Sci-Fi & Fantasy Girlz discussion

Cleopatra: A Life
This topic is about Cleopatra
10 views
Group Reads > July 2017 - Cleopatra: A Life

Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Yoly (new)

Yoly (macaruchi) | 644 comments This is the original discussion thread for this month's selection. Cleopatra: A Life


message 2: by Gary (last edited Jul 03, 2017 01:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments One of the things that I find painful about coming up with polls is that for several of them I think every single book is appropriate for the topic of this group, so when we read just one I feel like there are three other books that we're missing out on.

That's the case this month.

Every single one of the books on that list seem particularly apt and interesting to me. Cleopatra is the most obvious choice, so it makes sense that it'd be the one that gets picked, but—confession time—I've read this one before. It is, in fact, the book that got me thinking about female historians writing writing on female-oriented subjects. So... I've started in on this one again, but I might very well pick up Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas or Boudicca this month too. (I read a book on the Salem witches within the last year, so those other topics have priority.)

Anybody interested in a buddy read this time 'round?

Regarding this Cleopatra book text: it is interesting. As I recall, it has a kind of novel-y approach to the history which isn't always to my taste being that I was a history major in college, and after a while that tends to lend itself to a dryer, more historiography-oriented type of reading. However, given the subject matter, that style does make sense. Cleopatra is often treated flamboyantly and dramatically, even in historical texts because the anecdotes are just so irresistible. However, that historical version of anecdotal history doesn't put us in her mind very effectively. It makes what we know about Cleopatra more third person rather than as the subject of a character study, and that's how this text read/reads to me. It's arguable how accurate a character study can be with so much time/culture separating the author and her subject, but it is an interesting, approachable way of going about presenting ancient history. It reads like a TV adaptation, and reminds me a lot of that HBO series Rome (in a good way) in which Cleopatra figures as a character. The book is not, perhaps, as purposefully dramatic as a TV show, but it does seem reminiscent.

It seems to me there's an audiobook of this one out in the world, which I might do this time around rather than the text. I try not to listen to audiobooks until after I've read the book, but that's mostly for novels rather than history. Historical texts I'm less worried about a reader getting between me and the author, so it would be perfectly good for this one.


message 3: by Gary (last edited Jul 04, 2017 05:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments An enduring issue surrounding Cleopatra or, at least, one of the issues that surrounds her legacy these days, is her ethnic/genetic background. It's been a long-standing point raised whenever there's a movie or TV show in which some hapless actress has to fend off arguments about things that happened two millennia ago.... If you go through the comments section on any particular site that posts something about Cleopatra's ancestry, the rhetoric and passions run hot very, very quickly. It's just one of those topics that many people have an opinion on, and about which there is scant/conflicting evidence, leading to a kind of perfect storm of historical conjecture that lends itself to any number of real world analogies AND any number of theories ranging from the reasoned to the whacky, but none of which can be definitively proved or disproved.

Here are some stats:
200 people worldwide Google the question, “Was Cleopatra white?” each month.

3,000 people worldwide Google the question, “Was Cleopatra black?” each month.

600 people worldwide Google the question, “Was Cleopatra Egyptian?” each month.

500 people worldwide Google the question, “Was Cleopatra Greek?” each month.

*All figures for “Queen Cleopatra VII's Ethnicity & Nationality - The Stats”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.
Source: http://www.arogundade.com/what-color-...

Here's another reference to look at on the subject, with some exerpts:
Cleopatra’s true racial background (and does it really matter?)

For the first six generations the wives of the ruling Ptolemies also came from the same Macedonian background as their husbands. So until the time of Cleopatra’s great-grandfather, the ethnic makeup of the dynasty was still pure [Gary's Note: I'd put that word in quotes, personally. "Purity" is deeply notional concept and a little broad to be associated with race... even given the inbreeding of the Ptolemies.] Macedonian Greek.

It is with Cleopatra’s grandfather that uncertainties develop....

Cleopatra’s father also had several wives. One was his sister, but again there is evidence that some of his five children had another mother.
Full article: https://blog.oup.com/2010/12/cleopatr...

