Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Book review: Cleopatra - A biography

New York Times (Tracy Lee Simmons)

CLEOPATRA. A Biography
By Duane W. Roller
Oxford University Press

As usual with popular modern book reviews for, part of the review is the summary of the story told by the book's author. But the reviewer also comments on the way in which the book was written:

Roller tells his tale smoothly and accessibly. Scholarly digressions are consigned to helpful appendixes that Roller uses as small seminars for airing points of dispute, as a good many remain. What, for example, were the origins of Cleopatra’s mother? Was Cleopatra — the quintessentially vile foreigner according to Octavian’s propaganda — a Roman citizen? (Roller believes she was.) And he offers a digest of classical literary descriptions of the queen and a discussion of her iconography (including coin portraits, which are the only certain likenesses) to pinpoint those elements of her modern identity that only evidence from the period can prove or support.

The resulting portrait is that of a complex, many-sided figure, a potent Hellenistic ruler who could move the tillers of power as skillfully as any man, and one far and nobly removed from the “constructed icon” of popular imagination.

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