Okay, let’s imagine you’re in class, or the library, or even sitting in front of your computer, facing the Dreaded History Project, which just happens to be on Ancient Egypt. Oh, and that kid that sits in the back and never says anything got the pyramids and the mummies and the grave robbers and all that other cool stuff. And you got…Cleopatra.
Great. What’s so exciting about Cleopatra? Sure she was a queen and drop dead gorgeous (no pun intended), but that’s about it, right?
Lucky for you, Vicky Alvear Shecter’s here today. And she’s brought her totally awesome book, Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen. Vicky knows everything about Cleopatra, and Egypt, and Julius Caesar and love and murder, and…well, why don’t I let her tell you about it.
Thanks for stopping by, Vicky! First off, I have to say I’ve never read anything quite like Cleopatra Rules! I can’t remember when I laughed out loud, reading history. And there were more than a few surprises in there about Cleopatra. What do you think is the surprise that shocks most people about the teen queen?
What shocked me most was the fact that Cleopatra was the mother of four children. Yup, four. One by Caesar, three by Marc Antony. Only her daughter, Cleopatra Selene, survived into adulthood. She became the focus of my YA novel, Cleopatra’s Moon, coming out this August.
The research for your book is beyond impressive! Did you find any other surprising tidbits when digging around Cleopatra and her contemporaries? (Oops! Sorry for that pun, too)
Thanks! One word about the research—because the “voice” in the book is kind of “out there,” I had to make sure that the research was unimpeachable. I wanted to prove that a fun casual voice could be part of rigorously researched biography. We also had two ancient history experts (archaeologists) and two Cleopatra experts (professors) vet the book.
What is most surprising to many people is that Cleopatra was no great beauty. According to Plutarch she was “okay” (my words, not his!), but had an amazing charisma that made her irresistible. I hate that Hollywood makes her into a bombshell because here we have the classic case of an ordinary-looking young woman who—by the force of her intelligence, wit, and personality—changes the history of the world. That is WAY more interesting, don’t you think?
Absolutely! And when you consider what she accomplished in such a short span of history (um, how many years was that again?) it’s easy to see why Hollywood’s made so many movies about her reign as Pharaoh. But I’m wondering if there’s ever been a movie that accurately depicted Cleopatra. Why change the story when the real story is so amazing?
I have yet to find an accurate depiction of Cleopatra in the movies for the reasons stated above—Hollywood needs to sell tickets and they figure people will only pay to see a great beauty on the screen rather than a great mind. Also, it’s really hard to convey the political situations in both Egypt and Rome so it becomes easier to frame her story as a love story. It’s not. It’s the story or a brilliant young woman who gambled on creating alliances with the powerful in Rome in order to keep her kingdom independent and strong.
But who wants to see that when you can watch Elizabeth Taylor snog Richard Burton?
Oh, and she ruled for 22 years, by the way.
Only 22 years! Imagine how the world might be different if she’d lived longer. I don’t want to give up too many of the juicy details from Cleopatra Rules! but I can’t let you go without asping, er, asking about that famous death scene. So, what really happened?
Ah, the dead scene. So classic, isn’t it? The thing that really cracks me up is that there are people STILL arguing about it. Just months ago, there was a prominent scientist who crowed that he had proved that Cleopatra died by a cocktail of poisons rather than a snakebite.
Really? Without a body on which to perform toxicological tests?
We have to remember that the only account of her death was written 90 years later by a Roman Greek (Plutarch) who didn’t want to anger the Roman emperor. He HAD to make Cleo look bad. It was his job. Plutarch himself said he didn’t know whether it was by snake or poison.
Snakes, however, were powerful Egyptian symbols of both royalty and eternal life. Cleopatra knew how to make a dramatic entrance. Why not a dramatic exit too?
I go deeper into what I believe, in the book, of course!
Indeed, you do. Cleopatra Rules! is a riveting read!
Vicky, thank you SO much for sharing your wit and wisdom here. And Vicky’s also graciously given a copy of Cleopatra Rules! to Finders & Keepers for one lucky commenter to win. So if you’re a librarian, looking for a way to get kids excited about history, you’ll want to comment. And if you’re a kid with the Dreaded History Report to write, you’ll want to leave a comment. And especially, if you’re the parent of the kid with the Dreaded History Report to write, leave a comment. (But honestly, you might just want to run out and buy Cleopatra Rules! Because how often do you find a history book that’s this much fun?)
Thanks so much, Cathy! This was fun!
P.S. Here’s another keeper for you: History with a Twist! You’ll find a ton of interesting historical facts and fun at Vicky’s blog. And if you’re penning your own non-fiction book, you’ll want to check out Vicky’s writing tips over at my other blog, Cathy C.’s Hall of Fame. She’s giving away something over there, too. Finders, keepers. Losers, weepers. So what are you waiting for?