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…What your country can do for you, Asp what you can do for your country.

My appologies to JFK!

Cleopatra was a politician, a patriot, and a Pharaoh.

Not so pretty

The real Cleopatra was probably not all that beautiful.   The last ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (she was Greek) which had taken over Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great.  His kingdom was split three ways, her family got the sand box.

They weren’t all that fond of Egypt, never learning the language, and insiting on speaking Greek, they ruled the nation for years.  This was a lucky break for historians, their insistance on court documents being written in both Greek and Egyptian gave us the Rosetta Stone, without which, we’d be screwed.

Cleopatra VII, was a little more progressive – well as progressive as one could have been in 69 BC.  (Yes, I use BC, as a purist and traditionalist, I refuse to use B.C.E., BC is before Christ, B.C. E. is before common era, I say we keep Christ in history as well as Christmas!)  But, like every other ruler of Egypt before and after her, she was a tyrant. 

Moving on,  Cleopatra not only learned Egyptian, she presented herself  as the reincarnation of an Egyptian goddess Isis.   Did I mention she had an ego?

Cleopatra originally ruled jointly with her father Ptolemy XII and later with her brothers, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, whom she married as per Egyptian custom.


Eventually she became sole ruler.   Translation:  she had the brothers/hubbies killed.  And she assumed total power at the age of 18.

No one said she was nice.

As pharaoh, she consummated a liaison with Julius Caesar to solidify her claim to the throne. Nine months to the day of their first meeting, she had a son by Caesar, Caesarion whom she made co-ruler.  She was 21, Caesar was 52.

Her affair with Caesar was brief.  He was murdered while she was in Rome, and she hot-footed it back to Alexandria.   Beware of the Ides of March.

In 44 BC, she became the ally of Marc Antony who was in opposition to Caesar’s legal heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus , a.k.a Augustus.

Her “love” for Caeser was a business deal to save her throne, and her affair with Marc Antony started the same way, there was a Roman Civil War going on, she had to choose sides.  Women, even queens had fewer choices then.

Their affair was passionate by all accounts, and has become not only history but literature and art as well. 

She and Antony had three children, twins, Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios, and one more son, Ptolemy Philadelphus – he was an Eagles fan.

Her marriages to her brothers pardon me while I hurl produced no children.   Lucky break!

Antony and Cleopatra planned to rule the world as lovers and monarchs and made the huge mistake of opposing Octavian.  After losing the Battle of Actium , Antony facing a horrible and public death in Rome, commited suicide. 

 Battle of Actium

Cleopatra, according to tradition, history, and Hollywood killed herself as well.

She knew the Romans hated her because of her hold on Caesar and her opposition to Octavian.

Some say that Octavian actually captured Cleopatra and that she died either from the cobra’s bite or poison while in his custody.  When he marched back to Rome, he took an effigy of the Queen with an asp clutched to her breast.

Well, he was really pissed.

Cleo and the asp.

Plutarch tells us of the death of Antony as well as Cleopatra.

Tradition says she had an asp smuggled into her room by a sympathetic maid, laid the serpent to arm and let it bite her.  The oldest source of this story is Strabo, who was alive at the time of the event, and may possibly have been in Alexandria at the time. He says that there are two stories: one is that she applied a toxic ointment, or that she was bitten by an asp or Egyptian Cobra.   Many Roman poets, who wrote of the event within in 10 years, all mention bites by two asps.  Other historians writing 60 to 150 years later do the same.  Some historians trying to rewrite history question these reports, generally implying or insisting that Augustus had her killed.

Shakespeare cemented the image that has come down to us, Cleopatra clutching the snake to her breast.  Before him, it was generally agreed that she was bitten on the arm.

She remains a popular figure yet today, and the Marc Antony J-Lo Cleo story has inspired theatre and other works of art.  In most depictions, Cleopatra is portrayed as a great beauty and her conquests of the world’s most powerful men played as proof of her sexual appeal.

Antony and Cleopatra, remain a mystery even in death.  They were buried together somewhere in Egypt, but the mausoleum has never been found.

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