Jumaat, 7 Disember 2012

Review Book


Author : Stacy Schiff
Year Published : 11-01-2010
Publisher : Little, Brown and Company
Distributor: Hachette Book Group USA
Pages : 384 pages
ISBN/ UPC : 9780316001922
ISBN-10: 036001929
title : CLEOPATRA : A Life
reviewer: suzianah nhazzla

Schiff, Stacy (2010). Cleopatra: A Life. Little, Brown and Company
From the beginning the story of Cleopatra was larger than life: epic in scale, mythic in symbolism and operatically over the top in its grandeur and its spectacle. As the author describes it in a charismatic new biography, Cleopatra’s meeting with Julius Caesar was “a singular, shuddering moment,” when “two civilizations, passing in different directions, unexpectedly and momentously” touched.
Cleopatra was born a goddess, became a queen at the tender age of 18 and at the pinnacle of her power, Ms. Schiff writes, “she controlled virtually the entire eastern Mediterranean coast, the last great kingdom of any Egyptian ruler. For a transitory moment she held the fate of the Western world in her hands.” Having inherited a kingdom in decline, Cleopatra would go on to lose it, regain it, nearly lose it again, accrue an empire and then lose it all.
Cleopatra was a inventive leader: well-organized, assured and insightful in her administration and management of her country’s dealings; a supreme ruler who “knew how to build a fleet, suppress an insurrection, control a currency, and alleviate a famine.”
Ms. Schiff writes, but as the consort of Caesar and later Mark Antony: a woman depicted by historians and poets as a wanton temptress symbolizing “insatiable sexuality” and unlawful love not just as  “the sole female of the ancient world to rule alone and to play a role in Western affairs”.
The author retraces some proverbial grounds — covered in earlier books like Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s “Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions” — Ms. Schiff adroitly sifts legend from fact, reminding the reader that the first drafts of Cleopatra’s life were written by followers of her enemy Octavian (who vanquished her and Antony, and went on to become Caesar Augustus) and that the great poets of Latin literature were “happy to expound on her shame.”
Instead of the stereotypes of the “whore queen,” Ms. Schiff depicts a “fiery wisp of a girl” who grows up to become an enterprising politician: not so much a great beauty as a charismatic and capable woman, smart, saucy, funny and highly competent, a ruler seen by many of her subjects as a “beneficent guardian” with good intentions and a “commitment to justice.”
Because of the gaps and contradictory testimony in the historical record, portions of Ms. Schiff’s narrative are necessarily based on guesses and hypotheses. But Ms. Schiff seems to have inhaled everything there is to know about Cleopatra and her times, and she uses her authoritative knowledge of the era — and her instinctive understanding of her central players — to assess shrewdly probable and possible motives and outcomes
As she did in “VĂ©ra: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Ms. Schiff also demonstrates a magician’s ability to conjure the worlds her subject inhabited with fluent sleight of hand. In this case she waves onto the stage Cleopatra’s Alexandria in all its splendour and beauty: its luminous marble edifices, the oversize sphinxes and falcons that lined the paths to the city’s Greek temples, the Doric tombs decorated with crocodile gods in Roman dress. She enables the reader to see Cleopatra’s court — her elaborate retinue of tasters, scribes, lamplighters, royal harpists, masseurs, pages, doorkeepers, notaries, silver stewards, oil keepers and pearl sorters — and to picture her fleet of royal barges, equipped with gyms, libraries, shrines to Dionysus and Aphrodite, gardens, grottos, lecture halls, spiral staircases, copper baths, stables and aquariums.
In “Cleopatra,” Ms. Schiff also creates a portrait of an incestuous and lethal family in which sibling marriage and the murders of parents, children, spouses and brothers and sisters were common practice — a portrait as bloody and harrowing as anything in “Titus Andronicus.” And by drawing on scholarship about social and political practices of the day, she provides us with a keen understanding of the relative freedom and power enjoyed by women in Cleopatra’s day, as well as the sort of enlightened schooling the queen-to-be would have received as a girl. Like Caesar, we learn, she would have had a traditional Greek education that included Herodotus and Thucydides, instruction in the art of speech-making and perhaps nine languages too.
Cleopatra's stealthy approach to Caesar to plead for his help in Egypt's civil war, for example, is best known for the picturesque detail of Cleopatra being smuggled past enemy soldiers while hidden inside a rug. (Actually it was an oversized sack.) Schiff uses Cleopatra's first stab at international diplomacy, in 48 BC, to spotlight several key facts: "ruses and disguises came naturally to her"; she could charm anyone; and at age 21, married for three years to a brother eight years her junior, she was quite likely a virgin. She was soon pregnant with Caesar's child, but Schiff argues convincingly that they were drawn together by politics as much as passion. She could not rule without the backing of Rome. He needed a stable Egypt to provide the quantities of grain required to keep the restive Roman populace on his side in the power struggle that ultimately destroyed the Roman Republic.

