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Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra, the famous last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, comes quite vividly to life in Cleopatra: A Life, which tells the stunning and intriguing story of Cleopatra. Her life and death has been disputed greatly, and with the loss of records from the destruction of Alexandria's library, the sources of Cleopatra's life come only from those who destroyed her and Mark Antony. Stacy Schiff attempts to "strip 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." (X) The book is captivating and spins Cleopatra in a new light: a "shrewd strategist" and an "ingenious negotiator," a woman who has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons...
The sources may be flawed, but they are the only sources we have. There is no universal agreement on the basic details of her life, no consensus on who her mother was, how long Cleopatra lived in Rome, how often she was pregnant, whether sha and Antony married, what transpired at the battle that sealed her fate, how she died. (8)
 I knew very little about Cleopatra and Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire before I began this novel. Upon finishing, I feel like I have a very solid grasp of Cleopatra's life (and of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony). I did not know that Cleopatra killed her siblings to secure her throne, or that she was the wealthiest woman in the world at one point in history. I didn't know she associated with the godess Isis, the ideal mother and wife. She is a truly admirable woman, using her perceived weakness as a woman to her strength. The affairs of Cleopatra/Caeser and Cleopatra/Mark Antony are strongly interwoven throughout the novel, adding a layer of romantic intrigue, even though Schiff makes it clear "Cleopatra's life was neither as lurid nor as romantic as has been made out." (322) It is a historical novel that doesn't feel like one; you subconsciously realize as you're reading this is a true story of a magnificent women, but the book itself is "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." (x) A #1 National Bestseller, I urge you to read Cleopatra when you have the chance. You won't regret it, and you'll learn that Cleopatra is much more dynamic the femme fatale western literature and culture has made her to be. Rating: ★★★★★


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