Monday, March 28, 2011

For Women's History Month: "Cleopatra: A life" Stacy Schiff gives the legendary queen historical context

"We know that she wore plenty of pearls, the diamonds of her day."  
-- Stacy Schiff, author of "Cleopatra: A life."

It is bold move for an author to take on an historical figure of Cleopatra's proportion. It's an even taller order to separate the myth from reality of a character that has become an icon of popular culture.

But, in writing "Cleopatra: A life," Stacy Schiff says her goal was slightly more realistic.

"I have not attempted to fill in the blanks, though on occasion I have corralled the possibilities ... mostly I have restored context."

What makes Cleopatra's story different from most women's stories, says Schiff, is that "the men who shaped it -- for their own reasons -- enlarged rather than erased her role."

Still,  some things never change when it comes to female stereotypes as they are applied to historical figures.

"It is notable that when she is not condemned for being too bold and masculine, Cleopatra is taken to task for being unduly frail and feminine," says Schiff.
Further, of Cleopatra's alliance with Caesar, Schiff says, "Cleopatra was every bit Caesar's equal as a cool-headed, clear-eyed pragmatist though what passed on his part as strategy would be remembered on hers as manipulation."

1 comment:

  1. According to Plutarch, when Mark Antony first met Cleopatra, he tried to out do her extravagance, and failed miserably ( though I don’t think it bothered him much as he had found the love of his life.). Plutarch said;

    "On her arrival, Antony sent to invite her to supper. She thought it fitter he should come to her; so, willing to show his good humor and courtesy, he complied, and went. He found the preparations to receive him magnificent beyond expression, but nothing so admirable as the great number of lights; for on a sudden there was let down altogether so great a number of branches with lights in them so ingeniously disposed, some in squares, and some in circles, that the whole thing was a spectacle that has seldom been equaled for beauty.

    The next day, Antony invited her to supper, and was very desirous to outdo her as well in magnificence as contrivance; but he found he was altogether beaten in both, and was so well convinced of it, that he was himself the first to jest and mock at his poverty of wit, and his rustic awkwardness. She, perceiving that his raillery was broad and gross, and savored more of the soldier than the courtier, rejoined in the same taste, and fell into it at once, without any sort of reluctance or reserve”.