Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt

( 3 )


The Romans regarded her as “fatale monstrum”—a fatal omen. Pascal said the shape of her nose changed the history of the world. Shakespeare portrayed her as an icon of tragic love. But who was Cleopatra, really?

We almost feel that we know Cleopatra, but our distorted image of a self-destructive beauty does no justice to Cleopatra’s true genius. In Cleopatra, Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley offers an unexpectedly vivid portrait of a skillful Egyptian ruler. Stripping away our ...

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The Romans regarded her as “fatale monstrum”—a fatal omen. Pascal said the shape of her nose changed the history of the world. Shakespeare portrayed her as an icon of tragic love. But who was Cleopatra, really?

We almost feel that we know Cleopatra, but our distorted image of a self-destructive beauty does no justice to Cleopatra’s true genius. In Cleopatra, Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley offers an unexpectedly vivid portrait of a skillful Egyptian ruler. Stripping away our preconceptions, many of them as old as Egypt’s Roman conquerors, Cleopatra is a magnificent biography of a most extraordinary queen.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This entertaining biography hits the elusive sweet spot between scholarship and readability. British archeologist Tyldesley (Daughters of Isis) is charmingly transparent about the unreliability of her sources. She tells us that when the Roman poet Lucan describes Cleopatra's "ineffable night of shame" with Julius Caesar, he is "writing the equivalent of modern tabloid journalism." In spite of the lack of eyewitness descriptions of Cleopatra, the question, for instance, of what she looked like becomes a fast-moving amusing discussion of statuary as royal propaganda, the modern perception of Cleopatra's nose as way too big and the difference between beauty and sexiness. Writing with an easy mastery of her subject, Tyldesley always seems to be able to lay her hands on the perfect lively detail, whether an excerpt from an obscure bureaucratic document or a description of a kind of giant robot that paraded through the streets of Alexandria pouring libations of milk from a gold bottle. Though she makes it clear we'll never know what Cleopatra was "really" like, Tyldesley provides a memorable journey through the rich and contradictory sources of our knowledge about her. 8 pages of illus., 3 maps. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

British Egyptologist Tyldesley patiently unscrambles a slew of Ptolemys and Cleopatras who ruled wealthy Egypt from 332 to 30 BCE to tell the story of the dynasty's last and best-remembered queen, Cleopatra VII (c.70-30 BCE). Using archaeological and literary evidence, Tyldesley strips away the legend of Cleopatra's debauchery, much of it propaganda by Cleopatra's archenemy, the Emperor Octavian, who renamed the eighth month after himself (August) in part to mark the date he defeated the Egyptian queen. A well-educated and powerful queen of a Greek dynasty, Cleopatra scandalized the Roman world with the independence allowed women in Egypt (she bore children to both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony) and the dynastic custom of marrying within the family (she wed two of her brothers, both Ptolemys). While cultivating her divinity in the millennia-old Pharaonic tradition, Cleopatra also made strategic political (and sexual) alliances in the Mediterranean world to hold onto her shaky throne for 20 years. Cleopatra and Antony's defeat by Octavian at Actium, and the subsequent fall of Egypt, marked the end of the Hellenistic age and the start of the Roman era. This fascinating and scholarly book belongs in all libraries.
—Stewart Desmond

Kirkus Reviews
A new biography of the Macedonian ruler attempts to debunk many myths surrounding her legacy. Egyptologist Tyldesley (Egypt: How a Lost Civilization Was Rediscovered, 2006, etc.) digs deeply into Cleopatra's life, piecing together a unique portrait of her successes and failures. In chronological fashion, the author covers the major historical issues surrounding Cleopatra, but she wisely avoids lingering too long on well-traveled ground. Tyldesley examines many of the burning questions that continue to puzzle historians-Was she black? Did she marry her brother? Was she beautiful or ugly?-and that have helped create such a beguiling picture of the queen. Many biographers focus too much on Cleopatra's reputation as a temptress, but Tyldesley gamely analyzes her politically astute nature at work against the backdrop of the bloody, brutal times in which she operated. However, the author doesn't shy away from discussing the many apocryphal tales that swirl around the Ptolemaic ruler: the queen smuggling herself in a roll of linen sheets (or, in more common myth, a carpet) in an attempt to reach Caesar; the presentation of Pompey's severed and pickled head to Caesar as a gift, etc. The various stories about Cleopatra's relationship with Antony are thoroughly dissected, and Tyldesley supplements these with a neat examination of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. The most absorbing passages concern her relationship with Antony and her subsequent demise, which are interspersed with (sometimes conflicting) quotations from fellow historians. Tyldesley also includes a welcome guide to the individual characters that Cleopatra encountered during the Ptolemaic period. A satisfying blend ofhistorical fact and strong, informed opinion about one of history's most captivating figures.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465018925
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 6/22/2010
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 594,194
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Joyce Tyldesley holds a first class honors degree in archaeology from Liverpool University, and a doctorate from Oxford University. She is currently Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University, and a tutor at Manchester University. She lives in Bolton, England.
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Table of Contents

Family tree


Ch. 1 Princess of Egypt 10

Ch. 2 Queen of Egypt 41

Ch. 3 Alexandria-next-to-Egypt 70

Ch. 4 Cleopatra and Julius Caesar 94

Ch. 5 The New Isis 109

Ch. 6 Cleopatra and Mark Antony 140

Ch. 7 Death of a Dream 171

Ch. 8 Cleopatra's Children 197

Ch. 9 History Becomes Legend 205

Who Was Who? 218

Chronology 239

Notes 241

Bibliography 260

List of Illustrations 266

Cartouches 268

Acknowledgements 269

Index 270

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2008

    Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt

    Joyce Tyldesley highly readable biography is a must read. Tyldesley skill is in making the complicated history of Cleopatra, her family, and her famous lovers readable and understanding for the novice reader. Tyldesley writes clearly about all the myths and debates about Cleopatra understandably, and shows that what we think we know about Cleopatra is as much myth as reality.

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