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Cleopatra of Egypt
Late 69 BC - 12 Aug, 30 BC

Cleopatra, Cleopatra VII, is regarded as the most famous woman in world history and arguably most beautiful woman too. Plutarch indicates that "her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her." Rather, what ultimately made Cleopatra attractive were her wit, charm and "sweetness in the tones of her voice." Cassius Dio also spoke of Cleopatra's allure: "For she was a woman of surpassing beauty, and at that time, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was most striking; she also possessed a most charming voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to every one. Being brilliant to look upon and to listen to, with the power to subjugate every one, even a love-sated man already past his prime, she thought that it would be in keeping with her role to meet Caesar, and she reposed in her beauty all her claims to the throne."

She, along with her brother ascended the throne in Egypt after the death of Alexander, the Great.

She was the daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes who was the direct descendent of Alexander, the Great's General Ptolemy I Soter. She ruled Egypt first along with her father, and after his death in 51 BC, she was 18 at that time along with her brothers Ptolemy XIII (10 years old) and Ptolemy XIV whom she married according to Egyptian customs. But she had no children from them. After this she ruled it alone. Ptolemies spoke only Greek that is why there were two languages used on official documents, but on the contrast, born as a Greek, she spoke Egyptian and became the reincarnation of Egyptian Princess.

Soon difference of opinions and quarrels followed, and the brother banished her into exile in Syria. During the same time Pompey forces came to Alexandria, but Pompey was killed and when Julius Caesar came to Alexandria two days later, Ptolemy XIII (13 years old at that time) presented him with the head of Pompey, Although Pompey was Caesar's enemy, still seeing his severed head he got angry. Caesar seized Alexandria.

That was a golden opportunity that she could hardly miss. She took the advantage of this situation. She used her extraordinary beauty to charm the ageing Caesar, so she smuggled herself to the palace of Julius Caesar. Plutarch gives a very good description as how she smuggled herself in the palace - rolled up in a carpet. Although Cleopatra was only 21, and Julius Caesar was 52 but they became lovers during Caesar’s stay in Egypt between 48 BC and 47 BC and she became Caesar’s mistress, and nine months after their first meeting, in 47 BC, Cleopatra gave birth to their son, Ptolemy Caesar, nicknamed Caesarion, which means "little Caesar." Later Ptolemy XIII was drowned in the River Nile and Ptolemy XIV was made the co-ruler of Cleopatra.

When Cleopatra visited Rome in Summer 46 BC, although Julius Caesar was married to Calpurnia, he made golden statue of Cleopatra represented as Isis in the Temple of Venus (the mythical ancestress of Caesar's family) situated in Forum Julium. The Roman orator Cicero has written that he hated foreign queen. Cleopatra was in Rome when Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC. She came back to Alexandria after her brother Ptolemy XIV died by poison given by his older sister. Thus her both brothers died.

Season of Wars
After the assassination of Caesar, there began a civil war between Caesar's people led by Mark Anthony and Octavian and the party who assassinated Caesar led by Marcus Brutus. Cleopatra sided Caesar's party and the opposite party had to flee towards East side.

After Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, she aligned with Mark Anthony who was in opposition of Julius Caesar's legal heir (Augustus). In 41 BC, Mark Anthony who was ruling Rome after Caesar's death, met Cleopatra. She was so beautiful that he spent 41-40 BC Winter with her in Alexandria. On Dec 25, 40 BC she gave birth to a twins fathered by Anthony. Four years later Anthony visited Cleopatra again and renewed his relationship with her and made Alexandria as his home. He married Cleopatra and had another child Ptolemy Philadelphus. Her enemies in Rome thought that Cleopatra was going to wage war towards them and Egypt thought the she was Goddess Isis.

In 31 BC, relationship with Rome broke down and Rome declared war against Egypt. Cleopatra was with Anthony but when she saw that Anthony was feeling weak in front of Romans, she fled away and Mark Anthony followed her. Some say that after losing the Battle of Actium to Octavian's forces, Anthony committed suicide. Cleopatra followed suit, according to tradition, killing herself by means of an asp bite on August 12, 30 BC. Romans had entered Alexandria on August 1, 30 BC.

Stories About Cleopatra
There are several stories about Cleopatra.

One of the best known stories is that once Cleopatra playfully bet Mark Anthony that she could spend 10 million Sesterces on a dinner. he accepted the bet. The next night she served conventional unspectacular meat served. Mark laughed at it, then she ordered for the second course - it was only a cup of strong vinegar. She then took off one of her priceless pearl earrings and dropped into the vinegar, allowed it to dissolve and drank the mixture. The earliest report of this story was 100 years after this banquet. The calcium carbonate in pearls does dissolve in vinegar, but slowly unless the pearl is first crushed.

She is said to always bathe in milk to maintain her peach and cream color, silky-smooth skin.

Death of Mark Anthony
Plutarch tells us of the death of Anthony. When his armies deserted him and joined with Octavian, he cried out that Cleopatra had betrayed him. She, fearing his wrath, locked herself in her monument with only her two handmaidens and sent messengers to tell Anthony that she was dead. Believing them, Anthony stabbed himself in the stomach with his sword, and lay on his couch to die. Instead, the blood flow stopped, and he begged any and all to finish him off. In the meantime, another messenger came from Cleopatra with instructions to bring him to her, and he, rejoicing that Cleopatra was still alive, consented. She wouldn't open the door, but tossed ropes out of a window. After Anthony was securely trussed up, she and her handmaidens hauled him up into the monument. This nearly finished him off. After dragging him in through the window, they laid him on a couch. Cleopatra tore off her clothes and covered him with them. She raved and cried, beat her breasts and engaged in self-mutilation. Anthony told her to calm down, asked for a glass of wine, and died upon finishing it.

Death of Cleopatra
It is widely believed that she killed herself by an Egyptian cobra bite. The oldest source is Strabo, who was alive at the time of the event, and might even have been in Alexandria. He says that there are two stories: that she applied a toxic ointment, or that she was bitten by an asp on her breast. Shakespeare gave us the final part of the image that has come down to us, Cleopatra clutching the snake to her breast. Before him, it was generally agreed that she was bitten on the arm. In 2010, the German historian Christoph Schaefer challenged all other theories, declaring that the queen had actually been poisoned and died from drinking a mixture of poisons.

Cleopatra in Literature and Arts
To this day, Cleopatra remains a popular figure in Western culture. Her legacy survives in numerous works of art and the many dramatizations of her story in literature and other media, including William Shakespeare's tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, and Jules Massenet's opera Cleopatre. People of the 20th Century had only heard of Cleopatra's extraordinary beauty. She is immortalized in a 1963 film entitled "Cleopatra". The one who brought her alive to world-wide audience was Elizabeth Taylor who in the title role played the role of her life The lavishly, opulently mounted Magnum Opus "Cleopatra" with Liz in the lead and Richard Burton playing second fiddle to her as Mark Anthony was a smash hit in the 60's all across the world. As to whether she was indeed as beautiful as claimed, one cannot be too sure because it is all hearsay and no hand-drawn portrait of hers exists of Cleopatra.

In most depictions, Cleopatra is put forward as a great beauty, and her successive conquests of the world's most powerful men are taken as proof of her aesthetic and sexual appeal. In his Pensees, philosopher Blaise Pascal contends, evidently speaking ironically because a large nose has symbolized dominance in different periods of history, that Cleopatra's classically beautiful profile changed world history: "Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed."


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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/06
Updated on 10/01/12