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Cleopatra’s father Ptolemy XII Auletes had decided to ally with Rome, as he rightly believed it was becoming the region’s greatest power. But there were powerful Egyptians and Greeks who disagreed with this policy and decided it would be better to have Cleopatra in control.
So Ptolemy paid Rome to invade Egypt and guarantee his place in power, incurring large debts by borrowing from a Roman businessman in the process. As was the custom of the Greek Ptolemy dynasty in Egypt, Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII were married in order to maintain the family’s power and inherited the rule of Egypt upon the death of their father in 51 BC.
Caesar is history, Cleopatra a legend
Every single one of the extant sources who wrote about Cleopatra’s life had an agenda, specifically to demonize Cleopatra and make hers a name to live in infamy.
…her story is constructed as much of male fear as fantasy.
Cicero, Plutarch, Dio, Lucan, Schiff quotes them all extensively and compensates for their obvious bias by attempting to put the reader in that place and time. In this case the “devil” truly is in the details, right down to the banquet decor.
Strewn in heaps over the floors, they lent the impression of a country meadow, if one littered at meal’s end by oyster shells, lobster claws, and peach pits.
Those details make fascinating reading. Take the status of women in Cleopatra’s Alexandria.
They inherited equally and held property independently. Married women did not submit to their husbands’ control. They enjoyed the right to divorce and to be supported after a divorce. Until the time an ex-wife’s dowry was returned, she was entitled to be lodged in the house of her choice. Her property remained hers, it was not to be squandered by a wastrel husband. The law sided with the wife and children if a husband acted against their interests…They loaned money and operated barges. They served as priests in the native temples. The initiated lawsuits and hired flute players. As wives, widows, or divorcees, they owned vineyards, wineries, papyrus marshes, ships, perfume businesses, milling equipment, slaves, homes, camels. As much as one third of Ptolemaic Egypt may have been in female hands.
Considering that Schiff is writing about Egypt circa 55 BC (yes, BC) that’s a bit of an eye-opener. Intelligent and extensively educated, Cleopatra spoke seven languages, and was the only Ptolemy ever to learn Egyptian, the native tongue of most of her subjects. She was smart enough to embrace the role of Isis in all public ceremonies and annual celebrations, becoming not only queen but goddess. This made her so popular that in the twenty-two years she reigned, she never faced a rebellion, the only Ptolemy of whom that can be said.
This was a terrific discussion book, partly because there is nothing to tell us how Cleopatra really thought and felt. Everything has to be inferred by her actions, and most of those were reported by men influenced by Octavian, later Caesar Augustus.
[Octavian] celebrates [Cleopatra’s] defeat before it has occurred. Virgil and Propertius were on hand for the Egyptian triumph, by which time both the asp [according to Schiff, it wasn’t an asp, it was very probably poison made by Cleopatra’s own hand] and Cleopatra’s pernicious influence were already set in stone. In every reckoning Antony is made to flee Actium on Cleopatra’s account. She helpfully illuminated one of Propertius’s favorite points: a man in love is a helpless man, shamefully subservient to his mistress. It is as if Octavian delivers Rome from that ill as well. He has restored the natural order of things: men ruled women, and Rome ruled the world. On both counts, Cleopatra was crucial to the story.
Not to mention which, the treasure Octavian looted from Egypt paid his way to power in Rome. Since this is my blog and I get to write what I want, I think Cleopatra was always a queen first and a lover second. Caesar became her lover by default. He was the man on the ground, the representative of the Roman Empire who was going to decide who reigned in Egypt, Cleopatra or her brother. She had no choice, she had to seduce Caesar over to her side, and she did, and that plus a little matter of fratricide put her on her throne and kept her there for twenty-two years.
Until another man knocked her off. Schiff writes
She got a very good deal right, and one crucial thing wrong.
That one crucial thing was, of course, Marc Antony. But, again, what choice did Cleopatra really have? Octavian, Lepidus and Antony carved up the world between them and Antony got the eastern Mediterranean, which included Egypt. Again, Antony was the Roman on the ground, the guy with the legions. She invited him to Alexandria and she seduced him into supporting her, but when he left she didn’t see him again for three years. Schiff doesn’t report any credible evidence that Cleopatra pined for him, she got on with the business of ruling her country. Nor did he pine for her, he married Octavian’s sister and they lived together in Athens in what sounds like amity and affection.
