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Cleopatra Vii

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“barricaded himself in the Ptolemy’s' palace, the home from which Cleopatra had been exiled. From the desert she engineered a clandestine return, skirting enemy lines and Roman barricades, arriving after dark inside a sturdy sack. Over the succeeding months she stood at Caesar's side--pregnant with his child--while he battled her brother's troops. With their defeat, Caesar restored her to the throne.” (Schiff 83).

After the death of Caesar, Antony became the most powerful Roman. They met on political terms: Antony was on an extended stay in the eastern Mediterranean to clean up the mess left by Caesar’s assination. Schiff writes that Cleopatra’s relationship with Antony was the longest of her life, it survived for eleven years. “In the long run, Antony's involvement with her contributed to his downfall. He was married to a respectable Roman woman, and it was easy to make political hay in Rome about his being in bed (figuratively and literally) with a foreign queen.” (Schiff 103).

There are many holes in Cleopatra’s life, since no one began to piece her life together till long after her death. Schiff writes that during her time with Antony:

“Cleopatra governed the most fertile country in the Mediterranean, guiding it through plague and famine. Her tenure alone speaks to her guile. She knew she could be removed at any time by Rome, deposed by her subjects, undermined by her advisers--or stabbed, poisoned and dismembered by her own family…she played to two constituencies: the Greek elite, who initially viewed her with disfavor, and the native Egyptians, to whom she was a divinity and a pharaoh. She had her hands full. Not only did she command an army and navy, negotiate with foreign powers and preside over temples, she also dispensed justice and regulated an economy.” (Schiff 101).

Yet, while Egypt was prospering, the Roman civil wars raged on, between Mark Antony and Octavian, Caesar's adopted son. Octavian was also the brother of Antony’s wife Octavia, who he divorced to marry Cleopatra. The two split the Roman Empire between them. Cleopatra allied herself with Antony, and Antony and Octavian's fragile peace came to an end in 31 B.C., when Octavian declared war-on Cleopatra. He knew Antony would not abandon the Egyptian queen. (Schiff 275).

The ending of her life leaves a legacy fit for a queen. Octavian marched an army to Egypt to extend his rule, and take Cleopatra as a prisoner. She could not negotiate any form of surrender. She barricaded herself in a vast seaside mausoleum. She drank something to commit suicide, but it was not strong enough. It's unclear whether Antony was told she was dead, but he disemboweled himself. He did not die, but was brought to the mausoleum, where presumably he died in Cleopatra's arms. Schiff writes, “Rather than deliver herself to Octavian, she committed suicide. Octavian was at once disappointed and in awe of his enemy's "lofty spirit." Cleopatra's was an honorable death, a dignified death, an exemplary death. She had presided over it herself, proud and unbroken to the end.” (Schiff 245). With her death the Roman civil wars came to an end. She died at 39. Catastrophe reliably cements a reputation, and Cleopatra's end was sudden and sensational. (Schiff 248).

Two thousand years of bad press and overheated prose, of film and opera, cannot conceal the fact that Cleopatra was a remarkably capable queen.” (Schiff 301). Her memory in pop cultural survives as a vivacious femme fatale, yet her life began as a goddess as a child, a queen at 18, and then she controlled the entire eastern Mediterranean coast. Femme Fatale-hardly, she had two relationships in eighteen years. Cleopatra is remembered for all the wrong reasons. A smart, capable, clear-eyed ruler, she knew how to build a fleet, suppress an insurrection, control trade, and had a political sharpness beyond her years. Even at a time when female rulers were not rare, Cleopatra stood out.

Works Cited

Hindley, M."Impertinent Questions WITH DUANE W. ROLLER. " Humanities 1 Jul 2010: Humanities Module, ProQuest. Web. 25 Mar. 2011.

Holland, Barbara. "Cleopatra: What kind of a woman was she, anyway?." Smithsonian 27.11 (1997): 56. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 25 Mar. 2011.

Schiff, Stacy. Cleopatra- A Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

Schiff, Stacy. "Rehabilitating Cleopatra." Smithsonian 41.8 (2010): 88-102. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 25 Mar. 2011.

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Actress Theda Bara played Cleopatra for a 1917 silent film; four Cleopatra movies had already been made. (Holland; p. 56-58.)


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