“Doulos, Leave me alone.”
I discard my robe and perambulate to the lifesized kathreptis placed in the chamber. I peer at the image staring back at me.
My complexion puts the moon to shame; my almond-shaped eyes work faster than cupid’s arrows. My aquiline nose adds character to my soft face. My ample bristols are like inverted bowls of ambrosia.
I play with ringlets of my auburn tresses which cascade down to my slim waist.
I must proceed now; I cannot afford to hurtle my beauty regime. I need to look pulchritudinous.
I slide into the bath brimming with the concoction specially prepared for me. The translucent liquid engulfs me in its warmth; the fragrance of the recherche herbs calms my agitated mind. I seal my eyelids and permit the aqueous potion to resuscitate my weary body. I brace myself for a decisive rendezvous that will determine my future.
I know that I have a challenging task at hand. I hope that my exquisiteness and my intelligence will bail me out tonight.
I have been an enigma all my life. Today, I intend to reveal a smidgen of my incongruous personae to create a dazzling impression on my foe, turn him into my accomplice and steer my predicament to my advantage.
I was right. My sense of foreboding had cautioned me. The meeting was a disaster.; I discerned halfway that things were beyond my control. I know now that I will be used as a pawn to further another’s interests. I have made up my mind. None shall derive the pleasure of subjugating me. I am the master of my destiny, and so I shall remain.
What pains me more than my impending death is knowing that my personality and character will undergo mutilation in the days to come.
I know that I will go down in history as an evil, manipulative, power-hungry seductress, and sadly I have no one but me to refute it all. I am no saint; I am guilty of malfeasance. However, I am not what history will know me as.
History is never about the events. It is always about how the powerful record the events to favor them.
I wish to pour my heart out at this moment, for this is the last time I shall speak. I will profess to the breeze, hoping it carries my fragrance to lands afar. I will articulate to the sun hoping its rays will blind the fallacious. I will whisper to the walls in this room, hoping my voice reverberates to the future occupants. My only wish is to be known for who I am.
I am not evil. My circumstances bind me.
I am not a seductress. I fell in love, not once but twice.
I am not manipulative and power-hungry. I am ambitious and proficient.
There have been many namesakes before me; none matched by beauty and intelligence. I am not just any other queen; I am Cleopatra VII.
I am not evil. My circumstances bind me.
I am a scion of the Macedonian dynasty founded by Ptolemy after Alexander’s death. We have ruled Egypt for over 300 years. The reign came with its impediments. It demanded that every ruler cavorts a gory game of death.
The plebians would never understand the agony of the royals; all they see is opulence, grandeur, finery, vivers, and wine. Carefully concealed in the privy of the towering citadels is a world of deceit and debauchery, vile and vicious. Innocence and morality are virtues found only in early childhood. As we age, our inherent letch to rule subjugates everything else. Then begins an apocalyptic, pugnacious game for the throne played with tenacity. It is a macabre game that demands the sacrifice of royal blood at each step to forge ahead. Brothers and sisters, sometimes children, are slaughtered in this hemic game, and when one finally ensconces the throne, he regales for enduring it all.
My first affair with the game began when my father, Ptolemy XII-the Pharaoh of Egypt, was deposed and exiled. All of eleven, I watched the game without participating in it.
My father fled to Rome to save his life and took me along. My elder sister, jointly with my stepmother, ascended the throne. My sister got my stepmother killed. My father, an ally of the Romans, approached them and raised an army to attack my sister. He won the war, regained his throne, and took my sister’s life.
What happened to love? Weren’t we a family?
The throne demanded blood, and the players – my sister, stepmother, and father, gave it willingly. Only memories were left behind.
By the time I was 14, I had learned the ironic truth – if one wanted peace, one had to kill; because killing eliminated further conflict. I understood that to be a king; one had to set aside personal relationships and emotions. For a king, the kingdom always came first. I learned that the royals killed to stay in power, and more often than not, the first person they killed was the one they loved the most.
My father ruled for four years before dying of natural causes. He willed that my stepbrother Ptolemy XIII (aged ten) and I (aged 18) were appointed co-rulers of Egypt. We ruled jointly for three years, although I was the ruler defacto. I ensured to keep him away from the matters of the kingdom. Peace, however, was elusive. My brother was growing up, and his urge to rule overpowered his love for me by the time he was thirteen. He deposed me and took over the throne as the Pharoah of Egypt. My stepsister, Arsinoe IV, seized the opportunity and declared herself the queen.
The game had begun, and I was a player this time. Finally, when my life was in danger, I understood the simple equation –either kill or get killed.
Ambitions and love couldn’t coexist amongst contenders. We were ready to play the game, prepared to offer the sacrifices. It has happened in the past; it will occur in the future. History repeats itself, over and over again.
