After the Ides of March

After the Ides of March

April showers us with new poetry and fiction by Cameron Gearen, Damien Healy and Donal Mahoney.

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The Death of Cleopatra, by Reginald Arthur. 1892

I’m currently reading a very interesting bio of Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff, who also wrote a fine biography of Ben Franklin. She has range.

Cleopatra is a difficult subject for any biographer, but Ms. Schiff does a good job trying to sort truth from legend, and admits when she can’t be sure about certain events or years in the life of the Egyptian queen. We know when she is speculating, unlike many biographers. She actually tells us.

Through page 142, Caesar and Cleopatra take up the majority of the book, and it’s fascinating to discover the various intrigues in play. Opinions differed wildly about Cleopatra’s role, who seduced whom, who manipulated whom, etc. We know that one very famous Roman, Cicero, thought poorly of Cleopatra, but Ms. Schiff shows that he probably had less than stellar (and possibly unsavory) reasons for his disapproval.

The book is a good reminder about how ancient kings and queens often viewed their own families — as potential dangers and usurpers. So there were many assassination attempts by brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, all vying for the top of the pyramid. Average families did not behave like that, in general, as they actually needed each other, and there was no great prize to be had for knocking off siblings or parents. As F. Scott said, the rich are different from the rest of us, and the royal rich are in another league entirely.

Great power is fleeting and dangerous — so much so, it’s a wonder anyone really ever wanted to hold it.

At any rate, the Ides of March have passed, Caesar is now dead, and the book is dealing with a Roman civil war of sorts. Cleopatra must pick the winning side, and she had a talent for doing just that . . .

 

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