Whether Helen of Troy, whose beauty launched a thousand ships ” and burned the topless towers of Ilium ” really existed, is still a matter of some conjecture, but her rival in beauty, fame and influence, was a very real figure in the world’s history.
Cleopatra fascinated the great Julius Ceaser and after his death, Mark Anthony, who held in turn the world in their hands. But she conquered the conquerors, and it was she who led Anthony to ruin, a ruin that left Octavian in a position to become the first emporer of Rome. Yet the oft-quoted remark about the length of Cleopatra’s nose does her an injustice, for although she attracted man by her beauty and presence,she held them by her charm,her wit, and her learning.
When Alexander the Great had died, his empire has been dismembered and Egypt had fallen into Ptolemy Lagos, who founded the Ptolemy dynasty, and thus Greeks ruled over Egypt for nearly 300 years, their capital was Alexandria,
In the palace of Pharaohs, at Alexandria, sat Julius Ceasar, surrounded by his generals. The problem facing him was how best to serve the interest of Rome in the crisis that had then arisen: a bitter quarrel had broken out between the 21 year old Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIV, a child of 13, who shared between them the throne of Egypt.
Cleopatra gathered army in Syria, and was marching on the Egyptian frontier to reconquer her kingdom.At this time Julius Ceasar returning from his victorious war on Pompey the Great,arrived in Alexandria, and Ptolemy’s faction asked him for the Roman army’s support in the civil war.The council of Roman generals was about to break up.The decision in favour of Ptolemy’s cause was all but taken,went into Julius Ceasar presence was ushered a Greek merchant with a present of rugs. A silence of astonishment filled the great hall as the bundle was unrolled, there emerged a small laughing, dishevelled young woman Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, Daughter of the Sun, sister of the moon. She was the woman whose charms and beauty, almost 2000 after her death,are still fresh in the minds of men.
Julius Ceasar fell at once under the spell of this beautiful woman,who had cared in such fashion to enter her hostile capital and plead her cause in person; and that night the most beautiful voice that had ever charmed men’s ears set so well before Julius Ceasar the cause of Cleopatra that at dawn Ptolemy had lost his prospective ally.From that night dates the great partnership and romantic attachment between the queen of one of the wealthiest and most cultural countries of those times, and the leading citizen of invisible Rome.Cleopatra was courageous, intelligent; a woman who,when he had secured her throne for her, would have all the resources of the east at her command. We are told that she spoke 10 languages, including Latin, Hebrew and Syriac.
To Cleopatra, Julius Ceasar was not only the means by which she would ultimately substantiate their shared ambitions; she instinctively gave him a heart-whole affection.This woman, whom legends has taught us to think of as an immoral voluptuary, seemed according to the known facts, to have regarded Julius Ceasar as her husband, and she appears to have acted in all ways as an exemplary wife.Yound Ptolemy was defeated and Cleopatra became the absolute sovereign of Egypt by the help of Julius Ceasar.During these months of civil war, Cleopatra and Julius Ceasar found time for feasting and love-making.In the joy of happiness the son of Cleopatra and Julius Ceasar was born.They named him Ceasarion Ptolemy, as became the heir of two great houses.A few hours after his child’s birth,Julius Ceasar sailed away from Alexandria.
For a year Cleopatra waited, while Julius Ceasar made victorious warfare in Asia and North Africa.Then, in answer to his summons, she sat sail for Rome.They went as guest of honour to participate with Julius Ceasar in applause of the people. According to the Roman custom, Cleopatra’s rebel sister Arsinoe,came in chains to be exibited to the Roman mob.
Cleopatra lived openly as mistress of Julius Ceasar but taking no part in political life.She remained in Rome for several years,in the period where honours were showering upon Ceasar. But Julius Ceasar, if had many friends he also had many enemies and one day, in 44 B.C came a tragic news of his assassination.Cleopatra knew she was unpopular in Rome, and lost no time returning to her native land. her brother was dead, poisoned at her behest, and she proclaimed her son, Cesarion as joint ruler with herself of Egypt.
For three years Cleopatra watched from afar the civil war in Rome.Then one day there came a summons for her to meet Mark Anthony,the leading Triumvir of Rome, at Tarsus, and explain why as an ally, she had on certain occasions withheld her help. Cleopatra had been waiting before giving her support,to find her likeliest Roman to embrace her cause. The long-awaited moment had come, and with her smile on her lips and hope reborn from her heart, prepared to answer the summons of the most powerful Roman. She had heard much of Anthony’s character, and she brought her limitless personal resources to the task of charming this giant with the heart of a child, this soldier from whom men died without asking question.
Anthony sat on the dais in the deserted market-place awaiting Cleopatra.The multitude which half and hour ago had surrounded him had headed towards the shore where her ship was anchored, and from the quay great cries of adulation reached his ears. On a ship with a golden prow, with sails of purple and oars of silver, lay Cleopatra, apparelled as Venus. The feast prepared for Anthony was the most magnificent he had ever known. Costly gifts were presented to all the guest. And Cleopatra’s magnificence always outshone Anthony’s.
It is told that one night, to win a wager, Cleopatra dropped a pearl worth 150000 pounds into vinegar; the pearl dissolved and she drained the goblet. This incidence is quoted to prove her extravagance, but it is more likely that, needing Anthony’s alliance, she hoped by such action to impress upon his mind the immensity of the wealth he would have at his disposal should he throw in his lot with hers.
