Cleopatra: Not a single portrait to show us what she really looked like. The nearest we can get to her is a profile on a coin. Yet, 2000 years after her death, her name is synonymous with temptation, seduction and love.
Greek biographer Plutarch wrote:
“To know her was to be touched with an irresistible charm. Her form coupled with the persuasiveness of her conversation and her delightful style of behaviour – all these produced a blend of magic ….her voice was like a lyre.”
Cleopatra did not have a drop of Egyptian blood in her veins. From ancient writings we know that she was fine boned, well- proportioned and was exquisitely perfumed with all the rare concoctions of the east. She had lived all her life in an atmosphere of intrigue, murder and corruption, so had learned to be cunning and ruthless herself.
Cleopatra’s tryst with love
She gave her love to only two men as far as we know. Both legendary. Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Both found her bewitching, exotic, clever, and dramatic in everything she did and a superb lover!
Julius Caesar forgot his military and political strife in her arms and would have probably have married her if he had not been assassinated. Mark Antony, a brave and fine soldier laid his sword at her feet and in the end died with her.
She was 18 when in 51 BC, she ascended the throne of Egypt as Cleopatra VII and married Ptolemy XIII who was a boy of only ten.
Historic meeting between Ceasar & Cleopatra
The historic meeting of Caesar and Cleopatra came about three years after she had ascended the throne. Caesar was returning to Rome after some bitter campaign which had wearied him therefore he decided to stop at Alexandria. First he summoned Ptolemy and told him to disband his army. Thereafter he sent a message to Cleopatra asking her to meet him so that they could talk.
To Caesar’s astonishment he saw before him an enchantress. While Cleopatra saw a tall fair man in his 50’s with shapely limbs, a strong attractive face. His authority assured her this was indeed Julius Caesar conqueror of half the world.
Love caste a charm instantaneously
This time it was Cleopatra who conquered. Caesar was a renowned womanizer in Rome but this queen of Nile was playful as kitten one minute and wise as a serpent the next, unlike any women he had known before. That night they became lovers. The whole ambiance of this strange and ancient land seems to have had an effect on him, so the next day he wondered if he had been bewitched.
When Cleopatra’s husband realised that Caesar and Cleopatra were lovers, he knew he had lost her. She would keep the throne and one day be queen in her own right. Meanwhile, Caesar lingered in Alexandria for four months under the spell of Cleopatra. She enchanted him by showing different aspects of her character each day. Besides, demonstrating the art of Egyptian lovemaking and demonstrated a grasp over politics which was a rare combination.
Caesar infatuation with Cleopatra nearly costed him his life. By the time Cleopatra was expecting his child, he returned to Rome and confirmed her right to be Queen. Their child was born in 47 BC, she named the child Ptolemy Caesar so that no-one should forget his paternity though he was generally known as Caesarian.
Caesar installed her in a house on the right bank of the Tiber and made no attempt to conceal his passion for her. Unfortunately Caesar was murdered on 15th March 44 BC!
The ascent of Mark Antony and wait to meet her
Consul Mark Antony was now the most powerful man in Rome. His rise to power was entirely due to his association with Caesar. He was a great soldier, tall, muscled like gladiator with a handsome bearded face and curly hair. His looks made him attractive to women and he was an insatiable lover. But he also had a reputation for being a man’s man and his troops worshipped him. His talk was often bluff and ribald and he had a taste for rowdy parties and drink. Yet, there was a noble dignity about him.
Cleopatra was in no hurry to meet Antony. She knew about his voluptuous tastes, his vigorous, sexual appetite, his military glory and his courage. Cleopatra was equally conscious of her own ancient royal dignity conscious also of the fact that she was Goddess to her lovers. Isis incarnate. She would meet him but on her own terms, in her own time. With this thought she set off for Tarsus.
He waited in vain for her to meet him. Eventually he sent a messenger asking her to dine with him, she declined and invited him to dine with her instead. Unable to hold out any longer, he accepted.
The awaited night of love making
That night, as the barge lay at anchor in the moonlight lagoon, Cleopatra proceeded to seduce Mark Antony with all the skills she possessed. Consummate lover that she was, she adapted her tastes to his. While his sexual experience was vastly greater than hers, she was versed in the exotic refinements of the east. By her intelligent assessment of his strengths and weaknesses she bound him to her.
He was a sensualist like most Romans and she knew that by enslaving him to his pleasures she could keep him by her side. He returned with her to Alexandria. Discovering Mark Antony had a passion for gambling she played dice with him, aware of his love for wine she drank with him and aware of his love of practical jokes she would join him in escapades in the streets of Alexandria after nightfall.
The fate of these legendary lovers was coming to a climax
In the year 31 BC Octavian declared war using his strong fleet to seize Antony’s eastern harbours and coastal fortresses. Cleopatra knew that they were doomed. She begged Antony to join her in Alexandria and while he sat desolate in a tower on the harbour wall, she began collecting all of Ptolemy treasures under one roof.
Antony sent a message to his enemy offering to kill himself if they could spare Cleopatra received no answer. In desperation his troops deserted him on land and his ships surrendered at sea.
At this moment of desperation a messenger arrived from Cleopatra. Her letter said either she had killed herself or intended to do so. No-one is certain which. He took out his sword and tried to kill himself, sword missed his heart but he was wounded. When Cleopatra heard what happened she went into mad frenzy calling him her lord, her emperor, her life force, her eternal lover. He dies in her arms. His last words were:
‘Be happy for me in remembrance of the good times we shared in the past’.
Octavian allowed Cleopatra to have full charge of Mark Antony’s burial at which she grieved loudly and bitterly
On 12th August she sent a letter to Octavian requesting she should be buried next to Mark Antony. Octavian knew this meant she intended to kill herself.
The final moments
Earlier that day the guards remembered a peasant had been stopped at the palace gate with a great basket on his arm. He took off the leaves that covered it and showed them that it contained figs for Cleopatra. Beneath the figs unseen by the guards lay coiled a snake probably the very poisonous blackish Egyptian cobra thought to be a special protector of the Egyptian royal house. Two faint barely visible punctures were found on Cleopatra’s arm. The snake was never recovered though marks which could have been its trail were notices on the beach beneath Cleopatra’s window.
Octavian followed her last wishes and she was buried by Mark Antony’s side with full honours’.
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