Stacy SchiffCleopatra: A Life

Back Bay Books, 2011

by Oline Eaton on December 7, 2011

Stacy Schiff

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Aside from being aesthetically equated to Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra has not fared well in history. In her riveting biography Cleopatra: A Life (Back Bay Books, 2011), which is now out in paperback, Stacy Schiff establishes that this was primarily because Cleopatra’s story was penned by a crowd of Roman historians for whom “citing her sexual prowess was evidently less discomfiting than acknowledging her intellectual gifts.”

Schiff exhibits no such discomfort and, in brilliant contrast, seems to revel in her subject’s lively intelligence. She establishes from the out-set that, above all, Cleopatra was a consummate politician—a visionary who shaped her own persona and her people’s perception through both exceptional leadership and canny political stagecraft.

One of the most significant contributions of Cleopatra: A Life is that it provides us with the least tainted view of the Egyptian queen to date. Schiff assiduously teases out the motivations of Cleopatra’s chroniclers, and the result is a compelling rendering wherein the myths surrounding the last Egyptian queen are not only deconstructed but their origins are also explained. With the veils of myth removed, the Cleopatra that emerges in Schiff’s sensitive and probing portrait is a smarter, wiser woman, and one of the strongest, most influential rulers of the ancient world.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

L. Petrakis, PhD August 16, 2012 at 5:52 am

On p. 9 Back Bay Books edition of CLEOPATRA, Ms Schiff writes re The Hellenistic Era: “It has been perhaps best defined as a Greek era in which the Greeks played no role”.

The great men who made the Hellenistic era -Archimedes, Euclid, Eratosthenes, Callimachos, Theocritos, Aristarchos, Epicurus, Zeno of Citium, Ptolemy I Soter (Savior), the great sculptors and architects, the men of the Mouseion and libraries of Alexandria and Pergamon- spoke and wrote in Greek, considered themselves Greek.

Is Ms Schiff kidding?

Cleopatra April 22, 2012 at 1:32 am

She infamously involved herself with Julius Caesar and even had a child with him to ensure that the throne of Egypt was safe in her hands. Cleopatra was very politically savvy and did not let anything stand in her way and power. In fact, after coming to sole power after the death of Ptolemy XIII had her remaining brother and sister killed so that no one would contest the throne.

Pamela Liljeberg December 9, 2011 at 9:04 am

Thank you for the interesting and informative insight into this author and book. I have always been interested in Cleopatra and I am looking forward to reading a different perspective of her life. I especially appreciate knowing how and why Ms Schiff chose to write about Cleopatra.

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