It isn’t until he returns from Parthia, a beaten man, that passion seems to overcome all else and he turns into an octopus, holding on to Cleopatra with all eight arms. By then Antony needed Cleopatra a lot more than she needed him and she knew it, but again, what was she going to do? She had deliberately seduced him to keep her throne and her country, and he was still the man in charge of her part of the world. Her distress at his death, all that weeping and wailing and tearing of hair and breast, that wasn’t grief, that was part show, for the watching Roman soldiers in hopes that it would sway Octavian to let her keep her throne, but mostly rage, against the doofus who let her and Egypt down. She had to know by then that this was not only the end of her but the end of her country as anything but a client state of Rome. I’d have been pissed, too.
One of the fun things about a book like this is indulging in “what if.” When everyone and his brother was deserting Antony, what if Cleopatra had deserted, too, what if she had reached out to Octavian? She was in Rome on the Ides of March when Caesar was assassinated in the Forum, she was there when his will was read. He left Antony nothing. He chose Octavian as his heir. Caesar obviously knew both men well, and wrote his will accordingly. What if she had taken her cue from him?
And the latest news in the life of Cleopatra? David Fincher is making a film based on this book starring Angelina Jolie. This woman just won’t die.
One last note: I wanted to give a shout-out to the cover art. It’s rich in color, opalescent even, reminiscent of Cleopatra’s lush life in Alexandria, but what I love is that her face is turned away from us, her features obscured in shadow. We can never truly know her.
Cleopatra and Mark Antony: The Charm and the Power
Mark Anthony was born in 83 B.C. Unlike Julius Caesar, he was from a prominent family since birth. His grandfather was a known public speaker while his father was a military man. He is well-educated, polishing skills like public speaking and objective questioning. He is known for both his positive and negative traits which were eminent from his youth. At the course of his career, he kept close to Julius Caesar.
Mark Antony became an ally of Julius Caesar. He took care of Julius Caesar’s local rebellion in Gaul. He also became second in command during Julius Caesar’s defeat of Pompey. It was also Julius Caesar who appointed him as a consul. It is this status that spared his life after the assassination of Julius Caesar. He then rose to power and hunted those who have assassinated Julius Caesar.
Mark Antony also became part of the second Triumvirate. If not for Octavian, who claimed as an adopted son and the rightful successor of Julius Caesar’s political position, he might have been the sole leader for Rome. He was the one who was ‘in-charge’ of the Eastern provinces, which includes Cleopatra’s beloved land of Egypt. Cleopatra and Mark Antony met in Tarsus initially for an inquest of her alleged involvement of Julius Caesar’s assassination (Gupta, 2009).
Cleopatra and Mark Antony are both connected to Julius Caesar. She is a former wife, and he is a loyal ally and friend. Mark Antony found amusement with Cleopatra’s grandeur. Cleopatra, on the other hand, might have found a sense of stability with him since he is becoming one of the most powerful in Rome. She found in him the opportunity to restore the old glory of her Ptolemaic decent. Mark Antony possessed characteristics different from that of Julius Caesar but he is of the same political stature.
The first meeting after Julius Caesar’s death proved a luxuriant one. There are scented flowers in Cleopatra’s barge, where she dressed like the Roman goddess, Venus, when they met in 41 BCE. The first supper impressed Mark Antony that he wanted to surpass such splendid preparation, but he miserably failed. With his great humor, he managed to keep a good nature about it. After this, there were accounts which states that they spent holidays together (cited in Cleopatra…, 2006). Cleopatra is able to charm Mark Antony by being at his side all the time.
Mark Antony married Cleopatra. Cleopatra is actually already the fourth wife to Mark Antony. Previous wives include Fadia, Antonia Hybrida Minor and Fulvia Flacca Bambula, respectively. Mark Antony then married Octavia Minor after having children with Cleopatra. He did this to claim a stronger hold of power in Rome. During his flight to plot a war against Parthia, he was going to need the help of Egyptian army forces, not to mention money. This is when he arranged for a second meeting with Cleopatra.
