Francine Prose tells the story of Cleopatra (VII Philopater, if you want to be specific), her entanglement with the Roman Empire, and how she has become distorted in cultural depictions after her death.
In a way, I am reading this book in preparation – I’ve got the reading of a retelling of Cleopatra’s life set in space (!) coming up, and I figured that I’d appreciate it more if I gave myself a better grounding of the historical subject matter first. Also, I’ve always found Cleopatra’s story fascinating, so it was no skin off my nose.
This is a pretty basic, straightforward history of Cleopatra’s life that does not engage in very much speculation, but presents the facts as they are given in ancient sources. F0r this reason, I think it would appeal best to those who don’t know much about Cleopatra and want to learn about her, but don’t want to read a doorstopper of a biography.
I think this book works best when it discusses the myths around Cleopatra and how she is depicted on stage and on screen, as the author discusses how she is portrayed in a number of mediums and sources
However, while Prose does question the veracity of these sources and engages critically with them, I felt that by the end of the book she was leaning pretty hard on Plutarch’s interpretation without gainsaying them much. I also wished Prose had gone a little further and gotten into the murkier parts of Cleopatra’s life, the things that aren’t so well-documented, to give the reader a broader picture of her. While we got Cleopatra’s story, I did not feel we got to know her.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.