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Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt

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About the Author

Joyce Tyldesley holds a first class honours degree in archaeology from Liverpool University, and a doctorate from Oxford University. She is currently honourary Research Fellow at Liverpool University, and a tutor at Manchester University. She lives in Bolton, England.


This entertaining biography hits the elusive sweet spot between scholarship and readability. British archeologist Tyldesley (Daughters of Isis) is charmingly transparent about the unreliability of her sources. She tells us that when the Roman poet Lucan describes Cleopatra's "ineffable night of shame" with Julius Caesar, he is "writing the equivalent of modern tabloid journalism." In spite of the lack of eyewitness descriptions of Cleopatra, the question, for instance, of what she looked like becomes a fast-moving amusing discussion of statuary as royal propaganda, the modern perception of Cleopatra's nose as way too big and the difference between beauty and sexiness. Writing with an easy mastery of her subject, Tyldesley always seems to be able to lay her hands on the perfect lively detail, whether an excerpt from an obscure bureaucratic document or a description of a kind of giant robot that paraded through the streets of Alexandria pouring libations of milk from a gold bottle. Though she makes it clear we'll never know what Cleopatra was "really" like, Tyldesley provides a memorable journey through the rich and contradictory sources of our knowledge about her. 8 pages of illus., 3 maps. (Sept.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

British Egyptologist Tyldesley patiently unscrambles a slew of Ptolemys and Cleopatras who ruled wealthy Egypt from 332 to 30 BCE to tell the story of the dynasty's last and best-remembered queen, Cleopatra VII (c.70-30 BCE). Using archaeological and literary evidence, Tyldesley strips away the legend of Cleopatra's debauchery, much of it propaganda by Cleopatra's archenemy, the Emperor Octavian, who renamed the eighth month after himself (August) in part to mark the date he defeated the Egyptian queen. A well-educated and powerful queen of a Greek dynasty, Cleopatra scandalized the Roman world with the independence allowed women in Egypt (she bore children to both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony) and the dynastic custom of marrying within the family (she wed two of her brothers, both Ptolemys). While cultivating her divinity in the millennia-old Pharaonic tradition, Cleopatra also made strategic political (and sexual) alliances in the Mediterranean world to hold onto her shaky throne for 20 years. Cleopatra and Antony's defeat by Octavian at Actium, and the subsequent fall of Egypt, marked the end of the Hellenistic age and the start of the Roman era. This fascinating and scholarly book belongs in all libraries.--Stewart Desmond, Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

"Times Higher Education Supplement" "A very readable account of the life of Cleopatra VII, and one that goes some way to redress the way in which she is often viewed. It also provides intriguing insights into life and society in the Egypt of the Ptolemies and the position of Egypt in the world-system of its time." "Tucson Citizen" "This is a multilayered biography of one of the most interesting historical figures ever. Tyldesley presents the great queen in such a way that she almost leaps from the printed page." "Sunday Telegraph" "Tyldesley's strength has always been her storytelling, and here she is on top form. The Ptolemaic court was an in-bred and volatile place where assassination of family rivals was commonplace, and she brings out well the effect of the entry of Rome into this bewildering madhouse.... Tyldesley takes this terrific story on in fine style...a gripping narrative." "The Mail on Sunday" "One of the many merits of this sympathetic biography is that [Tyldesley] is able to place Cleopatra securely in Egyptian culture and history." "Los Angeles Daily News" "Fascinating and irresistible."

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