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Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World [Kindle Edition]

Diana Preston
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

On a stiflingly hot day in August, 30 B.C., the thirty-nine-year-old Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, took her own life, rather than be paraded in chains through Rome by her conqueror, Octavian, the future emperor Augustus. A few days earlier, her lover of eleven years, Mark Antony, had died in her arms following his own botched suicide attempt. Oceans of mythology have grown up around them, all of which Diana Preston puts to rest in her stirring history of the lives and times of a couple whose names-more than two millennia later-still invoke passion, curiosity, and intrigue.

This book sets the romance and tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra's personal lives within the context of their political times. There are many contemporary resonances: the relationship between East and West and the nature of empire, the concealment of personal ambition beneath the watchword of liberty, documents forged, edited or disposed of, special relationships established, constitutional forms and legal niceties invoked when it suited. Indeed their lives and deaths had deep political ramifications, and they offer a revealing perspective on a tipping point in Roman politics and on the consolidation of the Roman Empire. Three hundred years would pass before the east would, with the rise of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, once again take a share of political power in the Mediterranean. In an intriguing postscript, Preston speculates on what might have happened had Antony and Cleopatra defeated Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Going beyond the charisma and romance of two of history's greatest lovers, L.A. Times Book Prize–winner Preston (Before the Fallow) vividly puts their lives in the larger political context of their times. Preston explodes the legends, saying Cleopatra was less a seductress than a politically shrewd ruler, and Antony was not a hotheaded megalomaniac. Preston chronicles Cleopatra's life from her royal upbringing to her marriage to the new Roman emperor Julius Caesar, motivated, says Preston, by political ambition. After Caesar's murder, according to Preston, Cleopatra was wise to join political and sexual forces with Antony, who won favor in her eyes for rebelling against Octavian. For his part, Antony remained loyal to Cleopatra, viewing her as a partner with whom he could rule the Roman Empire. Although the tales Preston rehearses are familiar ones, she provides a rich context and speculates that if Antony and Cleopatra had defeated Octavian, then Cleopatra might have ruled in Judea more benignly than Herod. Her reception of Jesus of Nazareth might have been very different than Herod's, and history itself might have been altered. 30 b&w illus., one map. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“If there is a better book about Cleopatra for today's reader, I don't know what it is… It’s a very good book.”Washington Post

“Defying the traditional mythology that paints them as doomed star-crossed lovers, Preston places this amazing power couple firmly into the historical, political, and military contexts that shaped them and were, in turn, shaped by them.”—Booklist

“This very readable work is highly recommended to all history collections, as well as those in gender or women's studies and biography.”—Library Journal

Product Details

  • File Size: 3187 KB
  • Print Length: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (July 1, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WU7TGY
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,987 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Balanced Take on History's Most Famous Couple May 5, 2009
Marc Antony and Cleopatra are probably the most famous romantically linked couple in the Western tradition. They have captured the imagainations of millions down to the present day due to the sheer drama of their situations, the tremendously high stakes that they played for with their lives, the power of their mutual passion for one another, and the exoticism of mysterious, ancient Egypt. The Roman general and the Egyptian queen have inspired a tragedy by Shakespeare and overblown, hammy films featuring Claudette Colbert, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton.

One unfortuante result of this attention, however, is that the mythical Antony and Cleopatra have largely supplanted the actual historical figures. In the modern mind, Cleopatra is usually seen as a sensual, promiscuous creature, given over to debauchery and shameless pagan rites, while Antony is depicted as a degenerate sot entirely in thrall to the seductive, emasculating Cleopatra. The fact that these inaccurate and misleading characterizations still largely prevail is in large part due to the extremely effective propaganda campaign that was carried out against Antony and Cleopatra by their most deadly rival, Julius Caesar's nephew and adopted son, Octavian, later Augustus, first emperor of Rome.

