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."