I finished Cleopatra, A Life, when I was sailing on the Adriatic to Athens, the city where Cleopatra once walked along the tree-lined streets. Athens is crowded, noisy and absolutely wonderful with the sun overhead and the dignified Parthenon balanced virtuously on a high hill. Ancient mixed with contemporary history makes for a heady sense of destiny where I am an inconsequential observer to the comings and goings of a city that boasts democracy as its legacy to the world. Perhaps we should thank Athena the goddess of wisdom for this remarkable gift. Squeezed in the midst of a swell of humanity with guide flags jutting up above bouncing heads, I felt her calm serenity from overhead.
Cleopatra VII, on the other hand, was flesh and blood. Extravagant, brilliant, clever, manipulative, focused, shrewd, and charismatic – she made history unforgettable. Stacy Schiff brought her to life from fragments of history, with theatrical flare that took my breath away. The loves, the wars, the enemies and friends, the revelry and the mourning – in life and in death – Cleopatra will continue to be defined and redefined by each generation. She was Egypt’s last Pharaoh, but she belongs to the world.