The Royal Diaries- Cleopatra
Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile
By Kristiana Gregory
Established “Dear America” author Kristiana Gregory kicks off “The Royal Diaries” with the captivating story of a young Cleopatra’s life.
While her father is in hiding after attempts on his life, twelve-year-old Cleopatra records in her diary how she fears for her own safety and hopes to survive to become Queen of Egypt some day.
Cleopatra: A Life
By Stacy Schiff
The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt.
Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.
Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and — after his murder — three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.
Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra’s supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff ‘s is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.
I finished my reread of both Cleopatra VII: Daughter of the Nile and listened to Cleopatra: A Life. My first thoughts were, wow, this book has a lot of serious issues in it. More so than the other Royal Diaries books, there is a lot of interfamily threats in Cleopatra’s story. Even the excerpt on the back of the book is a scene where Cleopatra is afraid that her older sister is poisoning her. Throughout the book, Cleopatra is threatened by her sister, the Alexandrian public, and even fears her father. Cleopatra: Daughter of the Nile starts in 57 BCE with Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, being overthrown. In this story, Cleopatra’s eldest sister, Tryphaena, takes the throne but there is some historical debate on that. Cleopatra Tryphaena V and VI may have actually been the same person, making her Ptolemy’s wife and sister (therefore Cleopatra’s mother, not sister). She possibly ruled with her daughter Berenice after Ptolemy’s exile. I know, so many similar names and confusing relationships. Anyway, her sister is the first threat Cleopatra faces and in the story, she escapes Alexandria and joins her father in his Roman exile. Therefore we are given glimpses into Rome as well as Alexandria. I’m amazed at the level of detail and the historical world crafted in this Middle Grade book. The writing style is relatable and easy to read but that doesn’t take away from the scenes that are set.
The choice of sending Cleopatra to Rome with her father was an interesting one. In Cleopatra : A Life, there is no mention of her going to Rome until 46 BCE. However, I did a little more research and there are historians who do believe she accompanied her father. From a storytelling stand point, this choice introduces a new city and the chance for Cleopatra to interact with prominent Romans earlier, such as Cicero and Marc Antony. And we’re able to see Cleopatra make a female friend in Julia, Caesar’s daughter (probably not historically accurate). Already a future between Marc Antony and Cleopatra is hinted at. The age gap between them isn’t mentioned and it’s portrayed more of a school girl crush. Historically, he did led the Roman Army which brought Ptolemy back to the Egyptian throne so it’s possible they did meet when she was younger.
What I found interesting is neither Cleopatra: Daughter of the Nile nor Cleopatra: A Life mentioned Cleopatra’s tutor. In Cleopatra: A Life, we’re given an overview of what her education would have been like. And the importance of tutors to the young Ptolemys. Both her brother, Ptolemy XIII and her sister Arsinoe had named tutors who tried to influence policy, or in Arsinoe’s case, tried to put her on the throne. And we learn about the tutors of Cleopatra’s children. An article from Heritage Daily said her tutor was Philostratus the Greek but he wasn’t mentioned in either book. Instead, Cleopatra: Daughter of the Nile has Cleopatra being educated at the Library of Alexandria.
One thing that stood out to me reading Cleopatra: Daughter of the Nile was the role of slavery. While Cleopatra interacts with famous people in the book, a majority of her interactions are with her slaves Neva and Puzo. While slavery was common in both Alexandria and Rome, this book seemed, in my opinion, to go out of its way to make Cleopatra seem like a caring slave owner. When Neva and Puzo are first introduced, Neva is Cleopatra’s maid and Puzo is her bodyguard. We learn that Puzo was a former gladiator that Cleopatra bought to save him from fighting in Alexandria. Later in the book, we meet Puzo’s grandmother in Sicily and Cleopatra invites her to live at the palace. Then Puzo and Neva fall in love and are secretly married with Cleopatra’s blessing, all with the knowledge that if Ptolemy finds out they were be killed. I understand that purpose of this book is to make Cleopatra relatable to middle grade readers but I think it ventured too far in making Cleopatra sympathetic in relation to slavery.
Cleopatra is a historical figure so popular in the zeitgeist and yet so little is conclusively known about her. Her life was chronicled by Roman who cast her as the villainous femme fatale. Cleopatra: Daughter of the Nile takes a different approach. Instead of her time with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, which made her infamous, we’re introduced to 12 year old Cleopatra and at the end, are left to draw our own conclusions about why she made the choices she did.
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