Sunday, February 24, 2008

Book Reviews: Last Queen of Egypt

Last Queen of Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley, Profile Books Ltd.

The Telegraph, UK (Review by Helen Brown)

If the Emperor Augustus had been able to see into the future, and had a flick through The Daily Telegraph on February 15, 2007, he'd have been delighted to read an article headlined: "Long-lost coin reveals Cleopatra was no beauty".

After defeating the last queen of Egypt, Julius Caesar's adopted son was determined to destroy her reputation. He smashed the images made to glorify her and ensured his pocket historians cast her as a greedy, incestuous, adulterous whore who used her foreign, feminine wiles to emasculate the Roman Empire.

The Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley picks through the Augustan propaganda to assess the woman "as an Egyptian politician rather than a Roman mistress". She is honest about the many gaps in her story: we don't know much about Cleopatra's upbringing but we do know she was raised in the ultimate dysfunctional family.

The Telegraph, UK (Review by Peter Jones)

Joyce Tyldesley, an authority on Pharaonic Egypt, observes that Egyptologists tend to avoid the Graeco-Roman period. To them, it is just not Egyptian. One could argue about that, but all the sources for the period are Graeco-Roman, and Ptolemaic Alexandria (which would have told us much) is buried under the waves.

So what can an Egyptologist bring to the period - especially to the story of Cleopatra, who is so intimately tied up with the struggle for power going on in Rome first between Caesar and Pompey, and then between Marc Antony and Caesar's heir, Octavian (eventually the first emperor Augustus)?

To judge by this book, I have to say 'not a great deal'. There is certainly a lot of information about Egypt, but not so as to give the story a particularly Egyptian spin. Indeed, some of the excursions into Egyptian history and religion add little to the issues at hand.

But Tyldesley's strength has always been her storytelling, and here she is on top form.

See the above pages for the complete reviews

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