Cleopatra: A Biography
By Duane W. Roller (Oxford University Press, $16.47)
Forget what you think you know about Cleopatra. She wasn't a voracious seductress who led men to their doom. She never wore bangs à la Liz Taylor circa 1963. And she almost certainly didn't die by the bite of an Egyptian snake.
That's the premise of Duane W. Roller's Cleopatra: A Biography, a bare-bones approach to understanding the last ruler of the 270-year-old Ptolemaic dynasty and the only woman in classical antiquity who ruled with complete autonomy.
If you're looking for romance-novel details of the Mark Anthony-Cleopatra VII affair, keep looking. Roller, a professor emeritus of Greek and Latin at the Ohio State University, makes it abundantly clear that his goal is to create a portrait of the infamous queen that is based "solely on information from the ancient world."
That means forgoing all input from Shakespeare, Massenet and Hollywood. It makes for a somewhat dry read--navigating through Ptolemaic genealogies, recounts of political posturing with obscure satraps and discussions of ancient Roman land disputes won't keep the casual reader engaged.