Mr. Preston's book is therefore welcome in that it largely debunks these myths and does a straightforward job of presenting Cleopatra and Antony as they really were (that is, as best as that can be determined in reliance on the existing historical record). Rather than a wanton, heathen slattern, Cleopatra is shown as a highly educated, extremely intelligent and capable woman in an age when women were supposed to have no role at all other than as childbearers and domestic helpmeets.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Realistic Look at the Era of Cleopatra and Antony September 24, 2009
I have read several books on this couple, some of them more fanciful than perhaps realistic and I thought Colleen McCullough had covered these people fairly well, but this book truly sets the politics, morals and interests of that era. Ms. Preston did extensive research which she documents very well in the Notes and Sources and probably has done the best arranging of the idiosyncrasies and personalities of the most influential movers and shakers of Rome during the last century A.D. Through her, Antony became a much more capable military man and politician than what he is usually portrayed, but also his appetite as a womanizer and heavy drinker and Cleopatra was more thoroughly shown to be the powerful head of state that she was. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it was a page turner for me and read as interestingly as non-fiction adventures. Although the reference to "Antony and Cleopatra" usually immediately reflects a tempestuous and passionate romance, Ms. Preston uses these two people as only a means to an end to set forth history in an honest and colorful narrative.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good history, but nothing new May 17, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Diana Preston's Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World is a well-told history of this infamous couple. The best parts of the book are the rich descriptions of the luxuries of Cleopatra's court. The days of feasting and debauchery are mind-boggling, even by the standards of today's college students. In one scene, Cleopatra bets that she can throw a meal worth 10 million sesterces, and then achieves this by throwing one of her diamond earrings into the vinegar!

I wouldn't say there's anything particularly new or different about this book. In fact, it is really geared toward "popular" audiences (the first page even has a footnote that all dates are BC). If you're unfamiliar with the ancient world, this is a good book to start with. Preston gives a long and thorough "back history" of the Roman Republic and Ptolemaic Egypt. However, if you're a history buff, it might seem like there's too much general history, not enough detail about Antony and Cleopatra. For the latter audience, I suspect Adrian Goldsworthy's new Antony and Cleopatra would be a better bet.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Toga drama galore in "Cleopatra and Antony" by noted Oxford educated history Diana Preston. In 300 pages the author separates the two famous lovers from myth and gives us a portrait of two powerful personalities.
Cleopatra was quite a dame! She was the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Greeks who had ruled Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great. She spoke seven languages, was well schooled and a good queen of Egypt for almost twenty years. Cleopatra was also a crafty political operative who quashed her younger brother's bid for power and was not adverse to killing opponents.
Cleopatra bore a child by Julius Caesar. The boy named Caesaron would be murdered by Octavian's soldiers. Following Caesar's assassination in 44 BC she fled to Egypt. It was in Tarsus she first met by Mark Antony. Antony was a Caesar supporter who helped in the elimination of his assassins including Brutus and Cassius. Antony was a notorious womanizer, drinker and doughty warrior whose courage was real. He comes across as an earthy man who truly loved Cleopatra despite affairs with other women. He had three children by Cleopatra. His rival for Roman dictatorship was Octavian the grandnephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. Octavian became the first Emperor of Rome following his defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at the decisive sea battle of Actium in 31 BC.
Antony and Cleopatra chose suicide rather than capture and execution by the victorious Octavian. Antony died with a sword thrust; Cleopatra may have been bitten to death by an asp or cobra but her mode of death is unclear.
Preston's book not only details in clear and understandable prose the political affairs of the volatile first century but also opens the door to Egyptian and Roman customs from sexual practices to religious beliefs.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by Karen Lutes
5.0 out of 5 stars Cleopatra and Antony
Excellent story, written in a way to keep it interesting to the end--not at all dry. Very informative in a historical aspect. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Barry Shoemaker
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
I put down this book knowing a lot more about the period and all the people who lived through it without once feeling like it was an effort. Read more
Published 16 months ago by arewethereyet
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
For a lover of history this is a must read. I have been fortunate enough to visit most places in this book and could picture places mentioned in the book. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Lois Radosky
3.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare did it better
But that could be said about most any book. I got into this book, but then it started to drag on. I did finish it, I skipped some. But I would not recommend it.
Published 22 months ago by Meviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
I enjoyed this book, thought it was easy and interesting to read. Have always had an interest in Egypt and this book certainly delivered good information.
Published on April 10, 2013 by gypsygirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written
This fills in the missing pieces from history lessons in an interesting way. The fall of Egypt was huge in history. Well written and well researched.
Published on October 11, 2012 by Leroy
5.0 out of 5 stars Antony and Cleopatra: The rest of the story
I am a general interest reader of this period and I found this book almost impossible to put down. Starting with the origin of the Ptolemies in Macedonia to the empire in Egypt to... Read more
Published on July 7, 2012 by ralph thayer
4.0 out of 5 stars A decent historical read
Overall I enjoyed this book as I learned alot about the time period and the various major players involved. Read more
Published on June 7, 2012 by Michael Ruff
4.0 out of 5 stars Yes, it is the book I needed, but. . .
. . . it is an old library book. Did I miss this in the product description? I honestly can't remember. Read more
Published on December 13, 2011 by detailer
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