Toward the beginning of her recent biography of Cleopatra*, Stacy Schiff comments on how little specific information about Cleopatra is extant. What did she look like? “Only her coin portraits–issued in her lifetime, and which she likely approved–can be accepted as authentic.” Most of the Roman accounts of her were written long after her time. “No papyri from Alexandria survive.” The historians conflated her stories with those of others. “To restore Cleopatra is as much to salvage the few facts as to peel away the encrusted myth and the hoary propaganda.”
I empathize. The situation’s little better for the women about whom I’m writing–Alice Perrers, Joan of Kent. I’ve more information about Joan than I did about Alice, but I’ve also a great deal of conflicting mythology, some positive, some negative. In fact, that last quote from Stacy is spot on for Joan.
Just coming up for air and appreciating Schiff’s lovely prose….
*Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff (Little Brown 2010)