THE PTOLEMIES by Duncan Sprott
Kirkus Star


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Ancient, patient Egypt adapts its new overseer Ptolemy and his hyper-Greek family to suit the needs of an older and subtler civilization: a wise and often amusing re-creation by Sprott (The Rise of Mr. Warde, 1992, etc.).

In the disassembly of Alexander the Great’s empire, Egypt, the richest prize, goes to the late emperor’s best general, Ptolemy. It’s a very good deal for the middle-aged Macedonian, who is, to tell the truth, tired of having no home other than a roaming army. He’s ready to put down roots. And Egypt is ready for him. Egypt is ready for anything, because Egypt, and particularly her priests, understand everything and know that everything must be the way it is, which is to say, the way it has been. Until recently, there have always been pharaohs, but the native royal family has died out. High priest Anemhor begins the long-term task of converting the thoughtful but typically rambunctious soldier into the embodiment of a timeless culture. It’s a tall order. Polite, politically sensitive, and keen to do a good job as the not-quite-regal Satrap, Ptolemy is Greek to his bones and has not the slightest interest in becoming a god. He is, however, interested in a family other than the bastard children sired out of the internationally adored courtesan Thais, who was left behind somewhere in the Asian campaigns. Eurydike, the dynastically advantageous bride he sends for from Greece, turns out to be fecund but boring. She’s also skinny and doesn’t dance. But she has brought her aunt Berenike, whose hard life is about to get much, much better. Berenike is interested in everything around her, and her new setup suits her well. The shopworn chaperone blossoms, putting on pounds in the right places, and becomes, first, Ptolemy’s most trusted adviser, then his mistress, and, at last his number-one wife. Worn down by Anemhor, Ptolemy accepts the regal title late in life, but even as a divine being he’s unable to keep his children from each other’s throats or, disastrously, beds.

History at its beguiling best. More to come.

Pub Date: May 14th, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-4154-6
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2004


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