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Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World Hardcover – March 31, 2009
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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.)
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“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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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. Similarly, a rounded portrait is given of Antony who, despite his gross appetites and vanity, was a gifted and esteemed Roman politician and military leader, the architect of victory at the Battle of Philippi where Caesar's murderers were defeated.
In addition to providing us with accurate portraits of the book's subjects, the author also pithily describes the many ins and outs of both Roman domestic politics and international relations during this period of antiquity. There is also some interesting, informed speculation on such questions as what the course of history might have been if Antony and Cleopatra had prevailed rather than Octavian (whose victory was not at all preordained) and what Cleopatra actually looked like (not the irresistible sylph of myth or the hook-nosed harpy that some scholars have argued for based on the evidence of a few coins).
Unlike other authors on subjects of this type, Diane Preston does not appear to strictly deal with the classics and Antiquity. She instead is what was once known as a "popularizer," doing research and writing books on a number of topics from the Boxer Rebellion in China, to the sinking of the Lusitania in WWI, to other diverse subjects. Her clear prose and level-headed analysis work very well in the context of ancient history, as they undoubtedly do in other contexts as well. I recommend this book specifically to anyone interested in the ancient world and generally to anyone who would like to read a good, memorable account of two of the most interesting people in history.
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.