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Reviewed by:
  • Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt
  • Susan Stephens (bio)
Joyce Tyldesley , Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt. (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 290 pp.

Cleopatra continues to be a perennial favorite for scholarly and popular writers. If you want Cleopatra viewed through the lens of Roman history, Michael Grant's 1972 study is still hard to beat for its writing and for the author's ability to reason through the biased, not to say sensationalist ancient sources. In the last several years, Sally-Ann Ashton and Susan Walker have written a number of brief popularizing books that focus on Cleopatra as an Egyptian queen. Diana Kleiner's Cleopatra and Rome is an art-historical entry that documents Augustus's (and more generally, Roman) Egyptomania, especially after the queen's death. We also have versions of Cleopatra by Hughes-Hallett (1990), Whitehorne (1994), Rice (1999), Chauveau (2000), and Burstein (2004). Tyldesley's 2008 contribution to this overpopulated field attempts to have the best of both the Egyptian and Roman worlds, though as an Egyptologist her real contribution is the documentation of Cleopatra as a queen operating within a particular set of Egyptian religious and political constraints (and opportunities). The chapters on the high-profile events of Cleopatra's life-her liaisons first with Julius Caesar then Marc Antony, her defeat along with Antony by Octavian, and her subsequent suicide (from the bite of an asp?)-alternate with chapters on Ptolemaic history and Egyptian religious practices, and throughout there is a deft setting out of modern fetishes about Cleopatra, particularly with respect to ethnicity and gender. Tyldesley concludes with a brief chapter on the growth of the Cleopatra industry, making this a Cleopatra pitched to nonspecialists rather more than either classicists or Egyptologists.

Susan Stephens

Susan Stephens, professor of classics at Stanford University, is the author of Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria. As a papyrologist, she has published literary and documentary texts belonging to the Oxyrhynchus and Yale collections and is coeditor of Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments.