Form and Content
Against the backdrop of the birth of the Roman Empire from the old republic, Alice Curtis Desmond’s Cleopatra’s Children tells the story of a highborn young woman, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII. She bequeaths to her four children by two Roman fathers a fierce struggle for survival in an inhospitable world of deadly battles, intricate palace intrigues, and bloody arena sports.
To highlight this powerful connection between Cleopatra’s family and Rome’s leading men and women, Desmond opens and closes Cleopatra’s Children with the death of a Roman. Thus, the murder of Pompey the Great in Egypt brings Cleopatra’s first lover, Julius Caesar, onto the scene. He restores her to the throne by defeating her hostile younger brother and sister. Cleopatra’s son by Caesar, Ptolemy XV Caesarion, is the first of her children whose fates Desmond plays out before the reader. She ends her narrative with the death of the Roman emperor Nero only a few years after Cleopatra’s granddaughter Drusilla has disappeared from history.
Despite the influence wielded by the Romans in the text, however, they do not occupy center stage. Formally, Desmond’s decision to place Cleopatra’s suicide at the middle of her book not only reemphasizes this point but also divides the narrative into two thematically distinct parts.
The first half centers on Cleopatra herself, who transforms herself from the twenty-year-old lover of the...
(The entire section is 430 words.)