Saturday, September 20, 2008
Cleopatra = Cliché?
As part of my general interest in Egyptomania, I'm doing an essay on the reception of the Cult of Isis amongst the Roman elite from the Late Republic to the Flavian period. This has led me to an investigation into Julius Caesar's and Mark Antony's relationships with, of course, Cleopatra VII who termed herself the 'New Isis'. I was resisting looking at Cleopatra, having successfully avoided her for my entire life under the assumption that she was too horribly clichéd to bother with. (Is that a word - 'clichéd'?). However, after looking at primary sources about her, Cassius Dio, Appian, Plutarch, I'm finding her much more interesting than I thought she was. Shows that I shouldn't have been relying only on the Cleopatra of rumour (or Hollywood) - not that rumour is absent in ancient authors' stories of her either. I've also been reading up on the Ptolemaic Dynasty - fascinating! lots of killing of relatives and brother-sister marriage - as well as on Ptolemaic Alexandria. I can recommned Joyce Tyldseley's recent book on Cleopatra, as well as Sally-Ann Ashton's, Joann Fletcher's and Diana Kleiner's books as interesting, easy-to-read accounts. Plus, theres a fabulous, enormous book 'Cleopatra of Egypt: from History to Myth' by Susan Walker and Peter Higgs (Eds), published by the British Museum Press (2001) that is full of ace pictures and interesting essays. I'm still a bit sheepish about admitting that I'm looking at Cleopatra... But I shouldn't be. She really is much more interesting than I expected. Plus, there's all that "Was Cleopatra black? No, she was Macedonian" controversy that you can read about in Mary Lefkowitz. Will the ancient world ever cease to amaze and fascinate me? I doubt it.