Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff


The name brings to mind a number of things. Sexuality. Sensuality. Theatricality. Duplicity. Elizabeth Taylor. In this comprehensive biography/history, Stacy Schiff calls up all of these ideas and then breaks them down. In their place, she creates a picture of a smart, resourceful, resilient Queen who understood how to use imagery and ceremony to win over her subjects and how to position herself in strategically favourable ways.

This book was like a bowl of fiber cereal that also tasted delicious. Schiff's writing was so strong; it was impossible for me to read quickly, because there was so much detail. Every page had to be savoured and digested. I had vague memories of studying this period of history at some point in time (I know I memorized the members of the first and second triumvirates, although I can't now say who was in either) and, although I had never seen the movie Cleopatra, the same Elizabeth Taylor-fueled image that many people have. I was learning things from page 1, not only about Cleopatra, but also Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Octavian, and Cicero. As I said, it's not a quick read, but I found it very readable and rewarding.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Vera (Mrs. Vladomir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff
St-Exupery: A Biography by Stacy Schiff
A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America by Stacy Schiff
Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

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