CLEOPATRA

 

THEA PHILOPATOR (Greek: Goddess Loving Her Father) (69 BC. to 30

BC, Alexandria), Egyptian queen famous in history and drama, lover of Julius

Caesar and later wife of Mark Antony. She became queen on her father's death

(51 BC), ruling successively with her two brothers Ptolemy XIII (51-47) and

Ptolemy XIV(47-44) and her son Ptolemy XV Caesar(44-30). After the Roman

armies of Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) defeated their combined

forces, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Egypt fell under Roman

domination. Her ambition no less than her charm actively influenced Roman

politics at a crucial period, and she came to represent, as did no other

woman of antiquity, the prototype of the romantic femme fatale.

The second daughter of King Ptolemy XII, Cleopatra was destined to become the

last sovereign of the Macedonian dynasty that ruled Egypt between the death

of Alexander the Great in 323 and its annexation by Rome in 31. The line had

been founded by Alexander's marshal Ptolemy. Cleopatra was of Macedonian

descent and had no Egyptian blood, although she alone of her house took the

trouble to learn Egyptian, and for political reasons regarded herself as the

daughter of Re, the sun god. Coin portraits of her show a countenance alive

rather than beautiful, with a sensitive mouth, firm chin, liquid eyes, broad

forehead, and prominent nose. Her voice, says the Greek biographer Plutarch,"

was like an instrument of many strings." He adds that " Plato admits four

sorts of flattery, but she had a thousand." When Ptolemy XII died in 51, the

throne passed to his 15-year-old son, Ptolemy XIII, and that king's

sister-bride, Cleopatra. They soon fell out, and civil war ensued. Ptolemy

XII had been expelled from Egypt in 58 and had been restored three years

later only by means of Roman arms. Rome now felt that it had a right to

interfere in the affairs of this independent, exceedingly rich kingdom, over

which it had in fact exercised a sort of protectorate since 168. No one

realized more clearly than Cleopatra that Rome was the arbiter and that to

carry out her ambition she must remain on good terms with Rome and its

rulers. Thus when Caesar, the victor in the civil war, arrived in Egypt in

October, in pursuit of Pompey ( who, a fugitive from his defeat at Pharsalus

in Thessaly, had been murdered as he landed four days before), Cleopatra set

out to captivate him. She succeeded. Each was determined to use the other.

Caesar sought money-he claimed he was owed it for the expenses of her

father's restoration. Cleopatra's target was power: she was determined to

restore the glories of the first Ptolemies and to recover as much as

possible of their dominions, which had included southern Syria and

Palestine. She realized that Caesar was the strong man, the dictator, of

Rome, and it was therefore on him that she relied. In the ensuing civil war

in Egypt Caesar was hard-pressed by the anti-Cleopatra party, led by her

brother, Ptolemy XIII, but Caesar eventually defeated them and reestablished

the joint rule of brother and sister-wife. Caesar, having won his victory on

March 27, 47, left Egypt after a fortnight's amorous respite. Whether Caesar

was in fact the father of Cleopatra's son whom she called Caesarian cannot

now be known.

 

It took Caesar two years to extinguish the last flames of Pompeian

opposition. As soon as he returned to Rome in 46, he celebrated a four-day

triumph the ceremonial in honor of a general after his victory over a

foreign enemy in which Arsinoe, Cleopatra's younger and hostile sister, was

paraded. in 45 was the coup de grace. Cleopatra was now in Rome, and

a golden statue of her had been placed by Caesar's orders in the temple of

Venus, the ancestress of the Julian family to which Caesar

belonged. Caesar installed Cleopatra herself in a villa that he owned

beyond the Tiber. she was accompanied by her husband-brother and was still

in Rome when Caesar was murdered in 44. She behaved with a discretion that

she was later to discard, and her presence to have occasioned little

comment; officially she was negotiating a treaty of alliance. Cicero, the

politician and writer, mentions her in none of his contemporary letters,

though his later references to her show that he regarded her, as most Romans

did with rancor.

 

Caesar's assassination put an end to Cleopatra's first campaign for power,

and she retired to Egypt to await the outcome of the next round in the Roman

political struggle. When, at the Battle of Philippi in 42, Caesar's

assassins were routed, Mark Antony became the heir-general of Caesar's

authority or so it seemed, for his great-nephew and personal heir, Octavian,

was but a sickly boy. When Antony, bent on pursuing the eternal mirage of

Roman rulers, an invasion of Persia, sent for Cleopatra, she was delighted.

Here was a second chance of achieving her aim. She had known Antony when he

had been in Egypt as a young staff officer and she had been 14. She was now

28 or 29 and completely confident of her powers. She set out for Tarsus in

Asia Minor, loaded with gifts, having delayed her departure to heighten

Antony's expectation. She entered the city by sailing up the Cydnus River in

the famous barge that Shakespeare immortalized in "Antony and Cleopatra".

