Cleopatra lived through events that naturally appeal to many young adult readers. Her history is one of passion, excitement, and bravery. She loved Julius Caesar, the most famous Roman leader and was in Rome when Caesar was assassinated. Her relationship with Marc Antony led to the disastrous naval battle at Actium and the queen’s noble suicide when all was lost. Leighton increases the melodrama by including descriptions of Cleopatra’s narrow escape from Egypt; the horrible death of Pompey, Julius Caesar’s rival, on the shores of Egypt; and Cleopatra’s amazing ability to slip past Ptolemy’s guards to rendezvous with Caesar.
Leighton presents these events in a manner designed to appeal to young adults. For example, she introduces the queen to the reader at the age of eleven. Young Cleopatra shares the concerns of many adolescents: She worries about her relationships with her father and her sisters and brothers, she frets about her appearance, and she shows a fondness for pretty clothes, for her nurse, and for the sea. Young adults will also appreciate the way in which the princess pursues an education against all odds and learns about her kingdom and her people. She matures into a powerful and ambitious queen who loves her own children with great devotion and who gains the admiration of the most important men of her time. Above all, Leighton presents Cleopatra as a woman of immense intelligence, personal self-esteem, and sense of direction. Leighton’s Cleopatra knows exactly what she wants and how to achieve her goals....
(The entire section is 633 words.)
The career of Cleopatra has had a variety of interpretations. Contemporary Romans considered her a dangerous threat to their political well-being. To William Shakespeare, her story was one of passion and fidelity. To Hollywood, the Egyptian queen has usually been an attractive seductress. In the twentieth century, Cleopatra became the center of a cultural debate, as her Greek ancestry was questioned and her possible African ties were affirmed.
Leighton, the author of many books for young adults, including Judith of France (1948), Comanche of the Seventh (1957), and Voyage to Coromandel (1965), steers clear of all these controversial Cleopatras and offers her readers a biography based, as much as possible, on historical evidence rather than on legend and distortion. In particular, Leighton has based her depiction of the queen on the 1923 revised edition of Arthur Weigall’s The Life and Times of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt: A Study in the Origin of the Roman Empire.
Leighton is honest about her subject. She does not disguise the brutality and corruption of the age. In her book, messengers are killed for being the bearers of bad news and her young readers are fully aware that both Caesar and Marc Antony were married during their affairs with Cleopatra. At the same time, Leighton’s readers can gain inspiration from Cleopatra’s life. Leighton’s queen is an intelligent and determined young woman who single-mindedly pursues political ambitions for herself and her children. She played a dangerous game and lost, but she lost with nobility and dignity.