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Cleopatra: A Biography (Women in Antiquity) 1st Edition

4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195365535
ISBN-10: 0195365534
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Since Cleopatra remains one of the most fascinating females in the annals of history, one more full-length biography couldn’t hurt. Roller begins with the premise that Cleopatra has been generally misunderstood by centuries of biographers and historians. This misinterpretation has led to the emergence of Cleopatra as a popular-culture icon rather than a politically savvy and calculating leader. Basing this chronicle exclusively on primary sources culled from classical antiquity, the author painstakingly separates myth from reality, discounting her undeserved reputation as a seductress and concentrating on her impressive—but often overlooked or minimized—political, military, and administrative achievements. This revisionist portrait of one of the most powerful women in the ancient world adds substance and heft to her exotic legacy. --Margaret Flanagan


"An excellent scholarly account." --The Wall Street Journal

"Offers a superb panorama of the society and culture of late Ptolemaic Egypt, with vivid sketches of the (remarkably vigorous) intellectual life of Cleopatra's Alexandria and the structural instabilities of the late Ptolemaic state." --Times Literary Supplement

"A rich, comprehensive portrait of Cleopatra in her many dimensions--skilled orator, medical writer, linguist, naval commander, administrator, accomplished diplomat. Using only data from the ancient world itself, Duane Roller deftly disentangles the historical queen of Egypt from her later legendary selves. The real Cleopatra emerges in all her many-sided splendor, with some surprises for us all."--Margaret George, author of The Memoirs of Cleopatra and Helen of Troy

"This new political biography provides an exceptionally thorough, balanced survey of the historical foundations on which later accounts are based. Cleopatra emerges as far more accomplished than the lens of Roman history willingly admits. Essential." --CHOICE

"Duane Roller has written a superb biography of Cleopatra VII. Accessible to the general reader and yet free of sensationalism, this book provides a clear account of what can be historically known about the famous queen and the cultural context in which she lived."--Kathryn Gutzwiller, University of Cincinnati

"Meticulously researched, compellingly written, and with judicious use of the sources, Roller's often breezy prose style makes for enjoyable reading, and his no nonsense historical approach, leaving all of the speculative myths, propaganda and legends to others, breathes some fresh air into a subject who is after all one of the greatest and most enigmatic figures of the ancient world, and who lived during perhaps the most momentous couple of decades in Mediterranean history. Roller restores to us both a sensible picture of the queen and a well-rounded sense of her life, her surroundings, and the culture and institutions that made Egypt in the last century BC so fascinating to Rome, and such a threat."--Joseph Manning, Yale University

"Did we really need another scholarly life of Cleopatra after Joyce Tyldesley's Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt (2008)? Surprisingly, the answer is yes...Cleopatra reclaims her stature as a significant monarch of her era in this unsentimental corrective to the romantic legend. Recommended for all who study her era."--Library Journal

"A straightforward, reader-friendly biography of this intriguing and powerful ruler...a definitive account of a queen of remarkable strength"--Publishers Weekly

"A treasure trove of facts that show [Cleopatra] in a new light."--Austin American-Statesman

"Roller tells his tale smoothly and accessibly...The resulting portrait is that of a complex, many-sided figure, a potent Hellenistic ruler who could move the tillers of power as skillfully as any man, and one far and nobly removed from the 'constructed icon' of popular imagination."--The New York Times Book Review

"Thought-provoking...adds a dose of historical accuracy to the romance of her life."--The Weekly Standard

"Compulsively readable."--Bookslut

"The 'Women in Antiquity' series aims to provide 'compact and accessible introductions' to the figures it treats, and Roller succeeds admirably on this front. Short, well-written chapters trace the main events of Cleopatra's life, with stops along the way for the Egyptian backdrop; endnotes provide essential documentation; and a series of appendices provide useful reference material such as a Ptolemaic genealogy and discussion of controversial points." --Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"Besides providing a compelling story and breathing fresh air into a heretofore two-dimensional caricature from history, Duane W. Roller's "Cleopatra" provides an interesting commentary on the attitudes still prevalent towards women who rule. It tells us that we still have a ways to go before there is true gender equity in the political realm."--Christian Science Monitor

