Cleopatra: A Life
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Her palace shimmered with onyx and gold but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first and poisoned the second; incest and assassination were family specialties. She had children by Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, two of the most prominent Romans of the day. With Antony she would attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled both their ends. Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Her supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order.
earlier, when Rome had demanded exorbitant sums from him. He chose poison over payment. His property was collected and carted off to Rome, where it was paraded through the streets. In Alexandria his older brother, Cleopatra’s father, had stood by silently, for which craven behavior his subjects had furiously expelled him from Egypt. Cleopatra was eleven at the time. She was unlikely to have forgotten either the humiliation or the revolt. Caesar succeeded in calming the populace but failed to
it to have been written by Chairman Mao. To the team of extraordinarily tendentious historians, add an extraordinarily spotty record. No papyri from Alexandria survive. Almost nothing of the ancient city survives aboveground. We have, perhaps and at most, one written word of Cleopatra’s. (In 33 BC either she or a scribe signed off on a royal decree with the Greek word ginesthoi, meaning, “Let it be done.”) Classical authors were indifferent to statistics and occasionally even to logic; their
more to him even than his throne. His devotion moved Caesar who—eyes welling up in turn—assured him that they would be reunited soon enough. At which young Ptolemy set off to embrace the war with a new intensity, one that confirmed that “the tears he had shed when talking to Caesar were obviously tears of joy.” Only Caesar’s men seemed gratified by this turn of events, which they hoped might cure their commander of his absurdly forgiving ways. The comedy would not have surprised Cleopatra, well
no feature of the political landscape. Throughout town, anxiety about the future was universal. Caesar’s civic reforms were promising, but how and when would he put the Republic back together again? Over years of war it had been turned upside down, the constitution trampled, appointments made on whim and against the law. Caesar took few steps toward restoring traditional rights and regulations. Meanwhile his powers expanded. He took charge of most elections and decided most court cases. He spent
anxiety was great. Were his friends and relatives also to be murdered? Certainly Mark Antony—by rank the next in command—assumed so. Disguised as a servant, he went into hiding. When he resurfaced it was with a breastplate under his tunic. Those involved in the attack changed their clothes and vanished, as did their defenders. (Cicero approved of the murder but played no part in it. He fled as well.) Given Caesar’s anticipated departure, Cleopatra may well have been on the verge of leaving Rome