Now, before getting into any of the specifics, I'd like to address the question asked in the title of that article, "Does it matter?" I have three answers.

1. Of course it doesn't matter. The skin tone of someone who lived over two thousand years ago can't have any meaningful influence on our lives. Very few people are going to watch or not Cleopatra 2525 because they agree or disagree with casting Gina Torres or Jennifer Sky in a sci-fi show with sexy midriffs. Similarly, I doubt even the argument that the events in which Cleopatra participated were in any way directly influenced by whether her eyes were blue or brown. I suppose one might want to argue that Mark Antony was suffering from a pre-Christian era version of Spike Lee's "jungle fever" but that kind of thing is awful speculative, and there's probably good reasons why Spike hasn't made that movie. (Yet.) Regardless, it's pretty unlikely that Cleopatra's ancestry is going to have a day-to-day influence on anyone's life.

2. Not really.... It does matter in the sense that this is history and knowing history is important in the same way that knowing anything is important. At the very least, the Ptolemies were an interesting bunch, and Cleopatra was—more or less—the last of them who was among the movers and shakers of history. For instance, the mythic fecundity of Egypt and, by extension, her queen in contrast with relatively buttoned down Romans (they were hardly chaste, but that is the image of themselves they post-rationalized) Cleopatra's "exotic" physical appearance should be seen as a factor. Greeks/Macedonians were not "exotic" to the Romans. They were more quaint. If Cleopatra looked like one of the slaves they bought because he could do sums, her "exotic" nature is less easy to understand, and Cleopatra isn't just exotic, she's a byword for the exotic. It makes sense for historians to try to make sense of her in that context.

3. Yeah, it kinda does matter. Like any issue having to do with culture and conflict Race is, from what I can tell, almost entirely a construct of culture rather than biology. There are certainly biological markers, and some of those markers are arguably based upon environmental developments, but the markers that we use to define "race" are more or less arbitrarily chosen, and emphasized or ignored only so much as they fit into a cultural framework, and essentially given significance for the sake of convenient self-interest. However, that might be more than a little idealistic given the realities of the world in which we live. "Race" may be a cultural construct, but so are things like "rights" and "gender" so I defy anyone to look out their window at the world in which we live and say race doesn't matter. In that sense, the white-washing (or not) of Cleopatra becomes a battlefield in the culture war.

This text takes a pretty standard approach to that question. Schiff says outright that Cleopatra looked like Elizabeth Taylor. Personally, I'm not so sure. We don't have great info on her mother and grandmother, and even with that unknown, I think it's more than likely that the line was not as neatly managed and orderly as is often assumed. Who is to say that a few royals in the generations that preceded Cleopatra might not have mixed a bit here and there where they weren't "supposed" to? Royal pants and skirts come off just like those of commoners. They just have more purple on them. The term "History is written by the winners" is usually associated with war, but it's true of dynastic struggles as well. "Legitimacy" is as much post hoc as anything else associated with the dubious honesty of kings. These are people who claim divine ancestry. Are we to believe they're being candid about their immediate ancestry?

Personally, I like the casting decision made by the folks who did the HBO Rome series. Lyndsey Marshal has a kind of ubiquitous quality that neither denies the issue nor resolves it.


message 4: by Amber (last edited Jul 05, 2017 11:25AM) (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments It matters if you THINK it matters. Look at all the brouhaha over whether Jesus was black, white or Middle Eastern that I've been hearing over the local NPR affiliate. One quote: "I think if Jesus looked more like Errol Flynn, the Gospel writers might have said something about it."

Or even like Ted Neely, as in this clip from the '73 version of Jesus Christ Superstar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQHIm...


Gary Foss | 1078 comments I couple of things have stood out to me in particular in this re-read.

First, Schiff made a comment that I found interesting. When it comes to the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra (I'm paraphrasing) she says, "we don't know who seduced whom."

