By: Alexandria Kinias
Ruler of one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world and lover of both the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar and his loyal general Mark Anthony, Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.) was no ordinary queen. The aura of glamour that surrounded her life was only rivaled by her alleged dramatic suicide, after her military defeat, which may or may not have involved an asp. Even without a face left behind to identify her, her legend had flamed the imagination of writers and poets who immortalized her name for two millennia. Her death marked the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty and Hellenic Egypt fell into the hands of the Romans who killed her son with Julius Caesar, Caesarion. A legend, she was indeed.
There are very limited historical records of Cleopatra’s life. Therefore most of what is known about her has been fictionalized and consequently has not been accurate. Cleopatra who was bred to rule was depicted by historians as a promiscuous enchantress rather than an intellectual politician who spoke five languages.
Ptolemaists were Greeks not Egyptians. They were given Egypt to rule by Alexander the Great, yet they followed in the footsteps of their predecessors. They worshiped the ancient Egyptian gods and adopted their culture and traditions. Under their rule that lasted 275 years (305-30 B.C.), Alexandria became a cultural beacon.
Ancient Egyptian women enjoyed more rights and better status than their peers in neighboring lands. The throne of Egypt was adorned by several women along the various dynasties. Cleopatra, a hybrid of both cultures, was blessed to be born in this part of the world and had several role models to look up to. She was not only the richest woman in the world, but was also allowed to rule at a time when women elsewhere were viewed as nothing but baby makers.
At the age of eighteen Cleopatra ascended the throne of Egypt together with her ten years old brother Ptolemy XIII. Three years later she dropped his name from official documents, removed his face from the coins and went to war against him. At the age of thirty five, Cleopatra had formed an Eastern Mediterranean Empire that included Cyprus, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and coastal Turkey. Four years later she was defeated by Octavian and took her life.
Unfortunately, Cleopatra’s power and competence in ruling her empire, her wealth, command and influence in shaping the history of the ancient world had been reduced in contemporary literature to a feminine role of a seductress.Elizabeth Taylor’s played her role in the movie which carried the queen’s name. The extravaganza of the production, the beauty of Liz Taylor, her sixty five costumes, one of which was made of 24-carat gold cloth and the love scenes between her and Rex Harrison and Richard Burton affirmed the seducing image that writers had portrayed.
Fifty years after the production of Elizabeth Taylor’s movie, Hollywood is getting ready for another Cleopatra. Angelina Jolie was chosen to play the role of the Egyptian Queen. In an interview with the Telegraph, Jolie said that Cleopatra has been very misunderstood. “I thought it was all about the glamour, but then I read about her and she was a very strong mother, she spoke five languages and she was a leader.” Jolie’s movie will be based on the Stacy Shiffer’s book, Cleopatra – A life.
In her book Schiff described Cleopatra, “she convinced her people that a twilight was a dawn and — with all her might — struggled to make it so.” Enchanted by her character, Jolie wants her performance to portray the queen not as a sex symbol, but as a politician, a strategist, and a warrior. All the earlier books about Cleopatra were written by men. Jolie’s movie will be the first story written by a woman.