Download Cleopatra`s influence on Western culture

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Ancient warfare wikipedia , lookup

Ancient Egyptian medicine wikipedia , lookup

Ancient maritime history wikipedia , lookup

Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War wikipedia , lookup

History of science in classical antiquity wikipedia , lookup

Cleopatra’s influence on Western culture
Beatrice Howarth, 6 April 2017
Cleopatra’s impact on the historical and literary imagination of the West is well
known. We tend to focus on her deeds, her plans, the sensational aspects of her
career, alleged and otherwise; and, finally, her death. Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt for 21
years. She lost her kingdom once; regained it; nearly lost it again; amassed an
empire; lost it all. A goddess as a child, a queen at 18. She had a child with a married
man, three more with another. She died at 39 and her end was sensational. In one of
the busiest afterlives in history, she has become an asteroid, a video game, a
cigarette, a slot machine, a strip club…. Shakespeare attested to Cleopatra's infinite
variety. A capable, clear-eyed sovereign, she knew how to build a fleet, suppress an
insurrection, control a currency. She nonetheless survives as a wanton temptress, as
her story is constructed as much of male fear as of fantasy. For centuries, the history
and the myth of Cleopatra has been a great inspiration for artists all around the world.
Cleopatra's beauty, seductive powers, love affairs with the two most powerful men of
her time and her tragic, but poetic death has been the theme in the works of
generations of creative minds, from Shakespeare, to Salvador Dali. Everyone from
Michelangelo to Brecht got a crack at her. The Renaissance was obsessed with her,
the Romantics even more so. During Art Deco, artists exploited the story of Cleopatra
and transformed her from an important historical figure to the coquette, lovely
seductress and femme fatale of the Gilded Age.
This lecture focuses on what Cleopatra inherited. We will look at the cards that she
was dealt, and place her squarely within the context of Hellenistic history. Cleopatra
shines in Hellenistic history fully realized while all around her Egypt's Alexandria
strives to remain a beacon of light in a darkening world.
The Hellenistic period that we are discussing today begins with the death of
Alexander, 323 BC and ends with the death of Cleopatra, 30 BC. Alexander
established the largest empire the world had seen and spread Greek culture from
Greece to India and Afghanistan. People from different races were able to trade and
move freely and safely between Europe, Asia and Africa. Alexander’s premature death
(33 years old) in Babylon (Iraq) in 323 BC was a setback but his vision did not die with
him. During the next 300 years there was a fusion of the Ancient Greek world with that
of the great Asian and African civilizations. Alexander owed a great part of his
achievements to his teacher Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers the world has
known, and his father Philip, a brilliant general who gave him the tools to implement
his vision. It was Philip's dream of uniting the Greeks and conquering the Persian
Empire that on his death 336 BC was taken on by his successor, his son Alexander.
Both ancient and modern historians recognize that without the military and political
efforts of Philip, Alexander would have never been as successful as he was. It was
Philip who created the strong Macedonian army and turned Greece into a powerful
nation. It was Philip who invited Aristotle to come to Macedonia and educate
Alexander and his companions.
Alexander loved and cherished Aristotle and he was reported saying that he had
received life from his father, but Aristotle had taught him how to live well. Aristotle
(384 – 322 BC) together with Plato and Socrates are the preeminent Greek
philosophers. Aristotle’s writings on physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music,
logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology were the
first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing
morality, aesthetics, logic, science, politics, and metaphysics. Alexander, during his
campaigns, sent back samples of animals and minerals for Aristotle’s research and
carried with him the copy of Homer's Iliad annotated by Aristotle, declaring that it was
a perfect portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge.
Alexander’s vision was kept alive to various degrees by his companions/generals who
were brought up with him in Macedonia. Three of Alexander’s Macedonian generals
who fought each other over his empire established dynasties: Egypt and Palestine –
the Ptolemies, Syria and Asia Minor – the Seleucids, Greece – the Antagonid dynasty.
Parts of their territories changed hands from time to time, and the dynastic rulers also
changed, but Egypt was ruled for 300 years by the descendants of Ptolemy I. The
