A thoroughly enjoyable combination of history, autobiography, travel and general musings about Alexandria.
Times Literary Supplement editor Stothard (The Spartacus Road, 2010, etc.) started writing about Cleopatra when he was in elementary school, and this book is the eighth version of his work. A vacation interrupted by weather landed the author in Alexandria, the Egyptian city of the Ptolemys. He was somehow adopted by two very peculiar guides—or guards—who did their best to lead, or mislead, his quest to finish the story. Cleopatra was the last of her line; her oft-told story of intrigue, lust and no small amount of genius now has deeper background. There is no way to trace the steps of Caesar or Marc Antony as they wooed her. The great library burned down, and the lighthouse is at the bottom of the sea, as are most of the buildings of old Alexandria. Stothard’s journey through prep school, public school, Oxford and Fleet Street is the curious history of his attempts at fully grasping Cleopatra’s story. The unusual findings of his schoolmates as they combed through the classics—e.g., Antony’s drunkenness, odd red tents of mermen—intrigue readers, but not as much as the players with which most are unfamiliar. Aulus Hirtius, one of Caesar’s continuators (extending the legend), is but one of the characters Stothard uses effectively to provide a sharper picture. It is these writings of poets and historians from 2,000 years ago that bring together the Greek and Roman influences that made Alexandria great. It is a joy to watch the classically trained mind assemble the story.
Don’t try to categorize this book; just read it and let it flow over you.