Egyptologist Fletcher (The Search for Nefertiti, 2004) takes on the legendary Egyptian queen.
The author not only fills in the blanks but also provides incredible detail about the lives of Egyptians during the 300-year reign of the Ptolemies. Beginning with the conquests of Alexander the Great and his search for a site to establish his eponymous city in Egypt, the author effortlessly examines the facts. Among numerous others, Fletcher exposes the largely unknown stories of Caesar’s epilepsy, Cleopatra’s vast intelligence and Mark Antony’s dereliction of duty. Readers will be pleased to discover that many of the Cleopatra myths are based in fact. She really did have herself delivered to Caesar—whether in a sack or rolled in a carpet is immaterial—and there’s also a much more plausible version of her suicide. Fletcher reveals a brilliant politician who knew enough to learn the language of her people in addition to the traditional Greek of Alexandria. In the years when the annual floods didn’t appear, she quickly opened her stores to feed the country and win their hearts. Her parties were legendary; it was not unusual for guests to dine on gold or silver service and then have it, as well as the couch they reclined on, presented to them as gifts. While the Roman Empire conquered a great deal of the known world, Cleopatra surely got the better of Rome, controlling two of the empire’s strongest leaders with her financial support, wit and sexuality. Neither Caesar nor Antony would ever have been able to control the Eastern part of the Roman Empire without Cleopatra. In return, Egypt received vast lands, incredible incomes and four heirs with impeccable bloodlines.
A perfect complement to Stacey Schiff’s excellent Cleopatra: A Life (2010). Readers interested in Cleopatra and her world are advised to read both.