Roman conquests progressively put an end to the Hellenistic kingdoms during the
second and first centuries BC and they became Roman provinces. The eastern
conquests were lost progressively. The exception is Bactria (Afghanistan). Finds of
coinage indicate that there was an independent Hellenistic kingdom in the area long
after it had reverted to native rule. Central to Alexander’s vision was to spread
Hellenism, treat all his subjects equally, adopt local customs and create new cities of
which the most famous is Alexandria in Egypt. There are many Alexandria’s but only
Cleopatra’s Alexandria still continues to be a significant city. In 331 BC Alexander had
instructed Dinocrates, his architect, to follow Aristotle’s principles for planning the
ideal city. Although they were Alexander’s plans it was the Ptolemies who
implemented them and built the monuments that made Alexandria famous. Alexandria
earned the title "Queen of the Mediterranean" when under the Ptolemaic Dynasty it
truly became the cultural and economic centre of the ancient world. Part of its
success was its location. Situated on the coast of the Mediterranean, it became the
bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa. Both geographically and politically it was
freed from many of the problems that affected many Hellenistic and later Roman cities
and was enriched by maritime trade and its Greek intellectual tradition. Egypt was
ruled from Alexandria by Ptolemy's descendants until the death of Cleopatra VII in 30
BC. The early Ptolemies raised the quality of Egyptian agriculture by reclaiming
cultivatable land through irrigation and introduced crops such as cotton and better
wine-producing grapes. In addition, they increased the wealth of their population by
increasing foreign trade and making more luxury goods available to more people.
Ptolemy and his descendants adopted Egyptian royal trappings and added Egypt's
gods of Eternity to their own and building temples to them.
This adoption of the Egyptian religion was really the secret to Ptolemy's rule (and that
of his descendants including Cleopatra who identified with the goddess Isis).
Alexander came and left, burning with the desire to bring the rest of the world under
his influence, but Ptolemy saw the advantages Egypt could offer. The famed Satrap
Stele, on which was carved a decree from Ptolemy at his installation as ruler reads, "I
Ptolemy, the satrap restore to Horus, the avenger of his father, the territory of Patanut
[Egypt], from this day forth for ever..." In addition to showing respect for the Egyptian
religion and beliefs (something previous conquerors had failed to do), this inscription
reminded the people exactly who it was who had liberated Egypt from the very
unpopular Persian Empire, thus ensuring much support for the new ruler and his
The Ptolemies used the wealth of Egypt to build the ideal Greek city. The Pharos (one
of the seven wonders of the ancient world), the Serapeum the most famous of
Alexandria’s numerous temples, the Mouseion, including its famous Library which at
its peak housed more than 750,000 volumes. Many of the worlds sacred texts (like the
Old Testament) were translated for the first time in Greek there. A new universal
language was adopted throughout the Hellenistic world, the koine used by the Roman
Emperor Marcus Aurelius' to write his Memoirs and the Apostles to write the New
The Mouseion brought together the best scholars of the Greek world. Aristarchus, 310
– 230 BC, was the first scholar attracted by Ptolemy I. He presented the first known
model of the world that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe with the
Earth revolving around it. Euclid, 325-265 BC, father of Geometry established a
school for mathematicians were Archimedes, 287 BC – 212 BC studied, Eratosthenes,
276-194 BC, who provided the world with an incredibly accurate calculation for the
earth's circumference. Hipparchus, 190 BC – 120 BC, criticized Eratosthenes'
geography and refined it. Yet he and Claudius Ptolemy 85-165 AD were able to use the
earth circumference calculations along with Pythagorean and Euclidian principles to
determine the earth's diameter, distance to the moon and the moon's diameter. It was
legal to study human anatomy through dissection at Alexandria and Herophilus, 335280 BC, the first anatomist, introduced the experimental method to medicine and
performed dissections. He deducted that the brain was the seat of intelligence and not
the heart. With medicinal plants and knowledge arriving from all areas of the world,
medicine flourished in Alexandria. The last great Alexandrian physician was Galen
(131-201 AD) who was summoned to Rome. Hypatia, that we will discuss next week,
was the last of these great Alexandrian scholars.
The Hellenistic period represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world.
Great libraries were built and scholars were paid by the state for the first time.
