Not exactly about poetry

Cleopatra: A LifeCleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Langdon Hammer, in a Yale Open Courses lecture on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LYar… , at about 38:00) , speaks of “Leda and the Swan” as the culmination of a series of poems indicating Yeats’s belief that history is somehow in the body, hence the rape (divine force reduced to brute power) and the question, “Did she put on his knowledge with his power?” I was a little skeptical, and I’m not absolutely convinced that I’ve got it right but when one considers that European Caucasian culture grows from Rome, that shining city on seven hills that has as its founding myth the rape of the Sabine women, the idea begins to seem less outlandish.

And yes, Leda is Greek and so was Cleopatra, but the Romans borrowed their pantheon from the Greeks.

In “Cleopatra,” Stacy Schiff presents us with the triumphant Julius Caesar, balding and vain, strutting and rutting around Rome in red cape and calf-high red boots, “seducing” the wives and daughters of all his colleagues. I am tempted to draw comparisons with modern times but will resist.

But I will say that his triumph was an example of conspicuous consumption that puts our 1% in the shade.

Cleopatra, on the other hand, comes to Rome from another city where arts and culture are much more sophisticated and creature comforts much more decadent. Alexandria had, in addition to its great library, 400 theaters and lots of street theater. Meals of the lark’s tongues variety were served on platters of gold-plated silver. It had hydraulic lifts, automatic doors, and coin-operated machines (the acme of civilization). Moreover, Cleopatra is accustomed to a culture in which women had extensive rights and privileges. They could, for example, “initiate lawsuits and hire flute players.” Because an “and” yokes items of equal value I am left to wonder what is so special about flute players. By contrast, Schiff informs us that a Roman was obligated to raise only his first-born daughter. In Rome, ‘women enjoyed the same legal rights as infants and chickens.”

That must surely be a typo but, given the cockish behavior of Caesar, perhaps not.

Not that Cleopatra was innocent. Though she could be benevolent. And seemingly she was a damned good administrator.

We know little about her. Schiff’s strategy is to draw a highly detailed picture of the culture that formed her, leaving a sort of Cleopatra-sized model we can use to picture the woman behind the legend.

I will not finish this book. Not because it is less than fascinating but because I have so many things I must read and I cannot read this one fast. I am constantly compelled to go in search of someone to whom I can say “Listen to this.”

I’m reading it for a book club and today’s the day. And here I am on page 107 of 302 pages. Mark Antony’s name hasn’t even been mentioned yet.

So I’ll let it go.

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Introduction by Sherry Chandler

Hello.

Or in the immortal words of Cousin Minnie Pearl — How DEE, I’m just so proud to be here.

Mary Alexandra Agner invited me to add my voice to the harmonies here, a timely invitation for me, serendipitous even, though I use that word with caution.

I wrote a blog for several years but one day I discovered I couldn’t do it any more. I think they call that burn out. Lately, however, I’ve felt an awakening of the urge to blog, accompanied by a reluctance to take on so intense a task.

So when Mary’s invitation showed up in my inbox, I accepted joyfully. It seems as just right as Baby Bear’s chair. I like what I read here and hope I can contribute something worthwhile.

Is this a preamble or just an amble? I really don’t like introducing myself. My life story is available at sherrychandler.com. To give you a notion who I am, I’ll give you a poem from my book Weaving a New Eden. The poem culminates a geneology in poems following mothers instead of fathers.

Sherry Florence Chandler
(daughter of all of these)

So I am arrived here, not in the plumb-bob
Heritage of my father’s line, my father called
Eagle-eye because he could raise a barn foursquare.
Rather I am come in zigs and zags, a looping
Ragged line of mothers and grandmothers, nested
Yarn, a thread spun, woven, hooked into coverings.

Fancy finds these women plain, and poor, working
Land farmed out since the first generation plowed
On clear-cut hills. Time’s mainstream washed past like
Rivers and creeks that took their topsoil, left only
Eden Shale, academic term for sticky yellow clay.
Nurture in such an Eden was a fulfillment of God’s
Curse, toil and pain, and yet, from this unwelcoming
Earth they brought forth lilacs and tender lettuces.

Cuttings and seed, handed on, handed down,
Homespun petticoats, spinning wheel on the hearth,
A loom in the barn, then feed-sack frocks, the reciprocating
Needle of the Sears and Roebuck Singer in the corner.
Daughter of all these, I would sing for these women
Like Virgil – strong arms and the woman
Except, of course, that that is not their style.
Rather I’ll call you a dance to the figure of the Black-Eyed Girl.