Cleopatra: A Book Review

photo courtesy of Barnes & Noble

Cleopatra A Life by Stacy Schriff

Historians, filmmakers, beauty moguls and fashion designers have long been inspired by the fascinating Cleopatra. The mysterious surrounding this woman have driven many mad as we continue to obsess to this day over the physical traits that made up the powerful queen.

Not Just a Pretty Face
Too many times, Cleopatras power has been associated with her beauty and only her physical influence over men, including Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony (both with whom she married and had children with). In Stacy Schiff’s novel Cleopatra A Life, Schiff dives into historical documents in order to set the story straight.

Cleopatra wasn’t just a woman of physical beauty. Growing up, Cleopatra was schooled in many subjects, including mathematics, science, astrology, astronomy, literature and philosophy. Surrounded by knowledgeable elders, Cleopatra was exposed to many different ways to lead a country, while adapting to win over the Egyptian people with poise, strength and wisdom. Cleopatra knew how to command an army of warriors, capture the heart of a king and bring her kingdom together through religious belief.

Love and Politics
At 21, Cleopatra was able to masterly gain Julius Caesar’s attention, which led to their marriage and an alliance between Egypt and Rome that had been destroyed by Cleopatra’s father. Julius Caesar’s affection for Cleopatra ultimately led to his assassination when Cleopatra would not meet with one of Caesars political members. Caesars assassination left Cleopatra without a husband and her son without a father.

The death of the king could have destroyed the bond between the two countries, but Cleopatra was able to keep the peace as she intelligently formed a plan to seduce Mark Anthony, Caesar’s successor, with her political and sexual intrigue. At 27, the two married and attempted to form a new empire, which ultimately led to both their deaths.

Allure Runs Deeper than Physical Beauty
Schriff’s novel is well written and informative. She has many sources to back up her historical account of the queen and opens a new perspective about Cleopatras personality and the circumstances that molded her into one of the most powerful women ever recorded in history.

The thing that fascinated me most about the queen when reading wasn’t necessarily the mystery behind Cleopatras physical appearance but rather the idea that in the year 44, a woman had the ability to rule a country without being questioned by a man. Cleopatras intuition, intellect and allure are all traits that made her so successful as a queen. Schiff details the way Cleopatra used her education to negotiate during times of war, inspire her people and influence her peers. No man, or woman for that matter challenged the queen or questioned her role as the leader and Cleopatra did not heed to summonses but rather delivered them in an unreserved manner.

Is it Worth Reading?
The novel is highly informative, but I will warn you, it’s a lot of dry facts being delivered. When the cover initially caught my eye, I quickly read the synopsis and thought the book would be a fictional piece about the queen based on history. That was my mistake – one that ultimately led me to drag out the time I spent reading the novel. If you are looking for a good source that delivers Cleopatra as the true beauty she was, not just some “pretty queen who was able to use her good looks to charm men into giving her whatever she wanted” then I would definitely recommend reading this novel. Don’t make my mistake and pick it up thinking you’ll read more of about Cleopatras relationship with Caesar and Anthony because you will be highly disappointed.

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2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews

2 responses to “Cleopatra: A Book Review

  1. I’ve been trying to decide whether to read this book. I think I will, especially because of your honest warning so I know what to expect!

    • It’s definitely interesting and very inspiring that a woman had such power so early in history. As long as you know going into it that it’s a lot of facts I think you’ll enjoy Schiff’s research and how she presents her facts about Cleopatra because a lot of historians portray the queen in a demeaning way.

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