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PHARAOH by Karen Essex


Vol. II, Kleopatra

by Karen Essex

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2002
ISBN: 0-446-53025-5

In a follow-up to Kleopatra (2001), Essex again gives the Egyptian queen a feminist tweak in detailing both her love affairs and her accomplished statecraft.

Though the evidence is thin, Essex is persuasive that Kleopatra was not an evil seductress, but rather an able ruler, good mother, and devoted wife. The story picks up as the young queen, evading her enemies, arrives back in Alexandria, and, rolled up in a carpet, meets Julius Caesar. The two are soon lovers as well as strategists and intellectual soulmates: Caesar admires her mind, and Kleopatra, believing that an alliance with Rome will help Egypt, deliberately becomes pregnant. She bears a son, Caesarion; travels to Rome with Caesar; and is there when he’s assassinated. Escaping the subsequent power struggles, she returns to Egypt and continues her enlightened rule, doing all she can to ensure the survival of Caesarion, now Caesar’s only remaining child. When, in the tenth year of her reign, she decides that Mark Antony could be an important ally for her in securing Egypt’s alliance with Rome, she gains not only a political partner but also the love of her life. Charming and handsome, Antony, who has defeated Caesar’s assassins and now shares the rule of Rome with Octavius and Lepidus, is at the height of his powers. The two marry, she bears him three children, but life for ambitious queens and Roman generals is always perilous. In the 20th year of her rule, they must contend with Octavius, who is ruthlessly eliminating all those opposing his ambition to be emperor. When Antony and Kleopatra’s forces are defeated at Actium, the end is inevitable. Even then, Essex suggests, Kleopatra acts as much out of a desire to protect her children and kingdom as out of grief.

Though Kleopatra sometimes gets lost in all the mayhem and machinations, she is still, with Essex’s provocative take, a woman as remarkable as the great men who loved her.