Stephanie Dray's Reviews > Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
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's review
Feb 09, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: books-about-cleopatra, books-set-in-ancient-rome
Read from November 28, 2010 to February 09, 2011 — I own a copy

I couldn't be more pleased about the resurgence of interest in Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Given that I've spent the past few years of my life working on a trilogy about Cleopatra's daughter starting with Lily of the Nile, I admit a ready bias in favor of Stacy Schiff's new biography. However, I believe that this book would appeal even to those who don't have an obsession with Egypt's most famous monarch.

Schiff's tone is easy and breezy--injecting humor and modern comparisons into this survey of the queen's life. I appreciated the thoughtful analyses of the more hotly debated aspects of the queen's life and Schiff very wisely refrains from taking a side. Instead, she seldom throws her weight behind anything that can't be proved. (One exception to this is the manner of Cleopatra's death. Though ancient evidence suggests otherwise, Schiff doesn't believe Cleopatra died by serpenticide. However, she also cautions against the modern habit of insisting that Octavian must have killed his enemy. She suggests that, at most, Octavian may simply have decided to allow an already suicidal Cleopatra to finally have her way.)

In all, this book covers the subject in enough depth that one or two little tidbits were actually new to me, but she's never bogged down in the history. Indeed, she skims over the surface of Cleopatra's life like some a lotus on the Nile. If there's any weakness to this excellent biography, it's that. The narrative shies away from too much speculation about Cleopatra's inner life. The author always remains quite detached, respectful to her subject, but remote.

Still, this is probably what a biographer must do. Those who are wishing for emotional investment should probably seek out historical fiction. Margaret George's The Memoirs of Cleopatra embraces the same dedication to accuracy while also telling an emotionally compelling story.
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Reading Progress

01/15/2011 page 74
21.0% "This is some nice work so far. Given that I've been immersed in Cleopatralandia for the better part of a decade I didn't expect to learn anything new...but a few little tidbits have intrigued me." 1 comment

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jeannie (new)

Jeannie Lin Ooh, I'm holding off on reading Michelle Moran's book until I read yours first. I've read her Heretic Queen, but not Cleopatra's Daughter

message 2: by Natasha (new)

Natasha Marie It's actually very good. I'm working on reading it for the second time. Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile are both in the mail for me right now as well and I cannot wait to read them!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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