Cleopatra - Assess the Life and Significance of Cleopatra. Does the ‘Historical’ Cleopatra Match the Femme Fatale Image in Popular Culture?

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  • Topic: Cleopatra VII, Ptolemaic dynasty, Alexandria
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  • Published : October 23, 2012
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Femme fatale is defined as ‘an attractive and seductive woman … who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her.’ Prior to researching this woman with great historical influence, it was believed to me that this image was based on truth and evidence. Not all is certain now that I have assessed her life and significance. Much of what we know about Cleopatra was written after her death, when it was politically convenient to portray her as a threat to the city of Rome. This means that some of what we know, may have been exaggerated of misrepresented to falsely describe her as of a seductive and evil nature.

The Egyptian era began following the death of Alexander The Great, when his general Ptolemy, took over as ruler of Egypt, becoming King Ptolemy I. Cleopatra, daughter of King Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra V of Egypt, was born in October 69 B.C. She is believed to be of Macedonian Greek decent or, black African, historians aren‘t quite sure. In 51 B.C Ptolemy died, leaving 18-year-old Cleopatra and her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy XIII in charge of the throne.

Cleopatra had five siblings, whom were all spoiled by their father. They attended the finest banquets and ceremonies and were provided with the finest food and clothing. Ptolemy believed highly in importance of education, ensuring each child had their own tutors and private servants. Because of this, Cleopatra studied philosophy, literature, art, music, medicine, and was able to speak six different languages. These languages included Aramaic, Egyptian, Ethiopic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Because she was very educated, she longed for power.

Around the time when Cleopatra first tool to the throne, there was a civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey. Pompey eventually sought refuge in Egypt but was killed by Ptolemy. It was here, that Cleopatra met Julius Caesar, who was 52-years-old and had followed Pompey in pursuit of his rival. He had already been married 3 times, and fell deeply in love with the queen of Egypt. Also during the war, her brother died and she married her younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, who was 6-years-old. Cleopatra, in her relationship with Julius Caesar, had gained enough military muscle to dethrone her brother (husband) and become sole ruler. She did this, bringing peace and prosperity to a country which was torn apart by war and poverty stricken.

Caesar was charmed by the youthful and intelligent woman, bringing her to Rome with him. One historian states that ‘contrary to popular view, Cleopatra only allied with him because of shared political views rather than romantic love’. This supports the femme fatale image portrayed in popular culture. She gave birth to his son, Caesarion in 47B.C, although Caesar never publicly acknowledged the boy as his.

Members of the Senate in Rome, disapproved of their relationship, partly because Cleopatra was a foreigner.

’Her (Cleopatra) way of walking…her clothes, her free way of talking, her embraces and kisses. Her beach-parties and dinner-parties, all show her to be a tart’ Cicero, Speech (c. 43 BC)

Plutarch tried to explain why some men found her attractive.

‘Her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself remarkable…but the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation…was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another, so that there were few of the nations that she needed an interpreter…which was all the more surprising because most of her predecessors, scarcely game themselves the trouble to acquire the Egyptian tongue’. Plutarch, Mark Antony (c. AD 110)

He also told that she did however, have to rely on her intelligence to get to the top of the power chain.
The senators planned to assassinate Caesar, stabbing him from behind with a dagger. It was after this event that Cleopatra moved back to Egypt with her...
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