As the fourth president of Iceland Vigdis Finnbogadottir claims, "If anything can save the world, women can." Finnbogadottir later contested for the presidency and became the first democratically elected female president in the world. From this victory, she demonstrates courage, and despite the absolute male dominance she is never shaken. Stacy Schiff's account of the life of Cleopatra presents a story slightly similar to this one. For long, the life of Cleopatra has fascinated people from the past to present. In her book 'Cleopatra: A Life,' Stacy narrates the story of a woman who married two Roman rulers in sequence. She became a queen by age 18, at 21 was Julius Caesar's wife and gave him a son, and at 29 years had twins with Mark Anthony. By age 35 Cleopatra had achieved significant influence and was the ruler of a large part of the Mediterranean empire covering Lebanon, Libya, Turkey, Syria, and Cyprus. Later, things came crumbling following her famous defeat to Octavian where she took her life after that. Through this fascinating tale, Schiff argues that Cleopatra as a ruler was incredibly intelligent, and brave, her action though botched were intended to save Egypt.
Schiff uses a detailed, imaginative, and coherent explanations with examples to prove his arguments. For instance, the author opposes the common belief that Cleopatra was merely a seductress who used her beauty to sway her way back to power. According to Schiff, Cleopatra was intelligent and employed her political prowess to lift her status. She received adequate education and was equally fluent in several languages. Likewise, she had gathered a lot of experience after accompanying her father to many political meetings. Egypt had fallen to Rome, and Cleopatra stripped of her throne. As a final attempt to have her throne back, she hatched a plan to get her smuggled in a carpet to Caesar's palace. Caesar fell in love with her immediately they made contact. This assured her the position of co-ruler. Soon Caesar was a Pharaoh, and she was the queen. Cleopatra used her feminism to maintain political power in the desperate times showed her wittiness and bravery. It takes serious wittiness to follow and achieve something which seemed impossible.
In another instance, following the death of her husband, Caesar, Cleopatra wastes no time to get herself another partner. This time round, it is the man second to Caesar, Mark Antony. Antony, a seasoned warrior, and the Roman General help Cleopatra defeat Octavian who is supposed to be Caesar's successor. Despite her gender and the traditional belief that women are not strong, Cleopatra goes against all the odds and defends Egypt from invasion. She registers as the first woman to lead Army into battle on horseback and command a fleet of warriors at sea. Her new partner Mark Antony is severely wounded in the war and succumbs to the injuries in front of her. Schiff uses this to prove further the courage and ambition held by Cleopatra. She is so brave and does something that no other woman has ever done. This is so unusual leaving readers to wonder what made her this strong.
Schiff also has a particular way of bringing up topics on exciting things. She resurrects the debate over Cleopatra's roots. In an evocative tone, the author reminds readers that Cleopatra was Greek and not Egyptian. She is the product of a well-educated and cultured family, the Ptolemies. This dynasty had bestowed Egypt by the mighty conqueror Alexander the Great. They mirrored several of the pharaohs traditions including incest and murdering one's siblings. They transformed Alexandria into a city rich in culture, with classical antiquity. They also allowed women so much freedom and independence. Women could urinate while standing up just like men. Schiff points out that Cleopatra is a beneficiary of this mixed half Egypt half Greek dynasty. Her subsequent wealth was mainly from the lineage.
What makes Schiff's narration of Cleopatra's life the best is her thoughtful use of imaginations. The book reads like a novel which makes it casual and readers can relate to characters more personally making the story ring true. It is hard to forget any part of the narration you read. The author gears the book's central idea on Cleopatra as a dynamic woman that stresses most of her life to acquire and maintain power. She is intelligent, with a pinch of thirst for authority and success. Such information, just like in any non-fiction book is thoroughly referenced with several pages of index, endnotes, and bibliography. However, the most striking feature in this writing is how the author fills in details that create vivid images of readers brain. The City of Alexandria is described to the point that you feel being there. While the story of several legendary characters has faded from peoples' minds, the story of Cleopatra keeps coming back repeatedly creating even more inspiration not only to women but everyone who feels they cannot achieve.
Schiff, Stacy. Cleopatra: A life. Random House, 2010.
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