Depicted by many a story and film presentation in years past and present, Cleopatra has represented the epitome of feminine beauty. Many ascertain her as an example to look up to when in need of advice to accomplish a well-maintained life of beauty and romance. But who exactly was this woman who sits on the pinnacle of history’s most-coveted women?
Cleopatra VII Philopater was born in the year 69 B.C. to father and king of Egypt at that time Ptolemy XII Auletes. It is presumed that her mother and father could have been brother and sister as was a common custom in ancient Egypt. But while many look to the last reigning monarch of her line in Egypt as the epitome of Egyptian blood, it comes as a surprise to find out that the queen held little to no original Egyptian ancestry in her veins. Rather, her roots can be traced through the Ptolemaic dynasty to Macedonia, Greece, and the legendary Alexander the Great.
At the time of Ptolemy XII’s exile to Rome, the king’s eldest daughter, Berenice IV, assumed the throne but was killed in 55 B.C. upon the king’s return. Just four short years later, Ptolemy XII died and per tradition, Cleopatra rose to rule alongside her eldest brother upon the throne as joint rulers of Egypt. They were also destined to marry per the king’s wishes and usual custom. Despite the unusual nature, the Ptolemy tradition believed the act of incest to be a method of securing power of the throne within the family.
But things did not bode well for the new reign. Disagreements and soured tempers ensued as the young co-ruler proceeded to snub her brother, claiming the rule for herself in any way she could. After a coup thrown by the young Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra was exiled to southern Egypt where anger and greed would fester in her heart. Instead of forgetting her past, her one goal in mind was now to reclaim the throne of her homeland Egypt no matter the cost. She would do anything to reclaim what she saw as rightfully hers.
With her influence of power now hanging dangerously in the balance, young Cleopatra. with the aid of her childhood experience in mind, realised how valuable Rome could be to her. She immediately saw her new emperor and powerful leader Julius Caesar as her ticket homeward.
As legend says, while Caesar was visiting in the palace at Alexandria, a servant was paid to carefully transport Cleopatra within a carpet to Julius Caesar’s bedchamber without his knowledge. There she would lay in wait to seduce the one man capable of securing for her the future that she wanted.
Throughout the course of history, Cleopatra has always been looked up to as a source of perfect beauty. Hence, her abilities to successfully seduce and capture within her grasp the powerful Julius Caesar. But over time, it has come to be believed that Cleopatra may not have been the exquisite beauty that we have always thought her to be. Yet whatever it was that gave her the seductive powers she needed, they cast the perfect spell on the Roman emperor exactly as Cleopatra had intended.
Allying himself with their sister Arsinoe IV, Ptolemy XIII initiated armed attacks against Cleopatra and her forces in the Battle of the Nile in 47 B.C. in order to successfully end Cleopatra’s reign for good. Yet with Caesar on her side, Ptolemy XIII was quickly defeated and would lose his life post-battle in a futile attempt to cross the Nile to safety when his own armour drowned him. Arsinoe would from here be exiled to Ephesus where modern-day Turkey exists today. At last, as Caesar wins this war, Cleopatra has now won back the coveted throne of her homeland.
Despite the victorious couple’s contrasting and magnanimous thirty-four year age difference, their unofficial union would eventually result in a male child months later. Upon the birth of her son, Cleopatra announces boldly to the world the child’s identity by naming him Ptolemy Caesar. His nickname, Caesarion or “Little Caesar” proclaimed to all exactly who the father of her child was and solidifying the already strong connection of Egypt with Rome.
Yet Cleopatra’s perfect world takes a turn for the worse when Julius Caesar is fatally wounded on March 15, 44 B.C., in a solely political manoeuvre. With this assassination a direct threat to her own power, Cleopatra according to legend may have had a hand in poisoning her little brother, the only remaining heir, to his death. Either way, the disappearance of Ptolemy XIV helps Cleopatra’s cause for total control of the throne.
As the powerful queen waited, another figure would rise to power. With Mark Antony now in control of the entire eastern hemisphere of the Roman Empire near Egypt, Cleopatra sets her sights on winning him much like she did with Julius Caesar previously. But instead of sneaking into his chamber wrapped in royal rugs, Cleopatra came openly upon invitation in all her royal splendour despite her kingdom’s waning funds. Charmed, Antony abandons his war plans and travels back to Alexandria with the queen. And in the whirlwind of romance, Antony grants Cleopatra her wish to have her younger sister Arsinoe put to death despite her “safe” exile to a temple in Ephesus. This love affair would result in twins for the powerful couple, one boy and one girl whom Antony would claim as his own before the world four years later. Antony would also marry Cleopatra despite already having a wife in Rome.
Antony and Cleopatra’s relationship while legendarily electric is also a display of their shared desire for power. This common interest will bring them together in a bond like no other, giving Cleopatra numerous more lands to rule and eternally dependable help in times of war. Most importantly, it is assured that Egypt is entirely and irrevocably in the hands of Cleopatra, the Queen of Kings as she would come to be called.
The love story would soon come to blows in around 34 B.C. when Antony officially divorced his Roman wife, sending his brother-in-law Octavian into a rage against Antony and his foreign lover whom Antony had willed most of the Roman empire should anything happen to him. Most of Rome backed Octavian completely. Thus war was declared against Cleopatra. As Octavian smears the name of Cleopatra before his people, the ensuing battle is justified and happens in the Bay of Actium in 31 B.C.
Upon fleeing the battle scene where both Antony and Cleopatra’s naval forces suffer greatly at the hands of Octavian, Antony would take refuge in Alexandria where he would later rebound and attack once more. But it would not be enough to win the war. Rumour then spread to him that his beloved Cleopatra had taken her own life. Heartbroken, Antony stabbed himself. Yet legend has it that he didn’t die immediately and soon discovered the story was false. But any effort to save his life now was in vain; and he would die in Cleopatra’s arms in her hiding place following the battle.
With her last hope gone, Cleopatra knows that nothing else remains for her except to be captured by Octavian and her life snatched away from her once powerful hands. Her beauty, charm, and sweet seduction will not save her now. Upon being ordered to appear before Octavian as the new ruler of the Roman Empire, Cleopatra chooses to take her life into her own hands. Immortality is hers according to religious tradition if she dies by snakebite. And thus she makes her final move in her game of eternal lust for power. To her, she dies still powerful instead of a mere slave to her conqueror. She is then buried with Mark Antony.
Cleopatra according to her choices and ideals clearly saw herself as nothing less than divine. Despite the fact that she may have lacked the legendary beauty that she has become so famous for, Cleopatra thought much of herself and considered herself to be like the physical embodiment of the Greek goddess Isis, known to all as the overseer of the universe in most ways. Not much unlike that, Cleopatra’s crave for power while birthed from a terrible grievance from youth eventually spiralled out of complete control into what many historians believe to be a psychopathic divergence from sanity.
Cleopatra, bearer of supposed beauty, brains, and definitive seduction abilities now remains as a woman to look up to. Yet her underlying issues of power-hungry insanity leave much to be desired. Thanks to modern times, she is remembered as history’s sweetheart. But history writes another story altogether.