Cleopatra-A-Life

Cleopatra moreover came of age in a country that entertained a singular definition of women’s roles.  Well before her and centuries before the arrival of the Ptolemies, Egyptian women enjoyed the right to make their own marriages.  Over time their liberties had increased, to levels unprecedented in the ancient world.  They inherited equally and held property independently.  Married women did not submit to their husbands’ control.  They enjoyed the right to divorce and to be supported after a divorce.  Until the time an ex-wife’s dowry was returned, she was entitled to be lodged in the house of her choice.  Her property remained hers; it was not to be squandered by a wastrel husband.  The law sided with the wife and children if a husband acted against their interests.  Romans marveled that in Egypt female children were not left to die; a Roman was obligated to raise only his first-born daughter.  Egyptian women married later than did their neighbors as well, only about half of them by Cleopatra’s age.  They loaned money and operated barges.  They served as priests in the native temples.  They initiated lawsuits and hired flute players.  As wives, widows, or divorcees, they owned vineyards, wineries, papyrus marshes, ships, perfume businesses, milling equipment, slaves, homes, camels.  As much as one third of Ptolemaic Egypt may have been in female hands.
—  Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff

currently reading: Cleopatra - A Life by Stacy Schiff
enjoying it a lot so far. i’m pretty familiar with the historical aspects of this era but Schiff brings in really interesting perspectives to see this period through. favorite element so far is how she talks about Cleopatra’s completely incestuous and dysfunctional lineage…HBO needs to make a damn show about the Ptolemies already. and from a scientific point of view, how does someone as smart and as accomplished (total understatements, btw) like Cleopatra VII come out of all that inbreeding and trauma? boggles the mind. 

There is evidence in Cleopatra’s first year of her ambition as well.  Her brother’s name is absent from official documents, where he should have figured as Cleopatra’s superior.  Nor is he in evidence on her coins; Cleopatra’s commanding portrait appears alone.  Coinage qualifies as a kind of language, too.  It is the only one in which she speaks to us in her own voice, without Roman interpreters.
—  Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff
From the palace Caesar observed what had put Alexandria on the map and what made it so difficult to rule: its people were endlessly, boundlessly resourceful.  His men watched in amazement–and resentment; ingenuity was meant to be a Roman specialty–as the Alexandrians constructed wheeled, ten-story assault towers.  Draft animals led those mammoth contraptions down the straight, paved avenues of the city.  Two things in particular astonished the Romans.  Everything could be accomplished more quickly in Alexandria.  And its people were clever copyists of the first rank.  Repeatedly they went Caesar one better.  As a Roman general recounted later, they ‘put into effect whatever they saw us do with such skill that it seemed our troops had imitated their work.’
—  Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff