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Cleopatra was not just an icon of beauty but an astute diplomat who continues to inspire women of the 21st century.
If one examines the chronicles of Cleopatra’s life very closely, her superlative personality becomes visible, which is remarkably inspiring even for the women of the 21st century. However, the popular account from the pages of history presents her as an Egyptian queen with unrivalled beauty, who charmed two of the most powerful heroes of the Roman Empire, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. But Cleopatra was not just an icon of beauty, but an astute diplomat, multilingual, a true patriot who defended Egypt from the mighty neighbouring Romans and an epitome of undying love for Mark Antony.
Cleopatra, a national icon of Egypt to date, ruled the country in the first century B.C., after the death of her father, Ptolemy XII in 51 B.C. She took office jointly with her brother Ptolemy XIII. She used all means to save Egypt from the clutches of the powerful neighbouring Rome until her last moments. So, she needed to enchant both Caesar and Antony with her beauty and intellect to save her kingdom. After her suicide, Egypt became a part of the Roman Empire.
Quite strikingly, Cleopatra’s portrayal in popular versions presents her as an overbearing ruthless woman. That is because the sources we depend on to explore Cleopatra are of Roman origins. For Romans, Cleopatra was a seducer who successfully wooed two great Romans, namely Caesar and Antony and protected Egypt from Rome’s control. It remained a baffling mystery for Romans; how could their celebrated heroes fall in love with her, one after the other? As a result, her other unique qualities remained unexplored for a very long time.
In this context, to understand Cleopatra holistically, it would be more appropriate to understand the regional political setup of the time. Cleopatra inherited a dynasty, which would kill their kins to remain in power and to save one’s life from potential rivals to the throne. So, it was necessary for Cleopatra, who was forced into exile by her brother, to save her life with the support of Julius Caesar. She won Caesar’s favour by using her wit and charm and reclaimed her power to rule Egypt by killing her siblings. She gave birth to a son, ‘Cesarean’ to a childless Caesar and was hoping to make him Caesar’s successor of Rome. However, her plan didn’t succeed, as Caesar named his nephew, ‘Octavius’ as his successor. But Cleopatra didn’t give up on her attempts till her last moments.
After Caesar’s assassination, she made overtures of friendship with Antony and this relationship continued, till both of them died by suicide. Unlike her relationship with Caesar, Cleopatra truly loved Antony. When Octavius attacked Egypt, he gave a choice to Cleopatra for her survival, which is, if she handed over Antony, her life would be spared. However, she chose death over the betrayal.
Cleopatra had certain unique qualities which make her a woman of high calibre and relevant to women of this day. Although the Ptolemy Dynasty of Greek origin ruled Egypt for nearly three hundred years, none of them made an effort to learn the Egyptian language. In contrast, Cleopatra learnt the local language, incorporated its culture and made Egyptian nationalism her identity. Cleopatra could speak ten languages. In addition to her mother tongue Koine Greek, she could converse in Egyptian, Latin, Arabic, Ethiopian, Troglodyte, Hebrew, Parthian, Median, and Syrian. She was well educated and studied astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. She had knowledge of medicine too and had a distinct sense of beauty.
In addition, she was a mesmerizing orator, poet, diplomat and great administrator. During her reign, she handled the terrible famine that plagued Egypt and won the admiration of the people. She monitored the crisis of food shortage by restricting grain hoarding effectively. Thus, Cleopatra became an Egyptian icon and people called her ‘Philopatris’ (patriot).
Cleopatra remains an icon not just for her beauty, but her intellect, agility and diplomacy, which continues to inspire women in the 21st century, as a symbol of feminine power.
Image Credits: Still from The Story of Cleopatra | Ancient History, YouTube.
Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor of English, Tumkur University. Has been a teacher of English and also soft skills trainer, with special interest in writing poems, articles, short stories and translation both in Kannada and English. read more...
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