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From Past to Present: Cleopatra the Eternal

From Past to Present: Cleopatra the Eternal

© Bettmann/Getty Images (Original Caption) Ancient Egyptian relief of Cleopatra VII (69-30 B.C.) Undated photograph, retouched. BPA 2 #6378

By Chaddie Kruger, Cricket Media

Fascinating queen, speaker of many languages, partner with two of Rome’s most powerful leaders, Cleopatra radiated intelligence, political vision, and magnetic charm. More than any other female leader, she continues to inspire people long after her death—a legacy seen in architecture, literature, art, and film.

Cleopatra was interested in science, the arts, and philosophy. Her excellent education, bright intellect, and alluring personality were major reasons why Julius Caesar and Mark Antony had lasting relationships with her. Certainly they wanted the wealth, workforce, and grain that Egypt could offer Rome, but Cleopatra herself was no small part of the attraction. When Antony ruled the eastern Roman Empire, he showed appreciation for her love of learning by giving her more than 200,000 volumes from the library of Pergamum in Asia Minor.

“Magical” was how the ancient Greek historian Plutarch, writing about 150 years after Cleopatra, described the queen’s appeal. The sound of her voice was said to be delightful, and her conversation captivating. According to Plutarch, her intellectual and social graces made her “irresistible.”

History, however, would give Cleopatra a mixed image, partly because her glamour, elegance, and intelligence were the same qualities that Octavian twisted into an anti-Cleopatra campaign. He and his colleagues made her cleverness and charm seem like black magic. They promoted the belief that she had bewitched Antony into giving her parts of the Roman Empire to rule with him. Scholars still debate whether this was true, but an evil image became part of her legacy.

Yet, even Romans who feared that Cleopatra and Antony might govern the empire as a tyrannical king and queen found it difficult to hate her. A well-known poem, written by the Roman poet Horace shortly after Cleopatra’s defeat at Actium, illustrates the dilemma.

After Octavian became emperor of Rome, Horace wrote poetry for the new regime. In his so-called Cleopatra poem, he portrayed the queen as a conniving, “deadly monster,” who plotted to control Rome. Yet, even though Horace celebrated Octavian’s victory at Actium, he felt an admiration for Cleopatra and used the final lines to applaud the calm bravery of her suicide.

After Cleopatra died, many Egyptians continued to honor her. For many years, she was known as “The Queen,” and writers continued to refer to the Cleopatreion, a building believed to be a shrine in her honor. In Egypt, there was a long tradition of revering rulers as gods, and Egyptians worshiped their great queen as “Cleopatra Aphrodite” for more than 300 years.

Caesar had also promoted worship of Cleopatra. He even commissioned a gilded bronze statue of Cleopatra and had it placed inside the temple to Venus, the universal mother, in Rome. The purpose was clear: Caesar wanted to link Cleopatra to the goddess Venus, the Roman equivalent of Aphrodite.

A remarkable part of Cleopatra’s legacy is her political farsightedness: Had she and Antony been the victors at Actium, they would have ruled the Roman Empire as partners. Most likely they would have governed from Rome, with Alexandria as their eastern, Greek-style headquarters.

This is far less strange than it sounds! First of all, Octavian did become Rome’s kinglike ruler and, eventually, the Roman Empire followed Antony and Cleopatra’s dream

In the fourth century a.d., the emperor Constantine moved the empire’s capital east to Constantinople and started the Greek-based, Byzantine Empire.

Cleopatra’s political vision, charisma, strength, and governing ability have inspired countless writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers for more than 2,000 years.

Antony had coins minted with her portrait next to his. Horace and Plutarch were only two of several ancient authors who chose to write about her. In more recent times, the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Legend of Good Women: The Tragedy of Cleopatra. There is no question about what inspired William Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra or George Bernard Shaw’s drama Caesar and Cleopatra. In the 20th century, at least 70 movies and documentaries focused on her life and ambitions.

Two famous monuments bear her name. Both are 70-foot-high, red-granite obelisks, each known as “Cleopatra’s Needle.” One is in New York’s Central Park; the other, in London. Although built long before Cleopatra’s time, it was her fame that gave them their modern name.

Throughout the world, museums continue to host exhibitions about the glamorous queen. In the commercial world, Cleopatra products flood the market: There are bath gels, body lotions, make-up, combs, “beauty secret” cream, beauty salons, secret hair-removal potions, perfume bottles, soap, and toe rings!

Cleopatra’s greatest legacy, however, may well be the queen herself. Always capturing the world’s imagination, her enchantment, allure, and mystique remain an eternal inspiration.




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Kids Magazine: From Past to Present: Cleopatra the Eternal
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