"A rich account of late Ptolemaic culture." --The New Yorker

"Demonstrate[s] why feminist history is necessary." --The New Republic

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Product Details

  • Series: Women in Antiquity
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195365534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195365535
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.1 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,110,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Historian, archaeologist, and classical scholar, Duane W. Roller is Professor Emeritus of Classics at The Ohio State University, and currently lives in Santa Fe, NM. He is the author of twelve books, including The Building Program of Herod the Great, Eratosthenes' Geography, Cleopatra: A Biography, The Geography of Strabo, and Ancient Geography. He has excavated in Greece, Italy, Turkey, and the Levant. He is a three-time Fulbright scholar, most recently the Karl-Franzens Distinguished Chair of Cultural Studies at the University of Graz, Austria.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have just finished reading this biography on Cleopatra and I found it to be quite informative and educational. The book itself is pretty short, about 156 pages long with additional 30 pages or so of appendix information. One of the elements I haven't considered before was Cleopatra as a Roman citizen. This is more of a conjecture by the book but an interesting mind twister that reflects on the long relationship her family had with the Roman Republic. The book tries to cut down the romantic notion of Cleopatra and focus mainly on her abilities as a ruler and the trials and tribulations that went with it. From the book she appears to be a very cunning woman who uses her political wits, female wiles and just about every other weapons available to her to maintained her power and independence of her kingdom. She was obviously very intelligent, knowledgable and her ability to speak several languages clearly made a strong impression. But as it turned out, in the end, the tide of history was against her and she placed too much hope in Mark Antony who proves to be more of a lapdog then a lion at the end.

I thought the book was well written and its appears that the author did his research pretty well. It is nice that this book doesn't fall into the trap of political correctness by even bothering to discuss if Cleopatra was a black woman or not. The book clearly stated that she was of a Macedonian birth although her mother may have been of some Egyptian blood. (Egyptians back then, were not black but more Semitic.) This may have caused her to take a greater interest in her people and her masterly of their customs, way of life and language.

I do not understand the previous reviewer comments but for me, I found the book very easy to read. In reflection, actually a fast reading book due to its length.
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Format: Hardcover
Cleopatra is so well known, some 2,000 years after her death, that it makes for good reading to discover that many tales about her life are untrue. For instance, Cleopatra did not commit suicide by letting an asp bite her. (More likely, through needles to inject poison.) The story that Julius Caesar destroyed the Alexandria manuscript-library, the most important institution of its kind in those days, is probably an exaggeration. That Cleopatra was a Roman citizen and was involved in that City's politics. Probably most important, that fore and foremost, Cleopatra was a shrewd politician, not just a beautiful woman who seduced Caesar and Antonius. Everything she did was to protect Egypt and her throne.

The role of Rome as an emerging sole superpower is reminiscent of today's political affairs: Changing sides, scandals, political corruption, bribery, proxy wars, budget crises, and the list goes on and on. One difference should be noted: Solving problems of prominent leaders who would not tow the line or presented future difficulties, was expeditiously handled by murdering them. In Egypt itself, under the Ptolomies as under the pharaohs before them, there were endless dynastic barbarities. This was mostly due to the customary incestuous marriages between royal brothers and sisters, the pretenders to the throne.

Unfortunately, the author fails to explain how Cleopatra found the time to be the queen of Egypt, raise her children, and be an expert in medicine, master many foreign languages, and even be a competent navy commander. Readers would wish for some explanation how she managed to perform all these tasks. Puzzling are the number of references that, when everything was lost, Cleopatra contemplated escaping to India with her fortune to retire there.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You will experience the drama of that fascinating, ancient age in this fresh look at Cleopatra. This book should be picked up not only by courses in classical history, but by Women's Studies classes everywhere. This carefully researched and scholarly history makes clear that the Hollywood version is only partially accurate - Cleopatra chose to see to it she was educated as well as any man, and evidently had the charisma to hold her own with anybody in negotations on behalf of her beloved Egypt.

It's even a great beach house read, for the right kind of people.....!

Hooray for strong women everywhere, in all times!
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Format: Hardcover
This densely packed history of the life and times of Cleopatra VII compares favorably with biographies by Stacy Schiff, Michael Grant and Joyce Tyldesly. This one is very matter of fact, perhaps lacking the verve of the more florid style of Schiff.

Roller emphasizes C's linguistic ability and extent of scholarship and culture in her court. He describes Antony's establishment of client kingdoms including Cleo in Egypt and Herod in Judea. Octavian feared the potential of A&C to turn Rome into a Hellenized kingdom. The book culminates with the Battle of Actium, followed by an aftermath ending with the suicides of Antony and Cleopatra. He thinks that the asp is largely a myth. While a strong feature of he book is the detailed information on all the minor players, there is no mention of Octavian's admiral, Agrippa.

Appendices include a chronology, family tree and photos of Cleopatra's coinage.
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