History in Review
Cleopatra: A Sourcebook
By Prudence J. Jones. (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2006. Pg. xv, 345. Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-8061-3741-X.
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - May 5, 2006
Who was the real Cleopatra? Was she a power mad seductress or an intelligent, astute politician? In Cleopatra: A Sourcebook you will learn about both the history and the myth that surrounds Cleopatra, from both historical and literary sources. From the information contained in this sourcebook, you will find that even in her own day, Cleopatra was many different things to different people and that the image that we have of her today is tainted by political, social, and religious influences.
Compiled by Prudence J. Jones, an Assistant Professor of Classics at Montclair State University in New Jersey, the documents contained in this sourcebook have been garnered from both ancient and modern sources. Cleopatra VII was the daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes, and she was the last queen of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Married four times, she is perhaps best known as the Queen of Egypt, for the love affairs with both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, and for having killed two of her brother-husbands. When Cleopatra formed a military alliance with Anthony against Octavian (Caesar's heir), she could not have known that she was making a strategic mistake. In 30 B.C., When her forces were defeated and she faced the prospect of becoming Octavian's captive, she killed herself in a dramatic and symbolic manner by letting an asp (or other poisonous snake) bite her. Hers was a death that has made ample fodder for story tellers and myth makers alike, thus keeping her story alive in the collective imagination throughout the ages.
Cleopatra: A Sourcebook is organized thematically, as well as chronologically. The first half of the text is devoted to ancient source documents (in English translation) written by her contemporaries that provide an overview of the historical Cleopatra. The second half of the book is devoted to more modern sources that examine how her history has been interpreted, both in the historical and literary spheres. In compiling this book, Jones has not tried to provide a comprehensive collection of documents related to Cleopatra. Rather she has selected a broad cross-section of documents, including some from Middle Eastern and African sources. These documents serve to provide the reader with a solid overview of the range of available materials, and a detailed overview of Cleopatra's life and how that life has been dealt with, in a variety of mediums.
Each document is preceded by a brief introduction and explanatory notes are included when necessary. The text is also illustrated, and several useful appendixes have been included such as a glossary, two maps, genealogical tables, a short filmography on Cleopatra, and a brief bibliography that will well serve those seeking to investigate this fascinating woman in greater detail. Combined, the information and documents that Jones provides in this text offer the reader an intriguing glimpse at Cleopatra's life, the myths that surround her history, and how others have viewed her. This information allows the reader to place Cleopatra in both an historical and cultural perspective that will enable you to determine, for yourself, just who the real Cleopatra was.
This sourcebook will prove invaluable as background reading, and as a supplemental text in a range of university level classes including those on Ancient Rome and Egypt, as well as women's studies courses, military studies, and of course, classes devoted specifically to the life and times of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Non academicians and writers with an interest in the story of Cleopatra will also find this book intriguing, not only for the breadth of documents and information that it provides on Cleopatra, but also for the insights that it provides on the tumultuous period in which she reigned.
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