The initial meeting between Cleopatra and Mark Antony bore them with twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene while the second meeting brought them their third child, Ptolemy Philadelphos (Stritof, n.d.). These children are well provided for by their father, Mark Antony. They are given part of the land of Rome, including Cyprus, Crete and Syria, through their mother (Lewis, 2006). This distribution, lead to an even wider gap between Octavian and Mark Antony.
The second Triumvirate is down to two, and then as Octavian wished to be the sole ruler of the Roman land, he declared war to the queen of Egypt. The battle between the two leading armies of Rome came to an end with Mark Antony on the losing end. He then fled to Alexandria with Cleopatra. As the forces closed in, he committed suicide. Cleopatra also committed suicide.
Caesar and Cleopatra
Cleopatra was a member of the Greek Ptolemy Dynasty and she eventually became pharaoh of Egypt in 51 B.C. She appears on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History. Her father Ptolemy XII Auletes allowed her to rule with him when he was alive and after his death he had her marry her brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy VIX. This was the customary practice among Ptolemy rulers to keep the royal lineage pure and free from outsiders. Cleopatra was 18 when her father died and she was forced to marry her brother Ptolemy XIII who was only 10 years old. Eventually, Cleopatra had gotten rid of both of her brothers so she could become the sole ruler of Egypt.
Julius Caesar was born in 100 B.C. and he ruled Rome from 49 B.C. to 44 B.C. Caesar lived a full life and he was a general, soldier, politician, judge, a wealthy man and he also experienced poverty. He lived in exile and he controlled all of Rome. During Caesar’s rule Rome was caught up in a civil war. Another powerful general named Pompey wanted to be master of Rome. Around 47 B.C., he met Cleopatra when she decided to become his mistress.
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During the conflict between Pompey and Caesar, Pompey’s forces were defeated and he had fled to Alexandria, Egypt to seek sanctuary. While he was there he was executed by a Ptolemy ruler who took over the throne after Cleopatra had to flee Egypt. The reason she had to leave Egypt was because she betrayed a powerful military faction within the empire and she also tried to start a rebellion against her brother Ptolemy. Cleopatra had to go into hiding while she was in Egypt before she went to Rome.
Meanwhile, Ptolemy had Pompey executed by one of his soldiers. He then thought to use this situation as a means to gain favor with Caesar, but it didn’t work. Caesar was angry and decided to take Egypt for himself and he made himself the judge over who was going to rule Egypt.
Cleopatra seduced Julius Caesar and ensconced on the throne
In 48 BC, Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandra to take revenge from his rival Pompey.
Cleopatra who was banished from the throne of Egypt approached Caesar, seduced him, and asked him to get her the throne back.
Caesar, enthralled by Cleopatra’s beauty followed her command and invaded Alexandria to imprison Arsinoe.
Arsinoe with the help of her friend, the eunuch Ganymedes escaped Alexandria and took shelter under the rebel Egyptian army whose leader was Achillas.
Ganymedes assassinated Achillas following Arsinoe’s command and she led the army to Alexandria to defeat Ceaser to get her throne back from Cleopatra.
Caesar And Cleopatra For The Audience
Claude Rains Cecil Parker Vivien Leigh, and Stewart Granger in ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ by Wilfrid Newton, 1945, via the National Portrait Gallery, London
By portraying Cleopatra in this way, Pascal gives the audience of Caesar and Cleopatra access to guileless, plausible deniability. She is alluring, but not really! She may seem sexual, but she doesn’t mean it! One cannot deny the power that this gives both Caesar and the viewers over Cleopatra. When she is presented as an ignorant child, Caesar can control the way that she rules her kingdom and herself.
Similarly, when the audience is given Cleopatra as an innocent sort of nymphet, they can shift the accountability for their own sexual desire to her, for not being worldly enough to know how to wield and control her female sexuality. Thus Pascal’s Cleopatra is more accessible than any other to both the audience as well as the other male characters in his film.