Antony was captivated, and Cleopatra subtly exploited her raffish and

unstable character. Forgetting his wife, Fulvia, who in Italy was doing her

best to maintain her husband's interests against the growing menace of young

Octavian, Antony put off his Persian campaign and returned as Cleopatra's

slave to Alexandria, where he treated her not as a "protected" sovereign but

as an independent monarch. "Her design of attacking Rome by means of

Romans," as one historian put it, "was one of such stupendous audacity that

we must suppose that she saw no other way." Her first effort had been

frustrated by Caesar's death; she felt now that she could win all by using

the far more pliant and apparently equally powerful Antony. In Alexandria

Cleopatra did all she could to pander to his weaknesses. They formed a

society of "inimitable livers," whose members in fact lived a life of

debauchery and folly. Cleopatra, however knew how to handle her catch. Yet

the final struggle for the dominion of Rome was to last for 10 years and was

to end in disaster for Cleopatra ( no less than for Antony), largely

promoted by Cleopatra herself.

 

In 40 BC, Antony left Alexandria to return to Italy where he was forced

conclude a temporary settlement with Octavian, whose sister Octavia (Fulvia

having died) he married. Three years later Antony was convinced that he and

Octavian could never come to terms. He went east again and again met

Cleopatra; he needed her money for his postponed Parthian campaign. He then

took the fatal step of marrying her. The union was not only utterly

insulting to Octavia and her brother but in Roman law it was also invalid.

Henceforward all Rome was united against him.

Meanwhile, during Antony's absence Cleopatra had committed another act of

disastrous folly. She had antagonized Herod of Judea by far the

ablest, richest, and most powerful of the "protected" sovereigns, or "client

kings," of Rome. Herod and Antony were old friends; but in the year 40,

after Antony's departure, Cleopatra unsuccessfully tried seduce Harod on his

way through Egypt. Cleopatra never forgave him for the rebuff. She went much

further: when she and Antony were reunited she persuaded him to give her

large portions of Syria and Lebanon and even the rich balsam groves of

Jericho in Herod's own kingdom. But Antony refused to sacrifice Harod wholly

to Cleopatra's greed, whereupon she hated Harod more than ever and even

interfered in his unhappy family affairs by intriguing against him with the

women of his household. She made a tour of her new acquisitions, on which

Harod received her with simulated delight; but she remained as jealous and

 

hostile as ever, bitterly resentful that anyone other than herself should

influence Antony. The fruit of her folly was soon to be gathered.

 

Cleopatra had merely acquiesced in the Parthian campaign: she sought other

ways of spending her money. The campaign itself was a costly failure, as was

the temporary conquest of Armenia. Nevertheless, in 34 Antony celebrated a

fantastic triumph in Alexandria. Crowds beheld Antony and Cleopatra seated

on golden thrones, with their own three children and little Caesarion, whom

Antony proclaimed to be Caesar’s son' thus relegating Octavian, who had

been adopted by Caesar as his son and heir, to legal bastardy. Cleopatra was

hailed as queen of kings, Caesarion as king of kings. Alexander Helios was

awarded Armenia and the territory beyond the Euphrates, his brother Ptolemy

the lands to the west of it. The boys’ sister Selene was to be ruler of

Cyrene. Octavian, now lord of the ascendant in Italy, seized Antony's will

from the temple of the Vestal Virgins, to whom it had been entrusted, and

revealed to the Roman people that not only had Antony bestowed Roman

possessions on this foreign woman but had intended to transfer the capital

from Rome to Alexandria there  found a new dynasty.

 

Antony and Cleopatra spent the winter of 32-31 in Greece amid revels and

dissipation. The Roman Senate deprived Antony of his prospective consulate

for the following year. When it finally declared war against Cleopatra the

unwisdom of her policy against Harod was revealed, for she had contrived to

embroil him with the King OF Patra just when his ability and resources would

have been of the utmost value to Antony. At the naval Battle of Actium, in

which Octavian faced the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra on Sept.

2,31, Cleopatra suddenly broke off the engagement and set course for Egypt.

Inevitable defeat followed. Antony went on board her flagship and for three

days refused to see her; but they were reconciled before they reached

Alexandria.

 

Cleopatra with all her subtlety, all her political foresight, had backed two

losers, first Caesar and then Antony, to whose downfall she had notably

contributed. Octavian now became the magnet. Cleopatra realized that she

could neither kill Antony nor exile him. But she believed that if he could

be induced to kill himself for love of her, they would both win undying

renown. She retired to her mausoleum, then sent messengers to Antony to say

she was dead. He fell on his sword, but in a last excess of devotion had

himself carried to Cleopatra's retreat, and there died, after bidding her to

make her peace with Octavian.

 

When Octavian visited her, Cleopatra tried yet once again to captivate the

leading Roman. She used all her arts; she failed. She knew then that

Octavian intended that she and her children should adorn his triumph. Rather

than be dragged through the city in which she had been borne as a queen, she

killed herself, possibly by means of a serpent symbol of divine royalty.

She was 39 and had been a queen for 22 years and Antony's

partner for 11. They were buried together, as both of them had wished, and

with them was buried the Roman Republic.

 

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