Egyptians ancient history always fascinates me. The mystery, drama and suspense surrounding it, intriguing my imagination. The discoveries about their way of life bewildered me. Among the all mighty Pharos, gods, goddesses the most sought after has been Cleopatra. I ignored the ever piling books and jumped right at it.
Stacy Schiff is a very competent history writer. The common perception surrounding Cleopatra is that she was legendary in her beauty and perhaps her only talent was to seduce her way to success. Stacy tried to give us another version of her personality as a very cunning politician and an intelligent Queen who ran the affairs of her troubling kingdom. She was a beloved goddess who knew how to win the hearts of her subjects and an exceptional party planner who could bedazzle her guests.
Cleopatra had a keen interest in medicine and used to experiment on her prisoners. She was a strategic planner who could turn the tides in her favour. The interesting fact about Cleopatra is that her name was not unique. It was a common name in her family tree but she used the best of it. Sibling rivalries, killings, murder schemes, sibling marriages were common. She was wife of her two brothers and how she fought her way through all this.
The author gives us an insight into the glorious Alexandria where Cleopatra ruled, with its state of the art architecture. Furthermore, the social environment was favourable for women. They were very powerful even in those times. Women could hold wealth, inheritance, social standings and got education. There were large libraries in Alexandria, the centre of higher studies in medicine. People were politically stimulated and could demand change in leadership. Rome looks like a village in front of Alexandria.
When I started reading the book, I was expecting Cleopatra as the central theme but she was not. In most of the parts, she is in the background of Caesar and Rome. Probably because this is ancient history. At that time, the work of the writers and poets was prevailing in Rome. On the contrary, Rome didn’t uphold females in general and Cleopatra in particular in high regard. So those writings are highly biased.
Stacy often starts the sentence in Cleopatra with “it’s not clear” or “it’s assumed” or “it’s safe to guess” puts doubt in your mind that it might all be a guess work. History with such an enticing personality you want authentic information.