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Paper Biographies

Battle of the little books | Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth | Others

Battle of the little books

Amazon. Cleopatra by Edith Flamarion, translated by Alexandra Bonfante-Warren. This book (my favorite in the "small" category) is a visual feast—sporting almost 100 illustrations and, like all the books in this series, an excellent "documents" section—sources, family trees, maps, etc.

Amazon. Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth by Michel Chauveau, trans. David Lorton. Chauveau strips away the myth.

Reviewed by Prudence Jones, Bryn Mawr Classical Review (April 2002). "...what a different portrait of Cleopatra emerges when we allow ourselves only the certainties of her life (as far as they can be established) and permit ourselves to leave blanks where no evidence exists."

Amazon. Cleopatra by E. E. Rice (Sutton Pocket Biographies 1999). This is a short (113 page) biography, but readable and scholarly.

Reviewed by Stanley Burstein for The History Teacher, November 2000. Burnstein, one of my favorite scholars, compliments Rice for being "sure-footed in her handling of [the] disparate source material," but critizes her "failure to fully exploit the evidence for the Egyptian side of Cleopatra's reign with the result that she sometimes seems to be more a figure of Roman than of Egyptian history." There's something to both the criticism and the notion.

Amazon. Cleopatra by Ernle Bradford.

Reader's recommendation from Al-Ahram Weekly (June 2001).

Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth

Amazon. Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth edited by Susan Walker and Peter Higgs. The popular Amazon reviewer Scott Chamberlain writes:

"If pressed, I'd almost say that this is the single best book on Cleopatra. Granted, there are critical biographies, historical accounts, and all sorts of other sources, but this massive book is unique in that it shows nearly every sculpture, coin, or papyrus that can be tied directly to Egypt's last independent ruler."
Reviewed by Prudence J. Jones, BMCR July, 2001. "In this work, history takes center stage while myth, if the term is taken to mean the Cleopatra imagined in subsequent ages, makes a cameo in the final act."

"Cleopatra of Egypt: the myth dispelled or upheld?" by Miriam Bibby, from Ancient Egypt Magazine (April/May 2001). Bibby goes essay-by-essay summarizing and reviewing.

Review by's Ancient History guru (and my long-time compatriot) N. S. Gill. The review is positive, but she detects no "a meaningful organizing principle," in chapters "based more on the needs of the illustrations than the chapters."

Lengthy review from I'm not sure who wrote the review, or whether it's original to the site. It nicely relates the source problems, eg., "before her life was over, she had already been swallowed up in her myth," but missteps in assuming that ancient art presents a Cleopatra "firmly based in reality." No, they're just more images.

Blurb from Oxbow Books, who distribute it.

German review, or blub.

Princeton UP press blub, also includes a Table of Contents.


Amazon. Cleopatra's Palace: In Search of a Legend by Laura Foreman, with a forward by Franck Goddio (Discovery Books 1999). Some reviewers laud its colorful pictures and engaging storyline, but Publishers Weekly describes it as "queer blend of substance and sentimentality." Customer reviews go both ways too.

Amazon. Becoming Cleopatra: The Shifting Image of an Icon by Francesca Royster. Academic work divided into "Cleopatra and the White Imaginary" and "Cleopatra and African American Counternarratives." This looks like an interesting, or at least a controversial, book, but I can't find anything more about it online.

The Last Queens of Egypt by Sally-Ann Ashton. Ashton is an Oxford scholar who also contributed to the "Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth" catalogue. But this book appears to have produced no internet reviews, and I haven't seen or read it.

Cleopatra: The Life and Loves of the World's Most Powerful Woman by Elizabeth D. Benchley. Another ripple-less stone in the internet pond.

Amazon. Cleopatras edited by John Whitehorne. Covers all the Cleopatras, not just the famous VII.

Reviewed by Waldemar Heckel, BMCR 1996.
"What then of the book's aim and usefulness? Let me say at the outset that I found book highly entertaining and, as a source of information about royal women named Kleopatra, extremely useful. In terms of detail, it surpasses the corresponding sections of Grace Macurdy's Hellenistic Queens. A Study of Woman-Power in Macedonian, Seleucid Syria and Ptolemaic Egypt (Baltimore, 1932). But Macurdy's study had both a unifying thread ('woman-power', as stated in the sub-title) and a revisionist purpose to free Hellenistic princesses and queens from the stereotyping (as vixens, or rather 'tigresses') imposed upon them by men like Mahaffy and Bevan."
Includes this deflating assessment
"In truth, Kleopatra VII scarcely needs more than three chapters (the amount of space given to the daughter of Antiochos III) to do her justice; most modern biographies are, anyway, two-thirds Roman republican history (Lucy Hughs-Hallet's book is expanded by a combination of Nachleben and psycho-analysis)."

Amazon. Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions by Lucy Hughes-Hallet. (See comment by Waldemar Heckel, above.)

Amazon. The Reign of Cleopatra by Stanley Burstein is due in December 2004. The publisher, Greenwood Press promises an "appealing mix of descriptive chapters, biographical sketches, and annotated primary documents."

The Search for Cleopatra by Michael Foss. No longer available. Publisher's blurb.

LibraryThing: Catalog your books online.

If you enjoy this site you may also like these other sites by me:

Ancient Library. Exciting new project to put dozens of classical dictionaries and other works online.

Alexander the Great on the Web. Links to over 1000 images and 200 images of Alexander.

Genghis Khan on the Web. Comprehensive directory of resources about the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan.

Angels on the Web. Angels in religion, culture and art. With over 550 images.