Claude Rains as Julius Caesar and Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra in ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ by Wilfrid Newton, 1945, National Portrait Gallery
Caesar and Cleopatra is a unique contributor to the Cleopatra genre. Through the arrangement of many careful components as well as well thought through scenes, Pascal shapes a new Cleopatra with her sexuality in a new shape. In this film, Cleopatra the girl-child is open and vulnerable to men, in the audience and on the screen in a way previously unimagined in Hollywood. She performs as an unwitting nymphet in contrast to the other womanly, darkly seductive Cleopatras, though Pascal makes it clear to the audience that his own story of Caesar and Cleopatra, Cleopatra is one to be desired as well.
But desire her differently, he seems to implore the watchers. The audience should desire her as Caesar desires her: from afar, with greedy eyes but not wandering hands.
Claude Rains as Julius Caesar and Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra in ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ by Wilfrid Newton, 1945 with Vivien Leigh by Gordon Anthony, 1940
Gabriel Pascal directed the film Caesar and Cleopatra in 1945, almost fifty years after the production of the play on which it was based. That play, of the same title and written by George Bernard Shaw, was performed in 1899. It was wildly successful. The film, however, was a complete failure at the box office, despite the fact that it was the most expensive film in British history (at the time).
What lessons can Cleopatra teach us about power?
- Persuasiveness and charm are a powerful combination.
Roman writers, such as Dio and Plutarch, point to Cleopatra’s appeal emanating from her persuasive discourse and charm. In today’s world of fake news and unsubstantiated truths, educated arguments made by a great orator and linguist would be a welcome contrast. And what about charm? In our online world, maybe charm doesn’t hold the importance that it once had. But in face-to-face sales, charm and charisma have always helped to close the deal. So too in personal relationships. In short, charm makes the ask all that much sweeter.
- The powerful can be ruthless.
Cleopatra was not always charming. Sometimes she was ruthless. She was involved directly or indirectly in the death of her three siblings. Murder marked the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and Cleopatra was no exception.
- Your enemies will try to defame you.
Roman propaganda paints Cleopatra as an evil temptress. Poet Propertius calls her a “whore queen” (Poems, III.11.39) and Horace calls her a “fatal monster” (Odes, I.37.21) . Historian Duane Roller, author of Cleopatra: A Biography, explains that much that was written about Cleopatra was created by her enemies who “saw her as a dangerous threat to the Roman Republic and [built] her up as a horrible woman who led men to their doom.”
- Even the powerful can face double standards.
Though Caesar and Antony were both regarded as womanizers, it is Cleopatra, who was with only two men over the last 18 years of her life, that was branded as a ruinous seductress.
- Power is enhanced through strategic alliances.
While Romans berated her, modern eyes may instead recognize Cleopatra as the capable strategist and stateswoman that she was. Cleopatra teaches us the critical importance of identifying and forming alliances with those who can enhance your power. It is through her alliances that Cleopatra secured protection and brought wealth to her country, as well as enabled her to produce heirs with the potential to serve as successors to her throne.
Cleopatra is truly a woman for the millennia. And while we may live in very different times, her story reminds us that — when it comes to power — the lessons are indeed timeless.
The Curious Sex Life of Julius Caesar
T oday, Julius Caesar has an image of a stoic leader, founder of the Roman Empire, and a general who conquered barbaric Gauls. However, the less known fact is Caesar had a very lively sex life. So lively that even his Legions would sing songs about it during long marches. In his youth, Caesar was famous for cross-dressing and playing the role of a woman in a relationship with other men.
Known to Romans more as penetrated than penetrator, sexually speaking Caesar was both. As a young man, he spent a lot of time the court of King Nicomedes IV in Bithynia, modern-day Turkey, and this fact alone fueled rumors which followed Caesar for his entire life.
Even his most loyal legionaries were chanting:
Caesar might have conquered the Gauls but Nicomedes conquered him.
In Roman times sexual relationships between two men were acceptable, however, being in a submissive role in such a relationship was damaging to the reputation of the masculine leader of legions.
