Cleopatra: A Biography

Cleopatra: A Biography

Cleopatra: A Biography

Cleopatra: A Biography

Synopsis

Few personalities from classical antiquity are more famous--yet more poorly understood--than Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt. In this major biography, Duane Roller reveals that Cleopatra was in fact a learned and visionary leader whose overarching goal was always the preservation of her dynasty and kingdom.
Roller's authoritative account is the first to be based solely on primary materials from the Greco-Roman period: literary sources, Egyptian documents (Cleopatra's own writings), and representations in art and coinage produced while she was alive. His compelling portrait of the queen illuminates her prowess as a royal administrator who managed a large and diverse kingdom extending from Asia Minor to the interior of Egypt, as a naval commander who led her own fleet in battle, and as a scholar and supporter of the arts. Even her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius--the source of her reputation as a supreme seductress who drove men to their doom--were carefully crafted state policies: she chose these partners to insure the procreation of successors who would be worthy of her distinguished dynasty. That Cleopatra ultimately lost to her Roman opponents, Roller contends, in no way diminishes her abilities.

"Roller tells his tale smoothly and accessibly....The resulting portrait is that of a complex, many-sided figure, a potent Hellenistic ruler who could move the tillers of power as skillfully as any man, and one far and nobly removed from the 'constructed icon' of popular imagination."
--The New York Times Book Review

"A rich account of late Ptolemaic culture."
--The New Yorker

"Offers a superb panorama of the society and culture of late Ptolemaic Egypt, with vivid sketches of the (remarkably vigorous) intellectual life of Cleopatra's Alexandria and the structural instabilities of the late Ptolemaic state."
--Times Literary Supplement

"Besides providing a compelling story and breathing fresh air into a heretofore two-dimensional caricature from history, Roller's 'Cleopatra' provides an interesting commentary on the attitudes still prevalent towards women who rule."
--Christian Science Monitor

"Compulsively readable."
--Bookslut

"A definitive account of a queen of remarkable strength."
--Publishers Weekly

Excerpt

Few personalities from classical antiquity are more familiar yet more poorly grasped than Cleopatra VII (69–30 B.C.), queen of Egypt. The subject of a vast repertory of post-antique popular culture and also a significant figure in literature, art, and music, Cleopatra herself is surprisingly little known and generally misunderstood. Even in the years immediately after her death her memory was condemned by those who had defeated her, thus tainting the ancient sources.

Cleopatra VII was an accomplished diplomat, naval commander, administrator, linguist, and author, who skillfully managed her kingdom in the face of a deteriorating political situation and increasing Roman involvement. That she ultimately lost does not diminish her abilities. Yet her persona in popular culture and the arts often overrides her real self, and even scholarly accounts of her career may rely on information from early modern drama and art or the movies, which are interesting and significant in their own right but of no relevance in understanding the queen herself. Although she is the subject of an extensive bibliography, she can be unfairly represented as a person whose physical needs determined her political decisions. Some of the most unbiased evidence from her own era, the art and coinage produced while she was alive, is too frequently ignored.

Like all women, she suffers from male-dominated historiography in both ancient and modern times and was often seen merely as an appendage of the men in her life or was stereotyped into typical chauvinistic female roles such as seductress or sorceress, one whose . . .

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