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Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World [Kindle Edition]

Diana Preston
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description


“If there is a better book about Cleopatra for today's reader, I don't know what it is… It's a very good book.” ―Washington Post

“Defying the traditional mythology that paints them as doomed star-crossed lovers, Preston places this amazing power couple firmly into the historical, political, and military contexts that shaped them and were, in turn, shaped by them.” ―Booklist

“This very readable work is highly recommended to all history collections, as well as those in gender or women's studies and biography.” ―Library Journal

Product Description

On a stiflingly hot day in August, 30 B.C., the thirty-nine-year-old Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, took her own life, rather than be paraded in chains through Rome by her conqueror, Octavian, the future emperor Augustus. A few days earlier, her lover of eleven years, Mark Antony, had died in her arms following his own botched suicide attempt. Oceans of mythology have grown up around them, all of which Diana Preston puts to rest in her stirring history of the lives and times of a couple whose names-more than two millennia later-still invoke passion, curiosity, and intrigue.

This book sets the romance and tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra's personal lives within the context of their political times. There are many contemporary resonances: the relationship between East and West and the nature of empire, the concealment of personal ambition beneath the watchword of liberty, documents forged, edited or disposed of, special relationships established, constitutional forms and legal niceties invoked when it suited. Indeed their lives and deaths had deep political ramifications, and they offer a revealing perspective on a tipping point in Roman politics and on the consolidation of the Roman Empire. Three hundred years would pass before the east would, with the rise of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, once again take a share of political power in the Mediterranean. In an intriguing postscript, Preston speculates on what might have happened had Antony and Cleopatra defeated Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3187 KB
  • Print Length: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (July 1 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002WU7TGY
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #750,705 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Most interesting book July 13 2009
By microfiche TOP 1000 REVIEWER
A very readable and interesting double biography of the two ancient lovers and how they affected Roman-Egyptian relations.
Also has interesting sidelights on life in Ptolemaic Egypt and Roman (eg. their warships, the brother-sister/wife-husband relationships.
Good stuff for historical novels.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Balanced Take on History's Most Famous Couple May 5 2009
By Mark Mellon - Published on
Marc Antony and Cleopatra are probably the most famous romantically linked couple in the Western tradition. They have captured the imagainations of millions down to the present day due to the sheer drama of their situations, the tremendously high stakes that they played for with their lives, the power of their mutual passion for one another, and the exoticism of mysterious, ancient Egypt. The Roman general and the Egyptian queen have inspired a tragedy by Shakespeare and overblown, hammy films featuring Claudette Colbert, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton.

One unfortuante result of this attention, however, is that the mythical Antony and Cleopatra have largely supplanted the actual historical figures. In the modern mind, Cleopatra is usually seen as a sensual, promiscuous creature, given over to debauchery and shameless pagan rites, while Antony is depicted as a degenerate sot entirely in thrall to the seductive, emasculating Cleopatra. The fact that these inaccurate and misleading characterizations still largely prevail is in large part due to the extremely effective propaganda campaign that was carried out against Antony and Cleopatra by their most deadly rival, Julius Caesar's nephew and adopted son, Octavian, later Augustus, first emperor of Rome.

Mr. Preston's book is therefore welcome in that it largely debunks these myths and does a straightforward job of presenting Cleopatra and Antony as they really were (that is, as best as that can be determined in reliance on the existing historical record). Rather than a wanton, heathen slattern, Cleopatra is shown as a highly educated, extremely intelligent and capable woman in an age when women were supposed to have no role at all other than as childbearers and domestic helpmeets. Similarly, a rounded portrait is given of Antony who, despite his gross appetites and vanity, was a gifted and esteemed Roman politician and military leader, the architect of victory at the Battle of Philippi where Caesar's murderers were defeated.

In addition to providing us with accurate portraits of the book's subjects, the author also pithily describes the many ins and outs of both Roman domestic politics and international relations during this period of antiquity. There is also some interesting, informed speculation on such questions as what the course of history might have been if Antony and Cleopatra had prevailed rather than Octavian (whose victory was not at all preordained) and what Cleopatra actually looked like (not the irresistible sylph of myth or the hook-nosed harpy that some scholars have argued for based on the evidence of a few coins).

Unlike other authors on subjects of this type, Diane Preston does not appear to strictly deal with the classics and Antiquity. She instead is what was once known as a "popularizer," doing research and writing books on a number of topics from the Boxer Rebellion in China, to the sinking of the Lusitania in WWI, to other diverse subjects. Her clear prose and level-headed analysis work very well in the context of ancient history, as they undoubtedly do in other contexts as well. I recommend this book specifically to anyone interested in the ancient world and generally to anyone who would like to read a good, memorable account of two of the most interesting people in history.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Realistic Look at the Era of Cleopatra and Antony Sept. 24 2009
By Joan A. Adamak - Published on
I have read several books on this couple, some of them more fanciful than perhaps realistic and I thought Colleen McCullough had covered these people fairly well, but this book truly sets the politics, morals and interests of that era. Ms. Preston did extensive research which she documents very well in the Notes and Sources and probably has done the best arranging of the idiosyncrasies and personalities of the most influential movers and shakers of Rome during the last century A.D. Through her, Antony became a much more capable military man and politician than what he is usually portrayed, but also his appetite as a womanizer and heavy drinker and Cleopatra was more thoroughly shown to be the powerful head of state that she was. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it was a page turner for me and read as interestingly as non-fiction adventures. Although the reference to "Antony and Cleopatra" usually immediately reflects a tempestuous and passionate romance, Ms. Preston uses these two people as only a means to an end to set forth history in an honest and colorful narrative.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good history, but nothing new May 17 2010
By Enjolras - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Diana Preston's Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World is a well-told history of this infamous couple. The best parts of the book are the rich descriptions of the luxuries of Cleopatra's court. The days of feasting and debauchery are mind-boggling, even by the standards of today's college students. In one scene, Cleopatra bets that she can throw a meal worth 10 million sesterces, and then achieves this by throwing one of her diamond earrings into the vinegar!

I wouldn't say there's anything particularly new or different about this book. In fact, it is really geared toward "popular" audiences (the first page even has a footnote that all dates are BC). If you're unfamiliar with the ancient world, this is a good book to start with. Preston gives a long and thorough "back history" of the Roman Republic and Ptolemaic Egypt. However, if you're a history buff, it might seem like there's too much general history, not enough detail about Antony and Cleopatra. For the latter audience, I suspect Adrian Goldsworthy's new Antony and Cleopatra would be a better bet.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cleopatra and Antony is a vibrantly accurate and well written account of the famous lovers of the ancient world July 15 2009
By C. M Mills - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Toga drama galore in "Cleopatra and Antony" by noted Oxford educated history Diana Preston. In 300 pages the author separates the two famous lovers from myth and gives us a portrait of two powerful personalities.
Cleopatra was quite a dame! She was the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Greeks who had ruled Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great. She spoke seven languages, was well schooled and a good queen of Egypt for almost twenty years. Cleopatra was also a crafty political operative who quashed her younger brother's bid for power and was not adverse to killing opponents.
Cleopatra bore a child by Julius Caesar. The boy named Caesaron would be murdered by Octavian's soldiers. Following Caesar's assassination in 44 BC she fled to Egypt. It was in Tarsus she first met by Mark Antony. Antony was a Caesar supporter who helped in the elimination of his assassins including Brutus and Cassius. Antony was a notorious womanizer, drinker and doughty warrior whose courage was real. He comes across as an earthy man who truly loved Cleopatra despite affairs with other women. He had three children by Cleopatra. His rival for Roman dictatorship was Octavian the grandnephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. Octavian became the first Emperor of Rome following his defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at the decisive sea battle of Actium in 31 BC.
Antony and Cleopatra chose suicide rather than capture and execution by the victorious Octavian. Antony died with a sword thrust; Cleopatra may have been bitten to death by an asp or cobra but her mode of death is unclear.
Preston's book not only details in clear and understandable prose the political affairs of the volatile first century but also opens the door to Egyptian and Roman customs from sexual practices to religious beliefs.
Diana Preston is not a specialist in the ancient world but writes for the educated general reader. Her book will both entertain and instruct the reader. An added bonus is the fascinating reconstruction of a bust showing what experts believed was Cleopatra's real life appearance. She was probably plump, hawk-nosed with an olive complexion. She died at only 39 years of age.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for Roman History buffs! May 14 2011
By Jennifer R. Shipley - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have just recently got into ancient Rome. I can't believe that I used to think this kind of thing was boring when I was a teenager! If I only knew that the ancient Romans were sleazy, violent, promiscuous, and insane, I might have felt differently. A couple of months ago I was bored and I was looking on HBO for something to watch On Demand. I noticed that they had the entire series of Rome on there, and I remember thinking it looked kind of good. Well, from the first minute I was hooked. I quickly watched the entire series, and wanted to learn all I could about these fascinating people. Some books on this subject can be kind of dry, but definitely not this one. It's hard to believe that this happened two thousand years ago. It reads like the author was there herself. It's amazing how much has survived from that time. All the letters, and monuments, etc. And my favorite person has got to be Marc Antony. (And if you haven't watched "Rome" you need to watch it just for James Purefoy's performance of Marc Antony.)

This book is so well researched and written it almost feels like a novel. Everything was so dramatic back then. And I always wonder if these people knew that they would be in all the history books, and be talked about for thousands of years. You can tell that the author loves ancient Rome as much as I do. I was so impressed with her writing that I went out and bought her book on the sinking of the Lusitania. (Which is three times as long as this book was, and I'm only about 1/10th of the way through it).

I would recommend this book to everyone. You don't need to be a history scholar to understand it, and it doesn't read like a history textbook from high school, which, unfortunately, a lot of books on this subject do. I really enjoyed it, and I am glad that I bought it, so I can loan it to friends. I look forward to reading more from Diana Preston.
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