cover image Cleopatra: The Queen Who Challenged Rome and Conquered Eternity

Cleopatra: The Queen Who Challenged Rome and Conquered Eternity

Alberto Angela, trans. from the Italian by Katherine Gregor. HarperVia, $28.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-298421-0

Italian TV host Angela casts Cleopatra as “an amazingly modern woman” in this spirited yet somewhat overwrought account. Focusing on the period between March 44 BCE, when Cleopatra returned to Egypt from Rome after the assassination of her lover and ally Julius Caesar, and her suicide in August 30 BCE following military defeat by Octavian, Angela portrays Cleopatra as an astute ruler who enabled Egypt to retain sovereignty despite creeping Roman influence over the Levant. He recounts the saga of Cleopatra’s doomed romance with Marc Antony, but also explains the significance of her deliberate combination of Hellenistic influences, rooted in her Greco-Macedonian ancestry, with ancient Egyptian culture and religion, in particular the goddess Isis. Though Angela strives to make the ancient world accessible to modern readers, long sections in which he plays tour guide through the streets of Rome and Alexandria offer genuine insights but slow the narrative pace, and the significance of Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s first meeting is undercut with comparisons to Lady Gaga and Jim Carrey’s “jaw dropping to the ground” in The Mask. This well-intentioned history swings and misses. (Mar.)