History in Review
Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt
By Joyce Tyldesley
Basic Books, 2010
Reviewed by Herbert White - September 17, 2012
Who was Cleopatra? Was she the sultry seductress that history has claimed? Or was she a leader who used her political acumen to do what was best for her people? Or was she something in-between? In Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt, Joyce Tyldesley peels away the myth to reveal the truth about Cleopatra. Tyldesley trained as an archaeologist, and is currently a lecturer in Egyptology and Fellow of the Manchester Museum. In writing this book she brings to the fore her years of experience in Egyptology, and the latest archeological and historical data that currently exists to examine the life of Cleopatra VII, the last Queen of Egypt.
Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt is a concise and detailed, yet highly readable, biography of this enigmatic woman. It assumes no prior knowledge of Egyptian or Roman history, and it is ideal for both general readers and those with an interest in Ancient history. This book begins with Cleopatra's early life, examines her role as consort to her father and brother, and how she came to take the Egyptian throne in her own name. The book also chronicles her interaction with the Roman Empire, and her personal relationships with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. Her death and the fate of her children are also covered, as are the many myths that grew up around her, after her death.
With the skill of a novelist and the knowledge of a historian, Tyldesley weaves a remarkable account of Cleopatra's life and legacy. While you might read this book simply to delve into the life of a remarkable woman, I think that you will also find that it will fire your desire to learn more about the world that she lived in. This is history at its best, engaging, educational, and entertaining. Along the way you'll discover that history (which of course is always written by the victors) got much of Cleopatra's story wrong.
As Tyldesley ably illustrates, Cleopatra was a talented and educated woman who spoke a number of languages and may have even been able to read and write Egyptian (something that very few Egyptian rulers ever learned to do). She ruled Egypt during a very difficult period, and yes, she was ruthless, but she needed to be. Had she not been ruthless, she would never have become the ruler of Egypt, let alone last as long as she did. From beginning to end, I found this to be an edifying book, and the book's endnotes and bibliography to be a great jumping off point from which to study Cleopatra's life in greater detail. Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt is a must read for anyone interested in learning about the 'real' woman behind the myth!
Cleopatra: A Sourcebook, by Prudence J. Jones.
A collection of documents that chronicle the historical life of Cleopatra, and how her life's story has been interpreted in both historical and literary spheres.
Egypt: Pharaonic Period, by Alessia Fassone and Enrico Ferraris.
Volume 4 in the Dictionaries of Civilization series covers the Pharaonic Period of Egyptian history.
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