I found that a particularly interesting note to put in. The assumption of history is, I think, pretty clearly that Cleopatra seduced Caesar, but there isn't a whole lot of evidence to suggest that was the case. Caesar was an older man, certainly, but he was also a man who was accustomed to seducing women both politically and personally. His reputation as a rake was very well established. He would certainly have understood how the personal and the political overlapped in Egyptian dynastic politics, and would have been more than happy to take advantage of that. And he didn't have much competition in that palace what with the only other really suitable rival being a teenage boy.

On the other hand, Cleopatra had to know that on some level if she didn't seduce Caesar then her life was at stake. She had to get Caesar on side no matter the cost. Apparently, Caesar was not a particularly difficult target to seduce, and would have himself seen the benefits of such a relationship, but my point here is that where it was more of a maneuver on his part, it was a Hail Mary play on Cleopatra's.

So, I'm going to say 75/25 Cleopatra to Caesar as the "seducer" in that relationship. Opinions may vary....

The other thing that Schiff noted that I found odd was her statement that we don't know how quickly that relationship became sexual. Dates are a bit shaky when it comes to events 2,000+ years ago, but I did a little research, and the birth of Caesarion is a little bit in doubt. According to Wikipedia, he was born June 23, 47 BC. Caesar, Cleopatra and their followers were holed up in the palace starting in August 48 BC, which gives us 10 months between the doors getting barred, which seems pretty fast to me.

However, we do have to wonder about those dates. I happened on another source that said 46 BC for Caesarion, which would make the gap wider than "immediate" or whatever term one might want to use to describe the pace of the affair. However, I think that later date might be in error, or having more to do with Caesar Jr. being presented and accepted as his son by Poppa Caesar in Rome. "Legitimacy" in Rome was something of a hand-wave kind of situation, being established on little more than the word of the father.


message 6: by Amber (last edited Jul 07, 2017 10:26AM) (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments Uh...the teenage boy in question was one of Cleo's brothers so not much competition for a man like Caesar, given that he was a seasoned ladies man.


Gary Foss | 1078 comments Amber wrote: "Uh...the teenage boy in question was one of Cleo's brothers so not much competition for a man like Caesar, given that he was a seasoned ladies man."

That's what I was getting at. It would be an "easy conquest" from Caesar's POV given that he (young Ptolemy) was the only "competition" and she and he (young Ptolemy) had already been at each other's throats. Schiff does a good job portraying the family dynamics of the Ptolemies. They killed each other off routinely enough that none of them could have any illusions, Cleopatra included, about that relationship. Caesar was Cleopatra's best shot at the crown—and survival—so she has more motivation to seduce him than the other way around. Seducing women for political advantage was a common tactic for Caesar, but he had many other options available.


message 8: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments Hey, I wasn't that wrong, given that I still don't have a copy... .

This video gets at least ONE fact wrong and it's the actress playing Marilyn who spouts it. Can you spot it? ;) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vICX-...


message 9: by Yoly (new)

Yoly (macaruchi) | 644 comments I started the book today and I'm intrigued already. I had never been this intrigued by a non-fiction book before.

This is going to be an interesting read for me because I know close to nothing about Cleopatra. I'm looking forward to the discussions.


message 10: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments Yoly wrote: "I started the book today and I'm intrigued already. I had never been this intrigued by a non-fiction book before.

This is going to be an interesting read for me because I know close to nothing abo..."


She has a very literary writing style, which suits her subject and makes this a particularly approachable read. From time to time I think her rhetorical flourishes might be a bit much. But I don't think she ever really crosses the line from historiography into a kind of propaganda vehicle.

That said, she does have an agenda. Writing a book about Cleopatra is a pretty apt place for one to discuss feminism even if obliquely. So, it's interesting when she writes "it's interesting..." and then talks about something to do with gender portrayal and perception. Again, not wrong, but sometimes you get a glimpse of her bigger picture.

It's impossible to be truly unbiased, of course, so that's not really a criticism, even if I were inclined to disagree with her agenda, which I'm not. Just something to keep in mind for the careful reader.


message 11: by Gary (last edited Jul 20, 2017 06:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments I finished this up last night. I'm a history inclined guy, so re-reading a history book isn't that unusual, but it is something I do less frequently than for literature. There are, generally, only so many times one can re-experience The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire compared to, say, Hamlet.

This time I found myself reading the rhetorical language much more carefully. There are relatively few histories that one can read without noting some sort of agenda on the part of the author. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Schiff certainly notes the agenda of the historians that she's used as sources, and factors those things into her interpretation.

Schiff's agenda is Feminist. That's all well and good. A Feminist history of Cleopatra seems apt at first blush. In retrospect, however, I wonder how apt she might be. I live/work in Southern California, and I often run into folks who work in the entertainment industry who have a particular agenda or another, and while I'm sympathetic, I also can't help but think that, on some level, a Feminist film director winds up making a movie that promotes the rights of all really hot actresses in Hollywood... and to some extent the rights of all really hot women all over the world. Wonder Woman is a cool film (we've talked about it) but as a Feminist icon, she's kind of S/superman in both the comic book and Nietzschean sense of that term. Equal rights for all women! (That are made of clay and breathed to life by Zeus....) Superman is a "hero" in the sense that he's such an unattainable ideal that he becomes an abstraction. Same for Wonder Woman, and—admittedly to a much lesser extent—so is Cleopatra. She was, after all, embraced as a living goddess. Her story is fictionalized now by a process that was fictionalized during her lifetime because of her status as royalty. Or, in this case, the ancient Egyptian version of royalty which is a few steps beyond even that of the "divine right to rule." They actually were considered divine. That's not the same as some pope (also just a guy) anointing a king's head with plant fats because that's how God wants it.

Being a penis-American, I come at Feminism from a slightly objective POV. That is, I consider myself a Humanist who knows that 51% (or thereabouts) of humans are female, which makes me a Feminist by default, and bearing that in mind, I can only be supportive lest I evoke a whole range of Citizen Kane-style sanctimony. "...you've talked about giving the people their rights, as if you can make them a present of Liberty, as a reward for services rendered...Remember the working man?"

Except "working women" there.

Within that context, though, I do have to speculate about the value of a Feminist reading of Cleopatra that tries to make her all things to all women in the 21st century. And I do think that's what Schiff was going for on some level. Like a lot of readers of history at the graduate school level, I think she falls in love with her subject in a way that means she loses objectivity. So, for instance, she makes of Cleopatra an idol in a way that her own followers may even have approved of. She's smart, funny, sexy, beautiful (kinda...) and an able politician. Except for that whole getting killed part. Maybe those things are true. Maybe the entirety of the Cleopatra story can be explained by the circumstances of her birth, the wealth she had access to, and the amazingly tumultuous time in which she lived. It's entirely feasible that any number of people born rich (::cough, couch:: 2016 election...) could rise to the heights of political power through absolutely no merits of their own that they don't share with any number of other people. I'm not so convinced in this reading that raising Cleopatra from the dead in the 21st century and making of her a kind of ancient Egyptian proto-Feminist icon actually adds up.


message 12: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments I won't have time to get a copy before July runs out. I even doubt I'll get my #3 PIFM selection before the end of July.


message 13: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments Amber wrote: "I won't have time to get a copy before July runs out. I even doubt I'll get my #3 PIFM selection before the end of July."

I don't think there's any particular hurry. She's not going anyplace....

We do read "a book a month" but personally one of the things I like about GR is that a discussion can go on for years given the message board format. Some sites (or their users) get persnickety about "necrothread" discussions, but I haven't seen that so much around here, and I'm not so sure it makes sense even outside the context of books when folks get all "topic police" about stuff. So, chime in when you like and at your leisure, I say. It's all good.


message 14: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments If I can get my hands on a copy, I'll probably join in...IF it happens by the end of the year.


message 15: by Yoly (new)

Yoly (macaruchi) | 644 comments Amber wrote: "If I can get my hands on a copy, I'll probably join in...IF it happens by the end of the year."

Oh don't worry, You can join in whenever and you won't be alone. I'm sure I won't finish the book before the end of July either.


message 16: by Amber (last edited Jul 28, 2017 08:49AM) (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments I set that deadline so that I can actually make some sensible comments before the end of the year. Otherwise,you'll be waiting until next year before I can say anything useful about the book.


message 17: by Yoly (new)

Yoly (macaruchi) | 644 comments I've been taking my sweet time with this book. I was never interested in history in school, so most of this is new to me and I am loving it.
I've made so many highlights on this e-book that I wouldn't dare to do on a physical book :)

Found this interesting article about a reconstruction of Cleopatra based on sculptures and coins.
https://moco-choco.com/2016/04/20/wha...


message 18: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments If you own the book, you don't have to be afraid of marking it up. *wink* I'll check out the article later.


message 19: by Yoly (new)

Yoly (macaruchi) | 644 comments Amber wrote: "If you own the book, you don't have to be afraid of marking it up. *wink* I'll check out the article later."

Noooo it's cruel to do that to a physical book!!!!


message 20: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments My family always teased me about how I read books. When I was done with a paperback, you'd not know it'd been read. My mom was one of those people who breaks the spine of a book before even reading it, which always made me cringe. It was worse than watching her wring the neck of a chicken... because I'd wring the neck of a chicken before the spine of a book.

However, they never realized that to me there are books I consider lovers, which are to be cherished and protected, and there are books I consider workers. I'll happily mark up and annotate a "worker" book. History books are, for the most part, workers. A leather bound copy of Gibbons or something might cross over into the lover category, but I'll mark up most textbooks like a white wall in a graffiti prone neighborhood.

History texts are pragmatic, blue collar books. I say work 'em.


message 21: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments Both you and Yoly made me laugh today, Gary. Thanks.


message 22: by Yoly (new)

Yoly (macaruchi) | 644 comments Gary wrote: "My mom was one of those people who breaks the spine of a book before even reading it, which always made me cringe. ."

Omg, I can't stand that. I remember I bought my brand new copy of Jurassic Park right before the movie came out, because, of course the book is going to be better than the movie and I must read the book before I watched the movie. So anyway, I left the book lying around in the kitchen and my older brother took interest in the book, he took it for "a trip to the bathroom" and when he gave it back he not only cracked the spine of the book but somehow also THE COVER.

I cried out of anger, probably for 30 minutes and I never touched that book AGAIN. (Yes, I am that picky). I still enjoyed the movie, in fact, it's one of my favorite movies.

You can't tell if I've read a paperback either, I'm very careful with books. One of the reasons I prefer digital books because I know I can't break those :)


message 23: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments I stopped lending books to people because they'd come back (if at all) really damaged. I got a hardback copy of Tolkien back that was literally sticky (I mean covered in some sort of candy) and the cover half ripped off. It's fine if someone wants to screw up their own stuff, but it's a borrowed book. It's not like you'd borrow someone's car and return it with a busted transmission like, "Oh, here's your car back...."

On the other hand, maybe some of these folks would. From Out of Africa:
We had a friend – Hopworth – he’d got a book from Denys and didn’t return it. Denys was furious. I said to Denys, “You wouldn’t lose a friend for the sake of a book.” He said, “No, but he has, hasn’t he?”



message 24: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments Yoly wrote: "Gary wrote: "My mom was one of those people who breaks the spine of a book before even reading it, which always made me cringe. ."

Omg, I can't stand that. I remember I bought my brand new copy of..."


Yes, you can. Just be careless enough to crack the damn glass on the screen or do something that causes a battery leak.


message 25: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments After having listened to the first disc of the 12 in my unabridged audio copy, I think that the tangled MESS that was Cleopatra's family forest (not tree) makes Game of Thrones look like the Borgias!


message 26: by Yoly (new)

Yoly (macaruchi) | 644 comments LOL. I haven't read or watched Game of Thrones but I know exactly what you mean.
Things were "different" back then.


message 27: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments I don't have cable, so I can't watch the series and there's far too much rapey stuff in the books so I can't read it, either; but on the other hand I can't get away from references to GoT EVERYWHERE on the internet...and probably neither can you, Yoly.

