Tag Archives: Queen

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

I had been looking forward to reading this book for a long time. Many years ago I had a passionate love affair with ancient history and, every so often, I still feel it’s reverberations.

The book is beautiful, rich and engaging. Anyone interested in Cleopatra or her times needs to read it.

It’s that much more remarkable for it’s completeness given that we know very little about Cleopatra. What we do know, it seems, is based on educated guesses and the author seems to be Very educated on the topic (one would need to be to win a Pulitzer Prize).

As usual, I will not be doing any profound analysis (which, I often feel, doesn’t do any kind of justice to a book such as this); particularly given the book’s scope. But, I will say a few words about one of its many aspects that I found interesting.

For example, while reading Cleopatra, you will learn much about the ancient world and how it worked. Did you know that they had coin-operated machines? Again, not a profound observation, but I had no idea. And, does it not make you think twice about just how advanced our own society is? Perhaps, not very. And to what degree history repeats itself?┬áIt turns out that “Cleopatra’s subjects viewed time as a coil of endless repetitions”, which I would tend to agree with.

Even in Cleopatra’s time the Egyptian pyramids were already ancient and scrawled with graffiti, the most common one being: “I saw, and I was amazed”. Aren’t we still amazed by the pyramids? Doesn’t that sound quite like something that we might write about them? I just love when I can get into the skin of someone who has been dead for thousands of years and be able to relate. (Makes me think about God and reincarnation and how it’s-a-small-world-after-all.) The book is full of bits such as this, describing what people looked like, how they lived, how they thought.

Rich in history and filled with real-life intrigue, it’s one of those books that you keep forever.

To get a better idea of what the book is about, click here, to see Stacy Schiff speak about “Cleopatra”. If you’d prefer something quicker, here’s the author speaking about the greatest misconception that we have about Cleopatra.

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Queen Elizabeth’s Wooden Teeth and Other Historical Fallacies by Andrea Barham

For someone who’s a bit of a history buff and an “uncoverer of truth”, this was an interesting find.

While I did know that the Vikings did not have horns on their helmets, I was not aware that there were female gladiators in ancient Rome. A gladiatrix (I’ve never even heard the word before) was rare and was, generally, a thrill-seeker from the upper classes.

  • Queen Victoria’s first name was Alexandrina.
  • Napoleon was not short. He was 5’6 to 5’7, which was average for a man of his time.
  • Lady Godiva did not ride through the streets of Coventry in the nude.
  • The Pythagorean Theorem predates Pythagoras.

But, mostly, I learned about the misconceptions that I didn’t even know existed (and, thus, more about history in general). For example, King Cnut, an 11th century ruler, did not try to hold back the tide to prove that he was all powerful. That was just a bunch of bad PR, written about him after his time had passed. (Not surprised! History is a lot of PR.) And Dr. Livingstone did not get lost in the Congo. And who is Mrs. Beeton?

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P.S. I will be giving away this book…check back on May 15th.

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