Few personalities from classical antiquity are more familiar yet more poorly grasped than Cleopatra (69-30 BC), queen of Egypt. The subject of a vast repertory of post-antique popular culture and also a significant figure in literature, art, and music, Cleopatra herself is surprisingly little known and generally misunderstood. Even in the years immediately after her death her memory was condemned by those who defeated her. The image of Cleopatra as an unfit ruler and wanton seductress who destroyed the careers of two of Rome's greatest generals-an image first created by Octavian's propaganda campaign-informs the later portrayals of her on stage and screen. Cleopatra was an accomplished diplomat, administrator, linguist (she was probably the first Ptolemy ruler to learn Egyptian), and author, who, until her very last years, skillfully managed her kingdom in the face of a deteriorating political situation and increasing strength and hostility from Rome. The fact that the wealthy and...

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