Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff is the author of Cleopatra: A Life. From her Q & A with James Mustich:

JM: How do you embark on something like this? Once you decided to write about Cleopatra, did you do some preliminary scouting of the landscape to see what sources would be available and useful to you?

SS: I checked to see if there'd been a really good book published in the last few decades. Then I started with what Cleopatra would have read, asking myself, "What can we know about her education?" It turns out to be a very great deal, and bizarrely, no one had written about that before. It may seem an esoteric topic, but it tell us how she would have thought, the questions with which she would have conjured, what the themes of the day would have been. The fact that she could quote Homer, and that she knew her Euripides and her Aeschylus every bit as well as did Julius Caesar already tells you a great deal about her.

JM: The section on her education in the book is fascinating.

SS: I'm glad. I had so much fun writing that, based on some new and excellent Hellenistic scholarship.

JM: For some reason, even though people know she was a contemporary of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, there's something about her story—I guess it's just the Egyptian setting—that leads you to imagine Cleopatra much further back in history. But actually, as you explain, she wasn't Egyptian; she was Greek, and had an education shaped by the same cultural ethos that shaped Caesar.

SS: Exactly. In the version most of us have in our heads, they're opposites, exotics to each other. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue