Meanwhile, Back on the Nile

Star of stage, screen, television, and enough novels, plays and biographies to sink a penteconter, Cleopatra VII has been depicted as a scheming harlot, a wild teenager shorn of her locks, a political dominatrix, a loving mother — ad infinitum. Even so,  I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of Professor Duane Roller’s latest, Cleopatra, A Biography this week. It’s thin, a mere 156 pages, not including appendices. However, in those few pages the author manages to etch vivid portraits not only of the famous queen, but of her ancestors as well and, in the process, explain nicely why the Ptolemy dynasty has haunted history for over 2,000 years.

A few tidbits about the Ptolemies:

-When Cleopatra’s aunt, Berenike III, found herself on the throne of Egypt without a co-regent, the search for one began. The first candidate died before he could present himself in Alexandria, the second was detained by the Roman governor of Syria, and the third was  so unsuitable Berenike had him killed.

-Ptolemy II c. 282BC, was so annoyed by a poet who spoke out against his personal life he had the nervy scribe sealed in a lead box and dropped into the Mediterranean.

-Ptolemies frequently married their siblings, half-siblings or parents, creating a family tree so complex and incest-ridden it could crash the Ancestry.com site if ever uploaded.

-Ptolemy X, Cleopatra’s grandfather had, at least fifty years before Actium, actually pawned Egypt to Rome as collateral for his debts.

And now, about Cleo:

-To attain the throne,  she had her two younger brothers and sister done away with.

-She was the first Ptolemy in 300 years to know the Egyptian language.

-She was not released at Julius Caesar’s feet from a carpet, laundry bag or draperies.

-She was a skilled hunter and equestrian.

-She did not kill herself with the bite of a snake.

And that’s only up to page 41. As usual, however, I cheated and read the last couple of pages, including the last line: Cleopatra was a force not to be eliminated merely by death. True. But a well-tailored biography like this could well go a long way towards eliminating the rumor treadmill we’ve all been stuck on for the past 2,000 years. Two asps up!

One Response to Meanwhile, Back on the Nile

  1. Kimbery Ostwinkle says:

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