Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

About a year and a half ago, I saw the author of Cleopatra: A Life on the Jon Stewart show. I was intrigued enough by the interview to buy the book. Sharon ended up reading the book last year. She was after me to read the book before we went to Italy. I finished the book in the week before we left for the trip.

The book is written in an interesting voice; it is different than most of the historical biographies that I have read. Schiff works to reconcile all of the different stories about Cleopatra into one biography.

I have to admit that I was kind of ignorant about the details of the story. Cleopatra's relationship with Julius Caesar and then with Mark Anthony is fascinating. The civil war that took place after Julius Caesar's murder as Augustus consolidated power is an interesting chapter in the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

I also didn't understand the prominence of Egypt and the city of Alexandria in the first century BC. Egypt was the richest country in the world, while Alexandria was the center of culture and education. Cleopatra was probably the wealthiest person in the world.

Finally, I didn't realize that Egypt had a Greek ruling class at this time in history. Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greek origin that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great's death. Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 BC until Cleopatra's death in 30 BC. I need to read a book on Alexander the Great.

I really enjoy when something that I am reading about intersects with the real world. As I mentioned, we passed an Egyptian obelisk taken by Augustus after his victory in Egypt over Cleopatra and Mark Antony while we were in Rome.

I enjoyed this book a lot and would recommend it. It provides a great overview of an interesting time in history. More importantly, it is just a great story.

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