October's Book: Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff joins us to talk about Cleopatra: A Life. Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra is remembered in history for all the wrong reasons. Relying on classical sources, Schiff separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death brought forth a new world order. She recreates the world that Cleopatra lived in, rich in political and sexual intrigue, and draws a vivid portrait of her as a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator. She had children with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, two of the most prominent Romans of the day—and she and Antony attempted to forge a new empire, an alliance that spelled both their ends.


Stacy Schiff

Comments [24]

Hadassah from Queens, NY

I just finished reading "Cleopatra" a few minutes ago. What a brilliant and imaginative writer, Ms. Schiff is! Having written a book myself, on the Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim, I have some idea of the extensive research that goes into writing a biography. This book makes me wish I belonged to a book club, so I could discuss my thoughts with others. One of my favorite characters was Octavia.

Jan. 11 2013 12:41 PM
Peter Talbot from Harrison NJ

Ms. Schiff:

Thank you so very, very much for the great work and generosity of spirit in sharing your approaches on the air.

We are, as before and will be again, truly in your debt.

I recall Gayle Whittier (SUNY Binghamton) in her Shakespeare discussions regarding the synthesis of woman and ruler as part of the "divine androgyne" in A and C, and how much better C was then as opposed to Dryden's squeamish treatment of female power in AFL.

Blessings on you and yours for your dis-covery, and on Leonard and Co. for selecting your work for the Club.

Nov. 01 2011 05:01 PM
The Truth from Becky

Got it, thanks guys!

Oct. 31 2011 01:09 PM
Mike from Inwood

@Becky: I believe the Greek Empire include Egypt before the Roman Empire included Egypt. I think the Greeks not only ruled their empire as foreigners but also populated it.

Oct. 31 2011 01:00 PM
jgarbuz from Queens


Centuries earlier, Alexander of Macedon conquered the whole Mediterranean world and Middle East, including Egypt. After he died, his generals split it all up amongst themselves. Cleopatra was the descendent of one of those Greek generals.

Oct. 31 2011 12:59 PM
JFreely from NYC

How can she say Cleopatra was related to Jesus when there's no technical Roman record of his birth or existence other than hearsay?

Oct. 31 2011 12:58 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Was there anti-Semitism among the Egyptians in the sense of antipathy to Jews/Israelites, or did it include Arabian Semites? What was the geographic distribution of Arabs in the region at the time?

Oct. 31 2011 12:58 PM
The Truth from Becky

Hold just said to things, she was African, She was Greek, ruling an African Country? How? ...again please.

Oct. 31 2011 12:55 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I think the HBO series "Rome" from a few years back is for me, the best, most interesting, and possibly the most accurate portrayal of that whole period of time that I've ever seen. Strongly recommended!

Oct. 31 2011 12:53 PM
Michael from South Orange, NJ

Many people insist that Cleopatra was a black African, but she is rarely pictured that way. What is true.? Do we know.

Oct. 31 2011 12:52 PM
Amy from Manhattan

The Romans "put women back in their place"? Had women's position been a lesser one in Egypt not long before Cleopatra's time (trying to ignore how the expression itself rankles)?

Oct. 31 2011 12:52 PM
Rick from Riverdale

Loved the book. Wondering what Ms. Schiff thought of Mark Anthony's wife Fulvia. It appeared she was an interesting character.

Oct. 31 2011 12:51 PM
Benny from LES

Can you ask her about Cleopatra's children. I've read books about Jesus possibly being her great-grandson.

Oct. 31 2011 12:49 PM
Hina from Stamford,CT

It is amazing that so many people have loved the book. We are a relatively sophisticated reading group of women and besides myself most other members found this book very dry and hard to read.

Oct. 31 2011 12:42 PM

"Largest kingdom ever ruled by a woman alone"? What about Catherine the Great of Russia?

Oct. 31 2011 12:38 PM
Karen from Long Branch, NJ

Never realized how long Cleopatra actually reigned. Good for her!

Oct. 31 2011 12:27 PM
Virginia Hammer

Am playing Cleopatra in stgd. rdg. w/ Instant Shakesp. Co. -
Sat., 11/5 - 1-4 PM -
@ Bloomingdale Br. of NYPL - 100th St. btwn. Amsterdam and Columbus, NYC
(2nd fl.) - Check it out -
w/ a STELLAR cast -
"Grand Roman" - and Egyptian, mm HMMM - style!
- VCH and Midlantic Theatre Co., Newark

Oct. 27 2011 02:47 PM
Kirsten Ott from New York, NY

Loved the book!! Wondering whether Ms. Schiff has talked to any of the principal archaeologists looking for vestiges of ancient Alexandria (including vestiges of the Queen herself) - if so, what do they say about the likelihood of finding significant sites/troves? Also, any chance we'll unearth any contemporary records that will shed more light on her and her life?

Oct. 24 2011 03:43 PM
Kathi Merlino from East Islip, NY

Wow! I just finished the book!! I loved Schiff's writing style and to get to know Cleopatra, too!!

What investigations Stacy must have gone through to discover this information. It's very impressive how some women rose to power. And pretty gross how families killed off members like it was nothing.

Oct. 21 2011 06:33 PM
Sheila from NJ/NY

Just heard about this book talk on WNPR, will starting reading now! :o)

Oct. 03 2011 01:45 PM
Joan Unice from Tinton Falls, NJ

When Cleopatra came to Rome to be with Ceasar she was not allowed in the city . He placed her in a house outside Rome. As a woman of great power, why did she agree to that arrangement?

Oct. 01 2011 03:12 PM
Sherry from Brewster, ny

I read Cleopatra andcwas blown away by the gorgeous and elegant writing....faced with the task of ferreting out real incidents and facts, Stacy brilliantly fills in what probably took place, what might have happened, from the little historical writing that survives. Brava!

Sep. 30 2011 02:38 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

The women in Cleopatra's time did NOT have so many freedoms. Cleopatra was in a unique position as royalty and was expected to share power with her brother.

Aristocratic women had more freedom than the women who were not but not as much as men; the ancient world was hardly equal in terms of gender.

Sep. 29 2011 02:13 PM
Laura Nass-Rosen Nass-Rosen from West Windsor NJ

If the women in Cleopatra's time had so many freedoms what happened turning women from a position of strength to 2nd class citizens?

Sep. 28 2011 05:49 PM

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