Monday, July 4, 2011
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Book: Cleopatra: A Life
Author: Stacy Schiff
Recommended To: Strong women, people interested in the Roman version of Cleopatra's life.
I finally finished Cleopatra this weekend and I really enjoyed it. Stacy Schiff does an excellent job creating a picture of a woman who ruled a vast and dense empire for 22 years. This is a very different picture from the motion picture version we all get.
Most of us think of Cleo as the woman most famous for her relationships with Ceasar and Mark Antony and then for her famous death at the fangs of an Asp.
But, that version has some serious flaws as Schiff points out. Sure, she slept with and had children with both Ceasar and Mark Antony, but she also was one of the most successful female leaders, if not the most, of the last 2000 years. Cleo ruled over a kingdom that never revolted, was the richest kingdom in the ancient world and grew to the largest it had ever been under the Ptolomies.
I really liked that the author didn't make anything up when there were holes in the history. Schiff acknowledged that there are parts of Cleopatra's life missing and she used other parts of the Ptolomaic history to fill in the holes. Most of the reason why we do not have a complete life of Cleopatra is because papyrus is a notoriously poor instrument to last 2000 years and because Ceasar burned the Alexandrian library. So, all of the information we have about Cleopatra comes Rome.
This colors her history significantly because she wasn't very popular with the prolific writers in Rome during her lifetime. Schiff does an excellent job of parsing out the bias and crafting an interesting account of cleopatra's life.
I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it to any lover of non-fiction who wants to read about a powerful woman who had an amazing reign.