The Classical Novels: The Macedonian, Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra (Recovered classics)

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9780929701424: The Classical Novels: The Macedonian, Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra (Recovered classics)

Alexander the Great and Queen Cleopatra stand shrouded in myth and mystery at opposite ends of a Greek epoch, symbols of the Hellenizing conquests of Egypt and Persia, the ascendancy of Alexandria, and the final absorption of Ptolemaic Egypt into the Roman Empire. Many authors have exploited their lives as the very stuff of legend, beyond human dimension. By contrast, and with penetrating insight, Mary Butts brings Alexander and Cleopatra alive as human beings in two vivid novels, shattering their conventional masks to explore motivations of power, the allure of “the sacred,” and the clashes of cultures. In dramatic vignettes from various angles, the lives of Alexander and Cleopatra are separately presented with their extraordinary entourages, including Aristotle, Callisthenes, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Cicero. Combined for the first time in this volume, The Macedonian and Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra form a unified work, richly imagined, thoroughly researched, and augmented by three classical stories not previously collected.

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About the Author:

She drank with Hemingway at Les Deux Magots; Virgil Thompson courted her; among her best friends she counted H.D. and Bryher and corresponded at length with Charles Williams, but Virginia Woolf hated her perfume. She lived more outrageously than Jean Rhys and was considered a better writer than Katherine Mansfield. She was published in Ford Madox Ford's Transatlantic Review and Ezra Pound's Little Review; Robert McAlmon's Contact Editions issued her first novel. ... And yet, though hailed in her time for adventurous originality, because of her untimely death her greatest works have remained lost for fifty years. Fortunately, the flame of Mary Butts (1890-1937) has been kept alive over time by Kenneth Rexroth, Virgil Thomson, Robert Duncan, John Ashbery, Kenneth Irby, Gerrit Lansing, Robert Kelly and many others.

Review:

Cleopatra, as a thoroughly intelligent head of state, a warm and witty woman, mistress, muse, and mother of Caesar, a divinity in her own right (fully legalized in Egyptian law) and an incomparable companion, is here viewed in depth by one of the most expert writers of our century -- a compassionate evocation and a brilliant revival. -- Virgil Thomson

No modernist writer has explored with such accuracy the nacreous qualities of female aggression and power and the words for it all -- aggression between the sexes, yes of course, but, more interestingly and startingly, the schematics and schisms between mothers, daughters, and daughters-in-law, between girlfriend and girlfriend, and between girlfriends playing mother and daughter, playing sisters and more than sisters.-- Voice Literary Supplement

Miss Butts has debunked all the notions, or misconceptions, of Cleopatra as the most alluring 'vamp' in creation. She pens a portrait that appears even more probable than any preceding it of the queen as a well-bred Greek girl, the one strong character remaining of an ancient family that was toppling to disintegration, and who dedicated herself to the restoration of her family's power and glory. To this end, and not from any desire to seduce Caesar, she became the great Roman's mistress, and it was through no lack of courage and diplomacy on her part that she failed to secure for their son, Cesarion, the right to succeed when Caesar was done to death. Next follows her relationship with Mark Antony, whom she married, and of that marriage three children were born, to whom she was an excellent mother... The author's portraits of the three 'immortals' -- Caesar, Antony, and Cleopatra -- are arresting, and strike an entirely new note. If only because of that the book is wonderfully interesting, but in addition the re-creation of the times in which they lived is a notable achievement. ...Without question, the author's skill, research and artistry have resulted in a highly enjoyable and provocative book. --Edinburgh Evening News

In a series of ten scenes Miss Mary Butts has studied the personality of Alexander the Great, and more particularly his tendency to think himself a god or God... His practical ability as a general and administrator, traced to a parallel longing of his father, Philip, to beget a worthy king, is left in the background, except in so far as his astonishing success encouraged his notions of his own divinity. The crash of battle, the operations of siege, the regulation of armies, the rapidity of marches, which make up so large a part of the popular idea of Alexander's career, being here for the most part treated allusively and not directly, this book may seem a somewhat meagre representation of his short but crowded reign. But Miss Butts frankly disclaims the purpose of saying much about the public side of his activity, concentrating her attention on his inner life... Beginning with the unification of Greece under Macedonian leadership, with a view to the propagation of Hellenism over the East,...[Alexander's divine vision] changes into a fusion of Persia with Hellas... and ends with an absorption of all nations into a single kingdom of mankind... This is Butts' suggested justification of Alexander: of his belief in his own divinity, without which he could not have attempted an aim which requires and perhaps is not unworthy of a god... [The Macedonian is] a remarkable book. --Times Literary Supplement (1933)

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