Monday, August 23, 2010
Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
This epic (epic meaning really freaking long here) book tells the story of the great Queen Cleopatra, last Pharaoh of Egypt from beginning to end. It tells of her relationship with the two great loves of her life-Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, her struggle to keep Egypt independent in a world that is being dominated by Rome, and her determination to rule an Empire and make it one of the World's greatest powers. The story begins with her birth and follows her through her ascension, her failed attempt to fight against Rome, and her memorable death by asp bite.
This book was about 300 pages too long. I understand how George felt the need to create a complete portrait of Cleopatra, but I also believe that her editors should have been a little more strict. But yet still only a couple characters feel more than ancillary. Even Caesar felt a little two-dimensional. It goes on and on about feasts and battle strategy, and often inserts exclamations like "My heart stopped cold" or "The aching need for him was killing me", when Cleopatra is nervous about the safety of someone, or worried about some outcome or another, or longing for her man. Would the real Cleopatra shown such tender weakness? Who knows? It doesn't make her less of a political genius. Still, I do feel like I know a great deal more of the history of that time period, and for that I am grateful.
History time: Cleopatra VII, last Pharaoh of Egypt, (Late 69 BC – August 12, 30 BC)
A descendant of Alexander the Great and member of the Ptolemy line of Greek kings and queens of Egypt, Cleopatra was able to unite both the native Egyptians and the ruling Greeks by accepting both Egyptian and Greek gods and goddesses, and by learning the Egyptian language. By doing this, she earned the respect and loyalty of her entire nation, something most of her ancestors failed to achieve.
When her right to the throne was threatened by her brother, Julius Caesar stepped in to help her ascend to her rightful place. Her alliance with Rome solidified her hold on her empire, while also keeping Egypt safe as an independent nation.
After Caesar was assassinated, Cleopatra allied with a member of the rising Triumvirate, Marc Antony, in an effort to preserve Egypt and become the most powerful nation in the East. But as Antony lost support from Rome due to his alliance with Cleopatra, the campaign failed. Cleopatra was painted as a wicked seductress who led Romans astray, a view heralded by Caesar's nephew Octavian (Or Caesar Augustus as he was later called). Her failed campaign led to the overthrow of Egypt, and the end of the country's independence. As Rome invaded her beloved country, the legend goes that she killed herself with the bite of an asp. She was the last Pharaoh of Egypt-her children never inherited her country.
Other books to consider:
Queen Isabella by Alison Weir, The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan, and The Royal Road to Fotheringhay by Jean Plaidy