgy of pillage and murder' and 'the Paris of the ancient world.'"―Natasha Clark, Elle
"Hugely compelling...Schiff sifts through gauzy mythology to uncover a brilliant young woman."―Vogue
"[An] excellent, myth-busting biography....No one will think of Cleopatra in quite the same way after reading this vivid, provocative book."―Washington Examiner
About the Author
Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize and the Ambassador Book Award. Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. The recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in New York City.
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We know next to nothing about Cleopatra’s early years. She is a young woman when we first encounter her. Much of the first part of the book is more about Julius Caesar; to history, she is important only through him. It is only after his death that Cleopatra, to history, becomes a major player in her own story.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about Cleopatra, but there were some surprises in this book. That said, this is not an introductory work on Cleopatra or her times. Instead, it is a complement to other works. It is very interesting, very insightful, and very worth reading.
Having said that...............this book is loaded with deeper human insight into why this passage of history unfolded as it did. The reader easily becomes enamored to Cleopatra, and Anthony. Plus, the events of this period are wonderfully presented (the intrigue, the battles, the politics, the loves, the hatreds) as the saga of the Roman civil war period plays out.........for both serious students or the more casually motivated.
It is said that a sculptor sees his final piece hidden within the block of marble he confronts on day one of a project as he then goes about removing the excess.........such is this book. Ms. Schiff's work would be an excellent basis to extract a crisp screen play.........HBO's Rome possibly?
It’s the old familiar story – Julius Caesar struggles with Pompey – Caesar follows Pompey into Egypt – The Egyptians murder Pompey – Caesar meets Cleopatra, followed by a romantic relationship and a son, Caesarion – Cleopatra visits Rome, during which time Caesar is assassinated by a group of rebellious senators – Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son (later Augustus), joined by Mark Antony, plot revenge against two of the assassins, Brutus and Cassius – A war follows, won by Octavian and Antony at the Battle of Philippi – The kingdom is divided, with Octavian ruling the west and Mark Antony ruling the east – Antony meets Cleopatra, a relationship follows, resulting in twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and one later son Ptolemy Philadelphus. Antony established Cleopatra as a strong monarch and Cleopatra supplies financial support for Antony’s military ventures – Antony has an obsession for a Parthian campaign, much to Cleopatra’s disdain, but he suffers a disastrous defeat, possibly due in part to his primary distraction, Cleopatra - Friction develops between Herod and Cleopatra, but was calmed by Antony, who instructed Cleopatra “not to meddle” – Friction between Octavian in the east and Antony and Cleopatra in the west leads to war, with Octavian winning at the battle of Actium, an event that led to the establishment of the Roman Empire – Antony commits suicide and Cleopatra is grief stricken – Octavian becomes infatuated with Cleopatra – Cleopatra commits suicide.
In Cleopatra – A Life, Stacy Schiff took a reasonably well known a historical account and surrounded it with intricate details that brought the story to life. Her research must have been exhaustive, as she constantly quotes such sources as Appian, Plutarch, Dio, Diodorus, Pliny, Strabo, Suetonius, Tacitus, Josephus, and others, none of whom had met Cleopatra but all lived and wrote within a period from the first century BCE to the second century CE. Readers might be surprised to learn that Cleopatra was not an Egyptian, but rather a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Macedonian Greek family that ruled Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great, founder of Alexandria. Schiff presents an excellent description of ancient Alexandria and a relatively good description of Rome. Historical figures are described in such a way that the reader feels as though he/she has actually met them. The situation for women in Rome, where they are subservient to men, and Alexandria, where there is something of an equality, is compared and contrasted. Schiff debunks the myth that Cleopatra permitted herself to be bitten by an asp, but more likely ingested a toxin orally. Finally, Cleopatra’s legacy and its impact on the future of Rome is reviewed.
Like The Witches, there is quite a bit of detail, so the reader might wish to take notes as he/she reads. But also, like The Witches, in Cleopatra – A Life, Stacy Schiff has created a very enjoyable learning experience.