Elevate Difference

Cleopatra and Rome

If you have a hankering to return to Art of the Ancient World 101, Diana Kleiner’s Cleopatra and Rome should more than satisfy your urge to crack open a textbook. If you’re looking for a thrilling window into the life of a pair of the world’s most infamous lovers, this may not be your best bet.

Traveling throughout Egypt in June inspired me to dive into this book to refresh myself on the nation’s history. Filled with visions of sunset sailing in Luxor, I hoped Cleopatra and Rome would take me back to a sailboat where the love between Marc Antony and Cleopatra blossomed. Instead I trudged my way through Kleiner's strong introduction to Roman and Egyptian art.

Much of the historical background reads like a monotonous section of the Bible where you have at least two full pages dedicated to: blah beget bleh who beget blech and so on and so forth. Lacking completely in the romanticism, and even possible intrigue, involved in the intermingling of the Roman and Egyptian empires through her affairs with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, Cleopatra serves as a coincidental bridge between two cultures.

At first there is little artistic analysis; some is architectural, but even that is limited in comparison to the droning historical description. The photos have no cohesion with the written word—similar themes, but they feel disconnected because they’re not tied together on the page. About a hundred pages in, the reader starts to get more in-depth descriptions of the art and surface connections, but the author quickly settles into a much more balanced rhythm. The stronger integration in the later parts of the book really made all the difference for me. Though I understand the need to lay the historical foundation before diving into an integrated analysis, it felt too structured for my liking.

Perhaps it was simply because I was expecting fireworks and got sparklers instead, but the rich stories of Cleopatra and her empire failed to come across here. Expectations aside, the book sheds much light on the art of Egypt; it's just that some may prefer to read the Cliff’s Notes version.

Written by: Nicole Levitz, September 5th 2009