My throne was at stake, and so were my ambitions. I fled to Syria and raised an army. I returned stronger and challenged my brother resulting in a civil war in Egypt. I took calculated steps to get to the throne. I waited patiently for the final strike to win this game of skaki.
I got my opportunity when Julius Caeser arrived in Alexandria. I joined forces with Caeser. In the war that ensued, I defeated my brother. It is believed he drowned in the Nile while trying to escape. My stepsister was captured and taken to Rome and later exiled. I became the Pharaoh of Egypt once again.
I invited my younger brother Ptolemy XIV to rule with me. He was only 12, not a threat to me yet. The only other contender for the throne was Arsinoe IV. I watched her, well aware that she could cause troubles later. As long as she accepted me as the Pharaoh of Egypt, I would delay the inevitable.
When I wanted my son Caesarion to accede to the throne a few years later, I got Ptolemy XIV eliminated. Arsinoe IV lived for eight years after her exile. I silenced her forever when I learned of her perilous intentions to attack me.
I am not a seductress. I fell in love, not once but twice.
I am a product of incest, as were all the others before me. The Ptolemys married within the family to ensure that their blood and lineage remained pure. That also gave every Ptolemy an equal right to the throne. Hence the bloodshed continued generation after generation.
I married my brother Ptolemy XIII, honoring the royal traditions, to ascend the throne of Egypt. So my brother was not just my brother but also my husband. The relationship, however, was platonic; what could I expect from a ten-year-old?
I fell in love for the first time much later, when I met Julius Caeser.
When Egypt was in a civil war led by me on one side and Ptolemy XIII on the other, Rome was in a civil war led by Julius Caesar on one side and Pompey on the other.
Pompey and Caeser were political allies; however, their relationship weakened over time. Pompey tried to stop Caeser, who retaliated with a fight. In the war that ensued, Caeser won most of the battles, but Pompey managed to escape. He sought refuge in Egypt. Pompey’s skill and client networks were a significant threat, so Caeser followed him relentlessly.
All of us, including Ptolemy XIII, were aware that Caeser was the future of Rome and that he would not stop till he had Pompey. Ptolemy XIII could not refuse Pompey; at the same time, he did not want to be his ally. After deliberation, Ptolemy XIII welcomed Pompey to Egypt. At an opportune moment, he got an unsuspecting Pompey assassinated in treason. He awaited the arrival of Caeser, hoping to win his favors.
Caesar arrived in Alexandria three days later. Ptolemy XIII welcomed him with pomp and gifted him the severed head of Pompey. Fortunately for me, Caeser was disheartened and very upset with Ptolemy XIII.
Were they tears of disapproval for depriving Ceaser of the pleasure of killing him, or did Caeser believe that Pompey deserved an honorable death? No one will know.
It was my only opportunity; Caeser was my only hope. I had to meet him and put across my contention to the throne. I thought of an innovative way.
I smile as I think of that incident. Ingenious and efficacious!
“My Queen, the palace is fortified. There is no way we can get in. The only movements permitted are for linen and food.”
“There is always a way, soldier. We need to look for it. Get me some fresh linen. I will wrap myself in it. You will ensure that I am delivered to the quarters of Caeser.”
Later, I tried to unwrap myself when I was sure that it was safe. I struggled till I set myself free; my robe gave away in the process. To my chagrin, I found myself in front of Caeser with my robe on the floor.
“I was expecting you, but not like this.” The look on Caeser’s face was priceless. I tried to ignore those prying eyes.
Was he shocked, bewitched, surprised, amused? Or was it all of them at the same time?
“I had to meet you. Ptolemy XIV has blocked entry and exit to the palace. I always get what I want. I found a way to get here, even if it meant discomfort for a couple of hours.”
Thus began our conversation – a conversation between a Consul of the Roman Republic and a Queen. I was able to convince Caeser that Egypt needed me. It was not very difficult. The assassination of Pompey was still fresh in Caeser’s mind. I only had to remind him that Ptolemy was too young to rule Egypt by himself and that he got easily influenced by his advisors.
Caeser’s interest in Egypt was as clear as fresh water. He wanted Egypt for the wealth it offered – grains and cavalry; he wanted us to repay the debts borrowed by my father from Rome. Stability in the region would help him expand the Roman regime elsewhere; a civil war in Egypt was a hindrance. Caeser intervened to get us to reconcile and rule Egypt jointly.
Ptolemy XIV was aghast to see us together the following day. Ptolemy believed that I seduced Caeser and that he favored me. How could I explain that political decisions are always taken in the state’s interest, not by being blind in love?
We were held captive under siege in the palace. Arsinoe IV led Ptolemy’s army against our (Caeser’s and mine) joint armies; she fought for her right to the throne.
Caeser and I were together for four months in the palace. While our armies fought Ptolemy, we were getting to know each other. We had a lot in common. We could discuss philosophy, astronomy, and literature for hours. He was a good orator, and so was I. What started as a liaison to further political interests became personal. I finally met a man who matched my intelligence. I looked forward to the enriching conversations. He was a good strategist while I was a novice in comparison. I had lots to learn from him.
Beauty and brains are intoxicating; add ambition to this already heady mix, and you have me.
I enamored Caeser; he had never met anyone like me. The attraction was mutual; it was natural that we fell in love.
The Roman reinforcements arrived in spring, and there was a battle like none other. We vanquished Ptolemy, and the rest is history.
I heard fleeting rumors of how I had used my sexual prowess to trap Caeser.
Did I seduce Caeser that night? How does it matter? It was not a trade. We were in love. I would be lying if I said that I did not enjoy my power over him. I had the most extraordinary Roman eating out of my hands. I never felt more powerful, not even as the queen of Egypt.
While we both acknowledged that love was necessary, we also understood that the kingdom came first. Once Caeser was confident that Egypt was in good hands, he headed to Rome. He had other wars to lead, other lands to conquer. I had managed to retain the independence of Egypt by agreeing to be a Roman ally. I married Ptolemy IV and ruled Egypt. I brought back the much-needed stability to the region.
I missed Caeser’s presence, our perspicacious colloquy, and the coital pleasures. Soon, I gave birth to our son Ptolemy Caesarion. I visited Rome to spend time with Caeser. He welcomed us and showered us with love, and acknowledged Caesarion as his son. The demands of his position as the dictator of Rome constrained him; we could not be married. I knew that I held a special place in Caeser’s heart when he unveiled my statue in the temple of Venus.
I visited Rome twice, and I stayed at Caeser’s Villa both times. Apart from my romantic interests, I wanted to give wings to my political ambitions. I wanted to extend my empire and Caesarion to be the political heir of Caeser. The Romans were unhappy with my intervention in their affairs. But I didn’t care. I had Caeser, or so, I thought. In an unexpected turn of events, his confidantes murdered Caeser. Fearing for our lives, I returned to Egypt. Meanwhile, I ensured that Ptolemy XIV got eliminated. If not Rome, Caesarion would rule Egypt.
With Caeser gone, Rome was in political turmoil. A civil war broke out with Octavian and Mark Anthony warring against the perpetrators to avenge Caeser’s death. After they defeated the culprits, they repartitioned the governing of the Roman Republic amongst themselves. Mark Anthony took over the eastern provinces, including Egypt.
I offered my support to them, and in return, the Romans acknowledged Caesarion as the ruler of Egypt.
Anthony sent for me more than a year later when he arrived in Tarsus. I knew Anthony needed Egypt for its riches, grains, and cavalry to further his military expansions. I decided to flaunt my riches and present myself as a woman he had never met before.
I designed a spectacular entry when I sailed into the city. I was seated under a gold-spangled canopy dressed as Venus. I had young boys dressed as cupid around me. My maids dressed as sea nymphs were steering the rudder, working at the ropes and diffusing fragrant incenses along the river banks.
Anthony fell in love with me at first sight. And the unexpected happened. I fell in love once again, this time with the ridiculously handsome, broad-shouldered, and muscular man I intended to impress.
When Anthony arrived at Alexandria later, I painted the city red in love. The moments spent with Anthony were fun-filled and boisterous. We laughed like no one was watching. I became a little girl in his company. For once, my love was more important than my throne. Conversations were not about strategies, philosophy, or astronomy. They were silly talks, talks between two lovers who had never loved like this earlier.
Later, when Anthony returned to Rome, I was miserable. I plunged myself into managing my kingdom. My grief was mine alone; my subjects never learned of it.
I am an enigma, so I shall remain.
Later that year, I gave birth to twins. Anthony married Octavia; I was burning with jealousy even though I was aware that it was the need of the hour. Octavian had become powerful, and there was a power hustle between him and Anthony. Marrying Octavia (Octavian’s sister) brought temporary peace to their relationship.
Anthony and I didn’t meet for three and a half years. Each day and night in that period felt like a century. I was a proud queen; I was aware of the demands of the reign, I wasn’t going to falter.
I am not manipulative and power-hungry. I am ambitious and proficient.
There have been many Cleopatras before me, but none match me in intelligence. I aspire to be the only Cleopatra the world remembers, and I have done everything in my power to achieve this.
I am not an Egyptian, but the only Macedonian who learned Egyptian to become one with the land and the people. Egypt flourished in my rule.
