The book begins with an argument between Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar, in which Caesar belittles the accomplishments of the Egyptians. Infuriated, Cleopatra makes a wager with Caesar promising to build a new palace in Alexandria within three months. Cleopatra summons Edifis, who claims to be the best architect in Egypt. She promises Edifis that if he builds the palace on time he will be covered with gold; if he fails, he will be a meal for the sacred crocodiles.
A worried Edifis enlists the help of the Gauls, Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, and Dogmatix. Thanks to Getafix and his magic potion, the work goes forward on schedule, despite multiple attempts by Edifis' arch rival, Artifis, to sabotage the construction.
Just before the palace is due to be completed, Caesar intervenes by sending legions to try and destroy the palace. The Gauls fight off the Roman soldiers, but Caesar proceeds to shell the building with his catapults. In desperation, Asterix and Dogmatix deliver the news to Cleopatra. A furious Cleopatra then hurries to the construction site to give Caesar a thorough tongue lashing. Caesar's legions are required to fix the damage they caused (without any magic potion to help them) and the palace is successfully completed on time. Cleopatra wins her bet and covers Edifis with gold.
AllusionsThe title alludes to William Shakespeare's play Antony and Cleopatra. However, the book itself is largely an extended parody of the then-recent film Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The book's cover parodies the film's poster. A running gag throughout the album (and also later albums) is Cleopatra's beautiful nose, which is admired by everyone. This is an allusion to the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, who had articulated the historical significance of Cleopatra's beauty by saying in his painting that "Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed".
On page 10, Edifis' scribe says "anyone who can draw can write." This is a reference to an advertising slogan of the ABC school of drawing and painting, "Si vous savez écrire, vous savez dessiner" ("If you can write, you can draw"), a joke about the graphical nature of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
On page 23, while looking at the pyramids, Getafix says to Obelix: "20 centuries look down upon us." This alludes to Napoleon, who told his soldiers in front of the pyramids, "40 centuries look down upon you."
In the original French, Artifis reads a newspaper called the Pharaon Soir (a pun on the [[Wikipedia:France-Soir|France-Soir]) and the feuilleton Chère-Bibis can be viewed on the back page. In the English version, the comic has been replaced by "Pnuts" (Peanuts) and "Ptarzan" (Tarzan).
On page 39, the Roman legion makes use of a "Wikipedia:Tortoise_attack tortoise attack". When they flee, a small caption says they are now using the tactic of the hare, an allusion to the fable of the The Tortoise and the Hare.
On page 47, Asterix offers Cleopatra further Gaulish help, and suggests that they could build a channel between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. This is a reference to the French involvement in building the Suez Canal.
When Edifis introduces the Gauls to his scribe, he says that he "speaks several living languages such as Latin, Greek (Ancient), Celtic and Gaulish." The joke is that all these languages (with the exception of Celtic, or Gaelic, which is still spoken in Ireland and Scotland) are now dead languages.
On page 30, Cleopatra says that she is tired of having her portrait done in profile and wants to be portrayed in three-quarter face. Her sculptor demurs: "Oh well, you know what I think of modern art." This is a reference to the permanent profiles in Ancient Egyptian art.
In the original French, Edifis says to Getafix on page 7: "Je suis, mon cher ami, très heureux de te voir" ("My dear friend, I'm very glad to see you."). Getafix responds "C'est un alexandrin". The joke is that un alexandrin can mean both an Alexandrian (someone from Alexandria, like Edifis) or an alexandrine, a line of verse with 12 syllables, like the sentence Edifis had just spoken.
On page 9, Edifis says that Artifis has "many talents". When Asterix asks him if that means Artifis is a fine architect, Edifis responds, "No, rich. He has a lot of gold talents. That's the money we use in Egypt". This is a pun on the ancient coin known as the talent.
On page 10, Obelix is baffled by the Lighthouse of Alexandria which guides ships to the harbor. Getafix responds: "It's a world wonder, Obelix," referring to the fact that the lighthouse was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
When the Gauls visit Luxor, Obelix wants to take one of the obelisks with him; after an argument with Asterix, he says "We shall never be in Concord over this". The joke relies not only upon the fact that Obelix' name is a pun on the word "obelisk", but also to the fact that Napoleon's soldiers took a Luxor Obelisk with them to France, and that it can still can be viewed on the Place de la Concorde.
In most Asterix books, Obelix is not permitted to drink the Magic Potion, but Getafix makes an exception due to an extraordinary requirement (the need to force open a solid stone door inside a pyramid). Obelix notices no difference, but keeps asking for more potion in subsequent volumes.
Obelix's dog, Dogmatix, is named for the first time in this story. It is also the first story in which Dogmatix takes a significant role (rescuing the heroes from a maze inside a Pyramid).
The recurring pirate characters appear in this book; unusually, the captain expresses his determination to wreak revenge on the Gauls (after he and his crew have been forced to take jobs as galley slaves on Cleopatra's barge in order to pay for their last ship) (in other books, he simply wishes never to encounter them again). Also, the pirate captain's son Erix (seen in Asterix the Gladiator) is mentioned as having been left as a deposit to pay for the pirates' latest ship.