Cleopatra and Rome

Cleopatra and Rome

Cleopatra and Rome

Cleopatra and Rome

Synopsis

With the full panorama of her life forever lost, Cleopatra touches us in a series of sensational images: floating through a perfumed mist down the Nile; dressed as Venus for a tryst at Tarsus; unfurled from a roll of linens before Caesar; couchant, the deadly asp clasped to her breast. Through such images, each immortalizing the Egyptian queen's encounters with legendary Romans--Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian Augustus--we might also chart her rendezvous with the destiny of Rome. So Diana Kleiner shows us in this provocative book, which opens an entirely new perspective on one of the most intriguing women who ever lived. Cleopatra and Rome reveals how these iconic episodes, absorbed into a larger historical and political narrative, document a momentous cultural shift from the Hellenistic world to the Roman Empire. In this story, Cleopatra's death was not an end but a beginning--a starting point for a wide variety of appropriations by Augustus and his contemporaries that established a paradigm for cultural conversion.In this beautifully illustrated book, we experience the synthesis of Cleopatra's and Rome's defining moments through surviving works of art and other remnants of what was once an opulent material culture: religious and official architecture, cult statuary, honorary portraiture, villa paintings, tombstones, and coinage, but also the theatrical display of clothing, perfume, and hair styled to perfection for such ephemeral occasions as triumphal processions or barge cruises. It is this visual culture that best chronicles Cleopatra's legend and suggests her subtle but indelible mark on the art of imperial Rome at the critical moment of its inception.

Excerpt

Cleopatra is one of the most famous women who ever lived. Even though she was the last of a dynasty of seven Cleopatras, we think of her as if she were unique. The most beautiful and celebrated actresses of all time, among them the divine Sarah Bernhardt, the incomparable Vivien Leigh, and the legendary Elizabeth Taylor, have vied to portray her on stage and screen. Several civilizations lay claim to Cleopatra, and even today there are few unfamiliar with the queen's dramatic death at the prick of an asp (Fig. P. 1). In fact, the remarkable image of this spectacular woman lying on a couch expiring from a self-inflicted wound haunts all subsequent versions of her story; the death by suicide of this great queen remains one of history's most climactic moments.

Cleopatra's life may be glimpsed through a series of such sensational events. These episodes seared themselves into the minds of her contemporaries and into the memories of later generations. What is most striking is that each of those defining moments had to do with Rome. The convergence of Cleopatra and Rome near the turn of the first century was a momentous rendezvous with the destinies of three Romans—Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian Augustus. Cleopatra's most unforgettable moments appear to have been shared in turn with this trio.

Since the full panorama of Cleopatra's life is lost to us, we attach great importance to these incidents, which serve as tantalizing clues to what must have been fuller accounts of Cleopatra's interaction with Rome's . . .

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