The world never acknowledges a woman’s success; however, it always blames her for the failures of men.
After a long hiatus, Anthony and I met again; the smoldering sparks of love erupted like a volcano. Anthony was thrilled to meet the twins. He bestowed large swaths of land to me. My empire expanded many folds. We had both suffered when separated; we couldn’t stay away from each other anymore. I traveled with him during his military and administrative exploits across the Mediterranean. I had one more child.
Anthony’s military prowess began to falter. His decisions were rash. Anthony, however, had a victory over the kingdom of Armenia. He triumphantly returned to Alexandria. We celebrated his success in style. We erected a platform of silver on which we placed our majestic thrones made of gold. Just below, we set four smaller ones that my children occupied. We were the new power couple – Anthony as Dionysus and I as Isis. Anthony disturbed lands to my children and me.
Octavian took this as a challenge to his authority as the legal heir of Caeser. He was further angered when Anthony divorced Octavia and married me. Octavian declared war on me. Anthony decided to fight Octavian despite being advised against it. Octavian defeated our joint naval forces; we escaped to Egypt.
Octavian attacked Egypt. Anthony suffered greatly when many of his soldiers defected. We knew we were doomed.
I hurried to Alexandria, got all my wealth transferred to the Mausoleum, and intended to destroy them all with me. The big blow came when Anthony was bought to me grossly wounded. Murmurs followed.
“She floated a false rumor of her death. Anthony couldn’t live without her; he stabbed himself.”
Anthony died in my arms. Even in his death, he was worried for me. My heart burst into uncountable pieces. I wanted to kill myself then and there, but I couldn’t. I was not only a lover but also a mother and a queen. I had to ensure my children and country were safe. Caesarion was sent to Berenice away from the clutches of Octavian. My three children and I got captured before I made my final move.
How I wish I could have burned the Mausoleum along with the riches. Octavian would have seethed in rage.
I had to meet Octavian.
I discerned in the meeting that Octavian had cyclopean ambitions. He would present me to the Romans as a seductress who tried to interfere with Rome.
Rome would become an Empire. There wouldn’t be any ally countries anymore; Egypt would become a province.
My instincts say that my children will be safe for now. Octavian wouldn’t be able to explain the massacre of innocent Roman children.
It’s time, I Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, took my final journey. Even now, as I take my final steps, I know that I have won. I will deprive Octavian of his greatest pleasure of wanting to parade me in Rome. I will die a queen.
My knowledge of medicine helped me in my beauty regime; it will help me now.
I close my eyes as I feel a sharp pain seething through me and numbing my senses.
Anthony is here; I can’t keep him waiting.
Kathreftis: Mirror, usually made of highly polished copper or gold
Musaeum: A place of learning in ancient Egypt, including the Library of Alexandra.
Tarsus: A place in Turkey
Dionysus: Greek God of wine
Isis: Egyptian Goddess of protection.
Mausoleum: A building housing a tomb
Ptolemy: A trusted general of Alexander
Pompey: A leading Roman general and statesman.
Cleopatra’s Birth -69 BC
The war between Ptolemy XII and Berenice IV (Cleopatra’s sister)- 55BC
Death of Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra’s accession to the throne – 51 BC
The civil war in Egypt between Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII – 48 BC
Death of Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra becoming Pharaoh again – 47 BC
Cleopatra’s travel to Rome – 46 BC and 44 BC
The assassination of Caeser and Ptolemy XIV – 44 BC
The civil war in Rome to avenge Caeser – 43 -42 BC
First meeting with Anthony – 41 BC
Naval War with Octavian- 31 BC
Octavian’s attack on Egypt – 30 BC
Cleopatra’s Death- August 10, 30 BC
Cleopatra was proficient in philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. She was a linguist and spoke nine languages. Cleopatra died at the age of 39. According to legend, she enticed an asp to bite her. Historians, however, are not sure of what exactly happened. Any of the below is a possibility:
- She applied a toxic ointment.
- She introduced a deadly poison that she carried in her hair comb into her body using a hairpin or a needle.
- She bit her arm and introduced the venom brought in a container.
- She drank poison.
- The Romans murdered her and covered it up.
As per her last wish, Anthony and Cleopatra were interred next to each other.
Ceaserion was captured and killed by Octavian. The three children of Mark Anthony (the twins – Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene and Ptolemy Philadelphos) were taken to Rome and were cared for by Octavia. Only Cleopatra Selene survived and became an important political figure. Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphos disappeared from historical records without any explanation. Octavian, later known as Caeser Augustus, ruled Rome as an Emperor till AD 14 and is recognized as one of the most influential leaders of all times.
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