After Elizabeth I, my next greatest historical obsession probably has to be Ancient Egypt and its most famous queen: Cleopatra. So when I saw that Endeavour Press were offering a re-issue of Cleopatra by Ernle Bradford for free, via their weekly newsletter, I just had to give it a go!
Over time Cleopatra has been much maligned as an infamous woman, who was given to sexual excess and capable of every perfidy, but is that really true? Or is that just Roman propaganda? Instead it could be argued that she was a woman, a monarch and a politician of infinite courage, intelligence and resources. Who, from a young age until her death, fought to free her country and to secure her son’s inheritance from the iron dominance of Rome. The subject of many a biography and tragedy, Cleopatra continues to fascinate two thousand years after her glorious but doomed life.
Using ancient sources Ernle Bradford pieces together the life of Cleopatra from birth to death and reflects on the many different portraits of her throughout history. I particularly found interesting the sections on the early Ptolemies, the rise and decline of the dynasty and the founding of one of the wonders of the ancient world: the city of Alexandria; all of which I knew little to nothing about before. Also it was interesting to find out, in tremendous detail, about Cleopatra’s two great love affairs with the powerful Roman men: Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony.
Cleopatra clearly set out to seduce Anthony and amidst their tumultuous passion they did seem to bring out the worst in each other, which would ultimately lead to their doom. On the other hand Cleopatra really did seem to have some true affection for Caesar. Furthermore with Cleopatra being just seventeen when they met and given Caesar’s Lothario reputation, it is highly unlikely she was the one doing the seducing in this case; unlike what history and films have claimed. Caesar’s shocking downfall was clearly a blow to her both emotionally and politically, as they had hoped to rule the Mediterranean world together and found a Julian-Ptolemaic dynasty.
All in all I thought Cleopatra was an extremely interesting, balanced and accessible history of the life and loves of one of the most controversial women in history. Good read.
Have you read this? Or have you read anything else about Cleopatra?