Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra: A Life
by Stacy Schiff, Hatchette Audio, November 2010,
14 hours, 16 minutes
read by Robin Miles

...she might have been one of the strongest female rulers in history, widely misunderstood and wrongly criticized

If your only impressions of Cleopatra are like mine – an Elizabeth Taylor like seductress – prepare to be educated! Stacy Schiff has written a lively, intelligent, researched based biography of the Egyptian Queen. While there is much that is not known about her life, Schiff manages to make it all work by her intense research of that era that provides a rich setting for the action. Cleopatra was born 70 years before Christ into the Ptolemy dynasty. The strongest traditions in her family included sibling murder and incest. That the woman managed to grow to adulthood is a testament to her intelligent and cunning ways. She ascends the throne of Egypt with the help of Julius Caesar at the age of 18. She successfully rules that country for the next 22 years. No uprisings, no famines, no court intrigue. She is beloved by her people. In this time before Christ the Roman Empire ruled throughout the Mediterranean and beyond; Cleopatra’s skill in navigating a successful course for Egypt was masterful. She visited Rome, was Caesar’s lover and the mother of his only child. Following Caesar’s death she and Mark Anthony fall into a 15 year relationship where she bears him three children. In the end Mark Anthony is defeated in Egypt by a Roman rival Octavian. History has blamed Cleopatra for seducing Anthony and diverting him from his military and civil tasks. The author does a good job of sorting out the prejudices of the historians (mostly Roman or Roman clients) who have tagged Cleopatra with this persona.

I learned a lot reading this book. I had only the vaguest understanding of the history of this period. I loved the descriptions of Hellenic Egypt and the excesses that the Ptolemy’s brought to kingship. Also well done were the descriptions of life in Rome at this time. I am visiting Rome in April and will look at the Forum with new interest after acquiring this background. This book completely changed my perspective on this queen. As I said I thought she was a fairly one dimensional character who played a minor role in the Roman story. I now think she might have been one of the strongest female rulers in history, widely misunderstood and wrongly criticized.

As I noted above the prose in this book is splendid but the reading that Robin Miles does in the audio edition is marvelous. She has just the right intonations for this entertaining prose. I am often undecided as to whether reading or listening is the most enjoyable for me – not with this one. Get the audio book!

I listened to an audio presentation of this novel downloaded from The Free Library of Philadelphia


Zibilee said...

I have sort of been a bit nervous about this book, as I had first thought it was a fictional read. That's not to say that I haven't heard good things about it, it's just not what I had been expecting. I am hoping that I love it as much as you did!

Kathy said...

Ziblee, I think this book would have been a tough read but the audio edition was just the ticket - I enjoyed the narrator's emphasis, emotion and intonation, she really made what was a fairly dry subject come alive. K

Sniffly Kitty said...

Apparently this book has been selling REALLY well~~

Elizabeth said...

I have the audio is pretty interesting.

I am stopping by from Cym Lowell's Book Party Reveiw.

Hope you can stop by mine as well.

There is also a book blog giveaway ending tonight, February 23, on my blog if you want to stop by.