Sexual liaisons were common means of cementing alliances in antiquity, Schiff notes. What disconcerted Romans was the fact that Cleopatra entered those liaisons independently, not as the pawn of a male relative. The Ptolemy dynasty's habit of keeping the throne in the family via sibling marriages gave Egypt's royal women uncommon stature and authority. Cleopatra did not intend to surrender that authority. She knew that the once-mighty Egyptian empire was now a client state, in danger of becoming a subservient province unless she cultivated influential Roman support. Schiff makes it clear that Cleopatra's personal relations were the strategies of a monarch.

She lost her first patron when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Caesar was stabbed 23 times by his own son, Brutus (Caesar’s child out of wedlock) and by the senate members because Cleopatra came to Rome claiming that her son (Caesar’s son with Cleopatra, out of wedlock) was the rightful ruler of Rome. Uncertain of his position, Brutus charged and stabbed Caesar followed by other senate members. In certain legends and books, it was said that the child was executed but in most of the books clearly emphasized that Cleopatra trusted her newly born son to her admiral and fled to Northern India.

After his nephew Octavian and Mark Antony defeated the assassins and divided the Mediterranean world between them, Cleopatra needed to cultivate Antony, who controlled the East. Again, Schiff digs beneath the surface of a mythic encounter to excavate more essential matter. Displaying her formidable flair for drama, Cleopatra's showstopping entry into Tarsus fixed her image in Roman minds as the incarnation of "the intoxicating land of sex and excess." When Cleopatra, clad as Venus, sent word that she had come "to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia," she unerringly struck the right note with Antony, who fancied himself as an incarnation of the god of wine and was instinctively attracted to Egypt, where rulers were also divine beings.

Once Cleopatra had established the power and wealth that made her a desirable ally, writes Schiff, "she assumed the role of boon companion," adapting her nimble sense of humor to match Antony's taste for earthy jests. Egypt's precarious independence and the survival of her dynasty depended on this ability "to moult, instantly and as the situation required."

But Cleopatra could not shape-shift enough to placate Octavian, Caesar's official heir and natural enemy of the mother of Caesar's son. Her hold on Antony endured but could not ultimately sustain her ambitions; he just wasn't as crafty as Octavian, who was more of a rival than a partner. Schiff's astute tracing of their prickly interactions from 42 to 31 BC shows Octavian cannily smearing Antony as the effeminate lackey of a power-hungry queen who schemed to rule Rome. Cleopatra's real goal, Schiff persuasively contends, was to protect her position and her children (she also had three with Antony), but Octavian had the better circumstances: The world "divided into a masculine, rational West and a feminine, indefinite East." Allies fell away; Cleopatra and Antony's situation grew desperate as hostilities swept them toward the disastrous battle of Actium.

The grim finale shows Antony sinking into despair while Cleopatra, quick-witted and resourceful as ever, negotiated with the victorious Octavian to salvage what she could. Her maneuvers may have included betraying Antony — "she had been ruthlessly pragmatic before," Schiff acknowledges — but the author also notes that the accusations of hostile chroniclers hardly constitute proof. In the end, Cleopatra realized she could salvage nothing and chose to commit suicide after Antony. Schiff's stark rendition of her final days captures the desolation of a sovereign who knew that her dynasty and the independence of her nation died with her. Taking Cleopatra's political goals seriously, Schiff reanimates her as a living, breathing woman: utterly extraordinary, to be sure, but recognizably human.
Overall, this is the book to read if one has the desire to actually understand and get the idea of who Cleopatra was. Was she a Queen? Or a whore? or just a consort to Ceaser? This book tells you the untold stories and myths of the legendary female the Egyptian – Cleopatra who was said to be the first female pharaoh ( an anthropologist contested this that the 1st female pharaoh was Tutankhamen’s mother , Empress Nefertiti) . From this biography it is defined that she was ruler who was also a shrewd political strategist who exploited her affairs and connections to further and extend her own power and influence.

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