Cleopatra: A Life
Myths and legends abound about Cleopatra. Historian Stacy Schiff carefully prepares readers about what a difficult task her biography entailed, as there is such a paucity of accurate, unbiased references about her life. She offers a clear depiction of the skewed relationships and political realities of Ptolemaic life: siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents intermarried and proceeded to assassinate each other. Cleopatra’s survival is accomplished by wielding power while knowing that a relative or the fickle Egyptian populace could end her rule in a moment’s whim. She proves to be not only a seductress but also an educated woman who was financially and politically savvy. Her reign endures because she knows how to please her people, encouraging their love of beauty in drama, excellent cuisine and architecture, as well as knowing exactly when to impose and withdraw burdensome taxes. Schiff suggests that Cleopatra’s supposed affairs with Caesar and Marc Antony arose out of keeping control over the Romans; we learn much about Julius Caesar, who risked Roman wrath by staying in Egypt far too long. We also see Cleopatra’s role in the brutal contest for power between Marc Antony and Octavius Caesar. This biography is interesting, informative, and a welcome addition to the panoply of rumor and fact existing about this formidable, enchanting leader.