Even Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd of YouTube's Epic Rap Battles of History comment on how there's far too much reality in GoT in their video, J.R.R. Tolkien vs. George R.R. Martin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAAp_...

That said, I was actually surprised to learn that she was far more than an airhead. I almost expected that but what surprised me was just how much MORE she was. Both she and Caesar would probably have qualified to join Mensa... .


message 28: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments Ptolemaic politics were always lively it seems. I don't know that we can really say if that was part of the nature of Egyptian dynastic power more than the time period, though. I think we do get the impression that many monarchical societies had a consistent, stable leadership, but it's just as likely that that idea is the result of a lot of historical cherry picking/focus (that is, bad historiography...) and more than a little bit of historians buying into the rhetoric of history itself. That is, good leaders were good leaders because they stayed in their leadership positions longer, and that illusion of stability makes for a pretty irresistible conclusion of "skill" or "stability" given the retrospective nature of history itself (that is, more bad historiography...) but if one considers the number of plots, controversies and discontents against even the most "successful" rulers like, say, Queen Victoria, arguably the most "successful" sovereign in history, then it starts to look much more like they lived lives closer to reality show television than anything else.

That said, the rivalries within the Ptolemy dynasty do seem to be "within the family" as it were more than might be the case for East Asia or Western Europe. Again, however, I can't help but wonder if that's really the case. History is replete with royal family backstabbing in every culture and in every era. It's hard to say if that was more the case in Egypt under the Ptolemies or if that's just the narrative that gets processed these days as part of a general Western historical bias against the Middle Eastern regions in general. The pre-Ottoman turks, for instance, are stereotypically cruel to their own family members. But then one looks at Queen Elizabeth beheading her cousin Queen Mary after many years of intrigues and one has to just wonder if that's the only case just because the Tudor family tree had so few branches comparatively?

The Ptolemies might have been more inclined to kill each other simply because there were more of them to spread the killing around. Or maybe their tendency to marry siblings after setting all the kids up against one another in competition for the attention of the pharaoh and the priests (and the inheritance of the throne) that lead to some sort of familial rivalry of the kind that we can't really comprehend very well outside of that context.


message 29: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments Re: "But then one looks at Queen Elizabeth beheading her cousin Queen Mary after many years of intrigues and one has to just wonder if that's the only case just because the Tudor family tree had so few branches comparatively?": I thought that Elizabeth and Mary Tudor were sisters (or at least half sisters) and it was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, who was Elizabeth's cousin? The Tudors were Welsh and only had one non-Welsh branch and that was the Stuarts of Scotland, but the Stuarts were also at least partly Plantagenet...the dynasty prior to the Tudors.

The Plantagenet part of the Stuart line dates back to at LEAST the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In Normandy and France, William the Conqueror was known as "William the Bastard," because his mother wasn't the Duchess. She was the Duke's mistress.

As far as length of reign goes, Ramses II matches Queen Victoria. The Pharaoh was in his 90s when he died.. . And he was even Pharaoh Sethi's first born. He was the second son.

Re: dynastic disputes: That happens every time a ruler can't keep it in his pants, so to speak. For a mythological analogy, look at the Olympian pantheon... . need I say more? Of course, let's NOT overlook the possible role of congenital idiocy may have played, given that too much inbreeding can do that... . Another analogy is the tendency of certain breeds of dogs to inherited Hip Dysplasia. http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/m...

Wonder what I'll learn when I listen to the third disc?


message 30: by Yoly (new)

Yoly (macaruchi) | 644 comments Amber wrote: "but on the other hand I can't get away from references to GoT EVERYWHERE on the internet...and probably neither can you, Yoly."

I have been deliberately avoiding it until I get a chance to read the books :D
The internet is a dangerous place for me.


message 31: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments Amber wrote: "I thought that Elizabeth and Mary Tudor were sisters (or at least half sisters) and it was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, who was Elizabeth's cousin?"

