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A different Cleopatra: The woman behind the drama, lies and enemies

Back Bay Books

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Cleopatra was and remains notorious.

The last queen of Egypt, lover of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony — her name has been used to sell cigarettes, was adopted by an asteroid, a video game, a strip club, and remains synonymous with Elizabeth Taylor.

But without even one shred of surviving papyri from ancient Alexandria, most of what we know about her has come from a history written by her enemies and classical authors who conflated accounts and exaggerated melodrama.

In an attempt to “pluck the gauze of melodrama” from the ruler’s image, Pulitzer prize-winning author Stacy Schiff set out as a kind of historical detective, digging up all alleged accounts of Cleopatra’s life, from contemporary historical and archeological records to Plutarch and Shakespeare. She then simultaneously brought them to bear on Cleopatra’s life and, considering the motives and bias behind each, fit them together to reconstruct a new and divergent image of the ruler.


Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author for "Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov)"; author of "Cleopatra: A Life"