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    Join date : 2011-07-14


    Post  WM3 on Mon Apr 22, 2013 11:26 am

    Cleopatra was as likely to have been murdered as she was to have been black: which is to say, not likely at all.

    The assertion is entertaining and will no doubt sell books, but there are many reasons why Pat Brown's theories on Cleopatra---if they can even be called that---will be dismissed as nothing more than conjecture. Chief among them is the fact that Ms. Brown has no training in history or archaeology. Her 'expertise' is in criminal profiling. It is this expertise that she attempts to apply to a 2000 year old event in which all of the participants are dust; in which there is no physical evidence to be examined; in which the only sources are a handful of Roman authors writing nearly a century after Cleopatra's death. As Brown correctly points out, these sources cannot be entirely trusted, as they were not primary witnesses, and they most definitely had agendas of their own. Yet they are our only sources. The author herself, even as she dismisses them, relies upon these Roman sources to reconstruct her profiles of Cleopatra and Octavian. As I said, these are the only sources that exist.

    The error in Brown's reasoning lies in her understanding of the sources, and more importantly, in the characters of Cleopatra and Octavian. When one cuts out all of the window-dressing in this book, the heart of Brown's argument is that Cleopatra VII was strong, ambitious, and determined; she would not have committed suicide, because that would be giving up. A strong, independent woman never gives up. Therefore, her arch enemy, Octavian, must have killed her. This logic is the basis of Brown's entire argument. To support the argument Brown speculates on Octavian's motives for wanting Cleopatra dead, and more importantly for wanting to hide the fact that he killed her. This is where Brown's lack of historical training is most telling. It's a 21st Century interpretation of the 1st Century BCE, with little knowledge or understanding of 1st Century BCE culture, beliefs, or politics. In Cleopatra's world, suicide was not the act of failure that it is today; it was an act of bravery and defiance. Throughout Greco-Roman literature it was described in terms of awe.

    Aside from this misinterpretation on Brown's part, her logic for Octavian's motivations are worse still. Brown's reasoning is that Octavian had Cleopatra secretly executed because she posed a real threat to his power, and because he coveted her wealth (she was no threat, and he already had her wealth). Octavian then conspired to cover up the execution by concocting the suicide story in order to protect his public image. This is all, of course, laughable to anybody familiar with 1st Century BCE Roman politics. Roman leaders did not hide assassinations, executions, or murders. They boasted of them! If Octavian had wanted Cleopatra dead, he would have cut her down and been done with it. No cover-up, no fabrications. In fact, this is exactly what he did with her son, Caesarian. It was no secret, and Roman historians never made it out as such. Hence Brown's argument collapses.

    As for the method of Cleopatra's suicide, the snake story has already been discredited by real historians. The general consensus is that she took poison (Cleopatra was said to have been an expert in poisons), which was a common method of suicide in her day.

    In the end, Pat Brown's book is merely another attempt to re-cast the famous Egypto-Macedonian queen in a more sympathetic light for the 21st Century mind, a way of putting our own time-stamp on a popular figure from the past. In my opinion, Cleopatra needs no up-dating. It's frankly delusional and a bit dishonest. Cleopatra lived by the standards of her day, not ours.
    This is a very poor book. It flies in the evidence of all scholarly evidence, which is explicit in the ancient sources. The book is a good example of sensationalism: I will say something that disagrees with all the evidence and become famous doing it. Did the author read the ancient sources about Cleopatra? And can she read them in the original Greek and Latin (translations can be dubious). The best source, Plutarch, makes it clear that there was no asp; that Cleopatra took poison, and that the asp was a construct that Cleopatra and the Romans connived at. She was not murdered; the Romans desperately wanted her alive.

    It is unfortunate that books based on no credibility whatsoever can get publicity. For a good account of the death of Cleopatra, see Duane W. Roller's excellent Cleopatra: A Biography, published by Oxford, or any number of other books on the queen written by credible scholars.
    The author just doesn't build a convincing case. She doesn't seem to understand that Plutarch and Cassius Dio are not writing police reports but are drawing on (several) previous accounts. She clearly hasn't looked deeply into previous scholarship by Classical scholars (or is just ignoring it) and even with that, I doubt her 'case' would stand up in any court.
    I love all things Cleopatra. I did not even like this book. It was slow, dragging on and on about nothing. I thought it would give me some new insight into the mystery of her death. It did not. Nothing interesting was learned.
    If you wish to read the 'favorable' quotes, go to Amazon.com.
    Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #273,679 in Books

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