Indeed, this was the only “stain” on Caesar's image of the tireless seducer. It was said no woman, no wife, and no daughter was safe before Caesar.
Caesar was notoriously famous for seducing wives of his allies and using sex with aristocratic women to improve his political status. He also spent an enormous amount of money, often public money, on the number of prostitutes.
Caesar was given the nickname “bad adulterer”.
During one of Caesar’s triumphs, his soldiers were singing:
Men of Rome, watch out for your wives,We’re bringing the bald adulterer home.In Gaul he f*cked his way through a fortune. Which he borrowed here in Rome.
Julius Caesar was a tall man (most Romans were not) and had a fashion sense. In his younger years, he was considered a handsome man. It is said he had a good sense of humor (even at his own expense). All that contributed him to being a ladies’ man.
He married three times, yet this hasn’t stopped Caesar from taking the number of mistresses. His wives were:
- Cornelia. They married due to political reasons. She gave birth to Julia, Caesar’s only legitimate child. She died in 69 BC.
- Pompeia. Caesar divorced her after a scandal in which Publius Clodius Pulcher, dressed as a woman, was found at the ceremony to the Bona Dea at which no men were permitted. Caesar famously said that his wife “must be above suspicion.”
- Calpurnia. Calpurnia stayed devoted to him despite Caesar’s numerous mistresses, which included Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. She told him about her dream of his assassination.
In Roman times the definition of marriage wasn’t to stay loyal to your spouse. It was allowed to have sex with other women and men as long as it wasn’t humiliating to Roman society and carried out in a discreet manner.
Caesar’s most famous mistress was indeed the Queen of Egypt — Cleopatra. Legend of Cleopatra being wrapped in huge carpet and smuggled to Caesar past her brother’s guards is well-known.
Cleopatra and Caesar had a son together- Caesarian, meaning “Little Caesar”. It is widely believed affair between Cleopatra and Caesar was a one-night stand.
Cleopatra and Caesar were never married since it was against Roman law.
On one occasion when Caesar was speaking in the Senate, a messenger slipped him a note. His sworn enemy, senator Cato the Younger, interrupted the speech, demanding Caesar to read the letter aloud.
Cato believed the letter would contain evidence of Caesar’s involvement in the notorious Second Catilinarian conspiracy (exposed by Cicero in 63 BC).
Caesar tried several times to let him off the hook but to no avail. In the end, he had to read aloud the content of the note in front of the whole senate.
It was a love note from Servilia, his mistress, and half-sister of Cato. She was proclaiming her fervent lust for Caesar in very explicit terms. Cato was made a fool in front of the entire Senate.
Servilia’s son Marcus Brutus was Caesar’s favorite. Despite rumors, Brutus wasn’t Caesar’s son since he was born when Caesar was only fifteen years old.
Marcus Brutus was treated very well by Caesar. Even when he sided with Caesar's opponent Pompey, Caesar ordered his men no harm should come to Brutus.
During the assassination of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate in 44 BC, Caesar was fighting back his attackers, but when he saw Marcus Brutus approaching, he stopped fighting and said: “You too, my child?”.
This is a significant difference to widely adopted “Et Tu Brute?” translating to “And you Brutus?” and might hint Caesar treated Brutus as if he was Caesar’s son.
The Roman society promoted sexuality. Prostitution was legal and public. Houses had “pornographic” paintings. No moral punishment was directed at men who enjoyed sex with other women and men, even if they were of inferior status, as long as their actions weren’t deemed as excesses.
Sex with men was not regarded as demeaning to man’s masculinity if the man took the active and not the receptive role.
Cleopatra – A destroyer or a lover
Cleopatra undoubtedly was a true ruler. Whole her life, she wanted to rule and sit on the throne. She tried to remain on that sovereignty by hook or by crook. It would not be wrong to say, that initially, she used the men in her life for the betterment of her dynasty. But she truly loved them and was always by their side. Many people claim that she nearly destroyed two civilizations.
But was she evil?
She paved the way for many women and all strong female military leaders.
She taught us that you can be sexy and strong at the same time. We are no less than men. We can achieve whatever we want to: either it is love, power, family, or the perfect winged liner.
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