You're right. There's Queen Mary (Tudor of England) and Queen Mary (Stuart, Queen of Scots) the one I was referring to there. Sister and cousin. Elizabeth had her cousin Mary beheaded after much intrigue and, in fact, effectively keeping her a prisoner for a few years. Mary/Scots lived a life filled with a whole range of intrigues and murders, but Queen Mary (Tudor) is another likely example, given that she had effectively kept Elizabeth a prisoner and threatened to have her killed upon occasion what with the whole Catholic/Protestant thing.

Point being that palace intrigue and slaughtering family members isn't particularly an Eastern/Middle Eastern thing. The periods of relative peace and stability might be the exceptions rather than the rule when it comes to such things. Blood for blood, as it were.


message 32: by Mae (new)

Mae McKinnon (MaeMcKinnon) | 12 comments Gary wrote: It's not like you'd borrow someone's car and return it with a busted transmission like, "Oh, here's your car back...."

I'm pretty sure there're people who do that too. Usually you can count yourself lucky if you get your precious books back at all (remember one person had several of mine for so long I actually went and forgot I owned them :(

As for the discussion:
Popular opinion (whatever creates it) vs archaeology (which, while being more hands on can still be interpreted differently - at different times and by different people) vs history/historians (which can -and do - 180degree turns every so often, sometimes in a single conversation) and tend to be based on historic popular opinions are never going to provide clear cut answers, whatever question we throw at the past.


message 33: by Gary (last edited Aug 20, 2017 02:12PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss | 1078 comments Mae wrote: "Popular opinion (whatever creates it) vs archaeology (which, while being more hands on can still be interpreted differently - at different times and by different people) vs history/historians (which can -and do - 180degree turns every so often, sometimes in a single conversation) and tend to be based on historic popular opinions are never going to provide clear cut answers, whatever question we throw at the past."

As a guy who took more than my fair share of history classes back in my school days (a period of time that shall soon itself become history) and taken things like historiography courses in which we did nothing but talk about the processes of History itself for a semester or two, I do think there are historical truths. That is, things like the date of the Battle of Hastings, the details surrounding the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or the Moon landings. However, that's not necessarily what History (capital H) is. History (capital H) is as much the presentation of events as the events themselves. At the very least, every historian has to pick and choose from among the record which fact s/he will relate and that very process alone creates some sort of theme and a bias.

So, for instance, this BBC program, Cleopatra - Portrait of a Killer, which focuses on her role in the death of her sister (and which uses a few fairly dubious sources for dramatic effect) in the Ptolemaic family dynasty:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHE5D...

That's a TV program, of course, so they're going to pick and choose among the facts for the most salacious and dramatic. Sometimes the veracity of the facts are in doubt, and ultimately, historical facts are going to be more questionable than something in one of the hard sciences, but we can be pretty confident about many things. More often it's the presentation of the facts and the choice of the facts to present that we have to be cautious about. So, that program, for instance, is a pretty good exercise in that process. Watch in particular for the use of adjectives, the use of superlatives and dramatic vocabulary. History with a soundtrack is always History you should take with a grain of salt....

Schiff is far from immune to those processes in her presentation. That's not necessarily a bad thing given the nature of those things. I always note, for instance, the History that comes from pacifists as having a particularly worthwhile agenda, even if it does suffer from that presentation. It's like getting diet advice from a hardcore vegan. You just know there's some high-minded ideal that all the information is passing through before it gets related to you, and you need to be cautious about taking it as read.

Equally, however, I'd suggest that we not go off that deep end and assume that all facts are ultimately in doubt, even in something like a social science like History. That seems to be the conclusion drawn by many people, and it's embraced by those who want to manipulate them. There's a happy path of virtue between doubt and acceptance that requires a certain amount of development as a reader of history (or a reader of anything, really) that maximizes one's understanding and makes it most difficult to be mislead.


message 34: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 500 comments Gary wrote: "Amber wrote: "I thought that Elizabeth and Mary Tudor were sisters (or at least half sisters) and it was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, who was Elizabeth's cousin?"

You're right. There's Queen Ma..."


Good point.


back to top