I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Cleopatra by Francine Prose
Published by Yale University Press on November 8, 2022
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Royalty, Women, History, Ancient, Egypt
Format: ARC, eBook
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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A feminist reinterpretation of the myths surrounding Cleopatra casts new light on the Egyptian queen and her legacy
“A thoughtful, sympathetic portrait of a legendary historical figure.”—Kirkus Reviews
The siren passionately in love with Mark Antony, the seductress who allegedly rolled out of a carpet she had herself smuggled in to see Caesar, Cleopatra is a figure shrouded in myth. Beyond the legends immortalized by Plutarch, Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, and others, there are no journals or letters written by Cleopatra herself. All we have to tell her story are words written by others. What has it meant for our understanding of Cleopatra to have had her story told by writers who had a political agenda, authors who distrusted her motives, and historians who believed she was a liar?
Francine Prose delves into ancient Greek and Roman literary sources, as well as modern representations of Cleopatra in art, theater, and film, to challenge past narratives driven by orientalism and misogyny and offer a new interpretation of Cleopatra’s history through the lens of our current era.
How much do we think we know about the ruler known as Cleopatra? Nearly everything we know comes from the media and writers that come from a time when she was judged by her looks and how women were expected to behave like. Roman women weren’t permitted to own property or businesses and largely were expected to dote on their husbands and children. Misogyny was apparent in everything women did so when Cleopatra rose to power, she was a problem that needed to be dealt with. She should’ve been applying makeup and having drinks with her ladies rather than planning a revolt to get her husband/brother off the throne. She was an anomaly that the Romans could do without.
The writing from Francine Prose was fantastical. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was a piece of fiction. It is seamless, with many layers to peel back and discover. Prose brought the original fascination of a foreign queen back into my vision. The legend of the Egyptian Queen was my first taster of what would become a blatant interest in everything ancient Egypt. She was everything she shouldn’t be – strong, resilient, maternal, and a strategist.
Cleopatra has been done a huge disservice for so many years through so many portrayals. But let’s not forget the fact that she managed to rule for twenty years during a time when it was dangerous for a woman to do so. She was the last Queen under Ptolemy’s rule. This is a piece of information that seems lost in all the translations of her rule, especially that god-awful Elizabeth Taylor film and Shakespeare’s’ play. Her heritage is falsely reported as being of Egyptian descent – her line of rulers was of Greek/Macedonian lineage. The research that Prose had dedicated to the book is there for all to see. She has for the first time allowed us to see the true Cleopatra and not just the seductress that Hollywood would have us see.
You can tell that this is an important character in history from the way Prose writes. She reminded me of a busy bar person trying to juggle all the different drink orders, trying as she might not to drop any bottles. She gives the first truly accurate retelling of one of the most important female Queen of a time gone by. A story that has finally done her justice. She cared not only about her own family but those of the Egyptians and her country’s standing in the years to come. Did she play games with the men in her life? You bet, but it was never mindless.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Francine Prose is the author of sixteen books of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. A former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Francine Prose lives in New York City.
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