Biography Reviews


Cleopatra: A Life

by Stacy Schiff

In this deservedly popular book the few known facts about Cleopatra are expanded with new information about this woman of incalculable wealth who wielded uncontested power over a vast area of the Mediterranean world. As Schiff asks: “What woman, what single male, was so great to world politics and with such consequences?”

Much of the mainly fictional accounts and myths about Cleopatra are dispelled here in favor of discussions of the motivations and strategies of her actions, the successes as well as those with dire consequences, during her years of rule and in her relationships with Caesar and Mark Anthony. Of particular interest is the author’s emphasis on the clash of cultures, fueled by Roman propaganda, between the so called “Feminine East” and the “Masculine Rome.”

The book is lengthy, running the gamut of events from her early childhood to her death, which signaled the end of the Hellenistic age and the Ptolemy reign. Students can dip into whatever discrete aspect of the events and life styles of the period that interests them, whether it be Alexandra at the height of its splendor and the lives of ordinary Egyptians, to the lesser world of Rome and its client countries in the Palatine.

Maps, timelines, and dynastic relationships are included.


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