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Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt Hardcover – 24 Jan 2008
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4 Stars: [A] sympathetic biography... she is able to place Cleopatra securely in Egyptian culture and history. (Mail on Sunday)
Tyldesley's strength has always been her storytelling, and here she is on top form. (Sunday Telegraph)
Joyce Tyldesley's magnificent Cleopatra strips away many of our preconceptions to provide a rich, absorbing picture of a country and its Egyptian queen. (Belfast Telegraph)
(A) lucid summary of the Queen of the Nile's historical context and eternal allure...Over the past few years Tyldesley has established herself as perhaps the foremost popular writer on the rulers of Ancient Egypt... (T)his is a very readable account of the life of Cleopatra VII, and one that goes some way to redress the way in which she is often viewed. It also provides intriguing insights into life and society in the Egypt of the Ptolemies and the position of Egypt in the world-system of its time. (Times Higher Education Supplement)
An engaging new biography... to regard Cleopatra as an Egyptian ruler instead of a male myth and to assess her using scholarly and archaelogical tools is a worthy goal. It seems long overdue. (Louisa Thomas Newsweek 2008-11-03)
The Romans regarded her as 'fatale monstrum', a female Saddam Hussein. Pascal said the shape of her nose changed the history of the world. Shakespeare and Tiepolo (and Elizabeth Taylor) portrayed her as an icon of tragic beauty. But who was Cleopatra, really?See all Product description
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The book is structured in a reassuringly chronological manner. Tyldesley begins with Cleopatra's turbulent accession to the throne, moves through her careful negotiation of famine, drought and opposition, and ends with her death and legacy. Her much-discussed liaisons with Caesar, Pompey and Marc Antony also merit significant attention.
Throughout the course of the biography, Tyldesley sustains the interest by examining all the most famous myths about Cleopatra, and then systematically authenticating or debunking them. We discover how far we can trust the accounts of Cleopatra rolling herself theatrically from carpets, or dissolving priceless pearls in wine. We find out how likely it was that the queen was actually hook-nosed and prominent-chinned, and that far from being careless and flippant, she was shrewd and politically astute.
The most fascinating part of the story for me, having studied Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, was the chapter that dealt with their famous relationship. Anyone who knows the play at all would find the explanation of Antony's scandalous past, for example, extremely enlightening. It is also interesting to see how far Shakespeare adapted and manipulated the legend for the stage. I would therefore recommend this book to anyone studying Shakespeare's play - or any play about Cleopatra, for that matter - as an excellent study companion.
Really, though, this biography might appeal to anyone, simply because Cleopatra is such an intriguing and mysterious figure in history. In spite of its somewhat scholarly tone in places, one does not have to be an egyptologist to find 'Cleopatra' interesting and surprising.
But what do we really know about Cleopatra, the last Queen in a dynasty of Macedonian rulers of Egypt? Her ancestor, Ptolemy I, seized control of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. Because of this, many Egyptologists see Cleopatra as not really ‘Egyptian’ and studies of her have been mainly undertaken by Graeco- Roman scholars using the ‘evidence’ of Roman reports, probably biased and written after her death.
This new biography of Cleopatra is one of the few written by an Egyptologist. As perhaps the Ptolemies did themselves, she sees Cleopatra and her predecessors as a valid Egyptian Dynasty, the direct heirs and descendants of the culture of ancient Egypt.
The emergence of Rome as a power, and internal disputes there, are why Egypt was seen as a potential ally and a source of wealth. This why and how Julius Caesar and then Mark Antony were to meet Cleopatra.
The author shows how Cleopatra was a well educated and able ruler and a devoted mother. Like her predecessors, she worshipped the ancient Egyptian gods and was seen by many as the personification of the goddess Isis, mother and protector of the future pharaoh (her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion). Her ambition matched that of Caesar and Antony and whilst Rome may have been using Egypt, then Egypt certainly used Rome.
The story of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and particularly its end, is complex and bloody and the author does an excellent job in presenting this fascinating tale (which is often better than fiction) in a clear and understandable way. It is a story that will endure and be told many times, but in this biography one can see an Egyptian Queen struggling against internal problems and external pressures and almost succeeding in securing her throne and dynasty.
Unusually, perhaps, for a work of non-fiction, this book was chosen by BBC Radio 4 as a ‘Book of the Week’ in January; abridged extracts were read, although these concentrated on the story, rather than the archaeology, which is an important part of the book.
Reviewed by ancientegyptmagazine dot com
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