Day by day Anthony fell more and more under the spell of Cleopatra. Her powers of conversation, wit and charm, together with the childish gaiety which was so much a part of her, enthralled Anthony.It was at this period that Cleopatra enlisted Anthony’s help in the deed that has so blackened their story. Her sister Arsinoe was again in Egypt, plotting against Cleopatra. With Anthony’s help, Cleopatra planned the assassination of these menaces to her throne, and the fratricidal policy was duly carried out.Anthony had followed Cleopatra to Alexandria after the meeting at Tarsus,and they spent the winter there together.Anthony gave himself whole-heartedly until at last the affairs of Rome would wait no longer.Anthony met his fellow triumvir, Octavian, at Brundisium, and once again they made a compact and divided the world between them.Octavian remained at Rome and ruled the west and Anthony’s task was to subdue the east. To seal the bargain, Anthony married Octavian sister Octavia.
Then in 37 B.C, he returned to Syria and to the arms of Cleopatra.Love and luxury was again the order of the day and night. And Anthony set out campaigns against the Parthians.They both hoped to find a new empire but disappointment was in store for the queen.A fourth child had been born to her but a few weeks, when news came that disaster had overtaken the expedition. Cleopatra, the steadfast ally, set off at once with help for Anthony. Meanwhile Anthony by his attitude to his wife Octavia, had long insulted Octavian, her brother, and relations between the triumvir’s were strained.War between the Anthonian and Octavian factions was inevitable; Thus stood when Octavian’s fleet and those of Anthony and Cleopatra’s met, and the great battle of Actium was fought in 31 B.C.
This battle has remain a mystery to historians.The fighting had raged six hours, neither side having gained the advantage, when Anthony saw the ship carrying Cleopatra, hoist sail and leave the fight, followed by her sixty ships, he followed in quick pursuit, flying from the yet undecided battle, leaving Octavian a vanquisher without a victory. It has been suggested that Cleopatra thought the battle lost and dreaded falling alive into Octavian’s hands, or that a sudden attack of cowardice in this bravest of woman compelled her to retreat. However it was, owing to this never explained conduct, the Egypto-Roman empire was lost, and Octavian became Augustus Ceaser, first Emporer of Rome.
Cleopatra had fled to Alexandria, where she made preparations for a defence. Anthony went to Libya to find troops support.Both know that they had been doomed. Near the temple of Isis, Cleopatra built her mausoleum, a splendid palace for the dead, in the true fashions of Pharaohs. To this buildings all her treasure and jewels were carried. Then from the prison those condemn to die were brought to the palace and poisoned by snake bites. Cleopatra was searching for the easiest way out of a world too strong even for her indomitable spirit.
Octavian was at the gate of Alexandria and Anthony attacked him with success. Octavian’s horsemen fled. Encouraged by this return of fortune, Anthony determined to find death or victory in one last battle, but his allies deserted him at the last moment, and he found himself alone, save for a handful of faithful men. He returned to the palace. Here the news came to him that Cleopatra had killed herself. With Cleopatra dead, the world and all that it meant was lost to him and “in the high Roman fashion” Anthony fell upon his sword, “a Roman vanquished by a Roman“. The wound did not kill him, and though he implored those around him to finish his work, none dared. A second messenger arrived contradicting the news of the first; Cleopatra was alive, and waited for him in the mausoleum.
Anthony dying of his wound, bade his weeping soldiers carry him to the great tomb where Cleopatra and her two faithful women, Charmian and Iras had barred themselves in. Anthony died, clasped in Cleopatra’s arms, all their hatred forgotten, and only the love of their early days in their hearts.Anthony died, their kingdom lost, herself doomed, if she lived to follow the triumphant chariot wheels in chains,Cleopatra made one last effort to charm yet another Roman, the cold Octavian and he fearing that she might take her life, and so rob his triumph the spectacle of the humiliation of Rome’s great enemy, made overtures and lying promises to her, offering her kingdom and safety for herself and children.
But news of Octavian’s real intentions reaches Cleopatra, so she and her two faithful women escaped to pour the last libations on Anthony’s tomb.With the slow tears that come when only grief remains and hope is dead, Cleopatra placed crowns of flowers on her lover’s coffin, whispering tender words. Then having bathed in costly perfumes, she was adorned in her regal splendour, and feasted for the last time – alone
At the end, a slave carrying a figs approached her and smiling, she took it from him saying : ” So it has to come ” Her devoted slave had not forsaken her; for she knew that at her request, they had hidden an asp beneath the fig leaves. There would be no jeering Roman crowds, no ignominious death; Cleopatra would die as the goddess she was, in her own way, at her own hour, And that hour had come. She pressed the lithe,small reptile to her breast almost lovingly, And the last Ptolemy slowly fell asleep.
After death, this great woman’s ambition was ironically fulfilled for Rome adopted Alexandrian civilization and culture, and formed in truth and Egypto-Roman empire. But Octavian, and not Cesarion, sat on the throne.Cesarion had died by the assassin’s knife; there was no room in the empire for two Cesars.
You may view the video of Cleopatra Mini Biography for further reference.