58: Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
Cleopatra by author Stacy Schiff is well-written and impeccably researched. It's a compelling story of one of history's most elusive figures.
For most of us, almost everything we know about Cleopatra is due to William Shakespeare or Elizabeth Taylor. Her life would seem to belong as much to a soap opera as the history channel. It is a life so shrouded in the stuff of legend that she would seem to belong alongside some fictional figure of myth rather than any person from history
Until now. Schiff sifts through the innuendo, speculation and half-truths to present our most complete portrait of this remarkable woman who was perceived by her people as not only a queen, but as an actual goddess.
Her biography is the definitive source on the Queen of the Nile. With limits.
The truth is we don't know much about Cleopatra. As Schiff points out we have very little idea what she may have actually looked like. And we're not certain how she died. It was suicide, but there probably wasn't a snake involved.
And Cleopatra's story is not hers alone. It also belongs to Julius Caesar and Mark Antony as well as the people of Egypt and Rome. It is also more of a political story than a personal one. Throughout her life Cleopatra was either concerned with securing the throne or retaining control of it. She was, at various times, worried more about her own siblings than the Romans.
Because the historical record is so sketchy, Schiff must work with a limited palette. Her accomplishment, then, is all the more remarkable for in Cleopatra she compares the real woman to the legend and it is the real woman who emerges as one of the most intriguing figures in history.