Hellenistic kings became prominent patrons of the arts, commissioning public works
of architecture and sculpture, as well as private luxury items that demonstrated their
wealth and taste. Jewellery for example, took on new elaborate forms and
incorporated precious and semiprecious stones which came from the East through
new trade routes. Wealthy Greeks in Alexandria built luxurious houses with elaborate
Another example of Hellenistic art is a dancer who conveys motion exclusively
through the interaction of the body with several layers of dress. The woman's face is
covered by the sheerest of veils, discernible at its edge below her hairline and at the
cut-outs for the eyes. Her extended right foot shows a laced slipper. This dancer has
been identified as one of the professional entertainers, a combination of mime and
dancer, for which the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria was famous during Cleopatra’s
time. Portraits of Africans describe a new realism of Hellenistic art.
Cleopatra’s inheritance and responsibility was to preserve and enhance the
Hellenistic and Alexandrian culture in difficult times. By the time she became Queen
of Egypt all other Hellenistic Kingdoms had become Roman provinces and
Cleopatra’s father had to go to Rome to beg for his kingdom. Cleopatra was well
endowed to defend Hellenism. She was famous for her scholarship (she could speak
many languages) and political astuteness in understanding the strengths and
weakness of Rome. She was determined to preserve Egypt’s independence. Born in
Alexandria in 69 BC, educated by the scholars of the Alexandrian Library, she was a
brilliant linguist and the first Ptolemy to learn Egyptian. As a scholar and supporter of
the arts, she made generous donations to the Alexandrian Library and was reputed to
be the author of treatises on agriculture and mathematics. Plutarch thought what
made her attractive were her wit, charm and sweetness in the tones of her voice.
Cleopatra was an astute politician and devoted her life to trying to save the last
Hellenistic Kingdom from domination by the Romans. She was a competent
administrator who managed a large and diverse kingdom extending from Asia Minor
to Egypt and a naval commander who led her own fleet in battle. She originally ruled
jointly with her father Ptolemy XII who died in 51 BC, and left his kingdom to the 18year-old Cleopatra and her brother, the 10-year-old Ptolemy XIII. The first three years
of her reign were difficult, due to economic difficulties, famine, deficient floods of the
Nile and political conflicts with her siblings. Although Cleopatra was married to her
young brother, she quickly made it clear that she had no intention of sharing power
with him. Cleopatra dropped Ptolemy's XIII’s name from official documents and her
face appeared alone on coins. In the power struggle that followed Cleopatra was
exiled and was only reinstated with Caesar’s help. At the death of Ptolemy XIII, she
married as per Egyptian custom her second brother, Ptolemy XIV who also died as a
child, so she became sole ruler of Egypt in 44 BC.
According to legend, she had herself rolled up in a carpet and brought secretly to
Caesar in order to secure his support. Cleopatra was more anxious to secure
powerful political ties, than to seduce him. Yet from the beginning, Caesar and
Cleopatra were instantly attracted to each other, especially to the power and ambition
the other possessed. Nine months after that first meeting Julius Caesar’s only son
Caesarion was born. With Caesar’s help and influence, Cleopatra solidified her grip
on the throne. After Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, she proclaimed their son
Caesarion King of Egypt. The Romans feared Caesarion who was elevated to coregent with Cleopatra, and proclaimed with many titles, including god, son of god and
king of kings, and was depicted as Horus.
In 41 BC, Mark Antony, one of the triumvirs who ruled Rome in the power vacuum
following Caesar's death, sent Quintus Dellius to Egypt to summon Cleopatra to
Tarsus to meet him and answer questions about her loyalty. During the Roman civil
war she paid money to Cassius this way subsidising both sides of the civil war.
Antony also wanted Cleopatra’s promise to financially support his intended war
against the Parthians. Cleopatra arrived in great state, and so charmed Antony that he
chose to spend the winter of 41 BC–40 BC with her in Alexandria instead of fighting
the Parthians. Cleopatra had decided to align Egypt with Mark Antony in opposition to
Caesar's legal heir, Octavian, later known as Augustus. Their love affair till their death
in 30 BC has been celebrated for the last 2000 years. With Antony, she bore the twins
Cleopatra Selene II and Alexander Helios, and another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Her
unions with her brothers produced no children, as they were not consummated.
Anthony gave Cleopatra the title of "Queen of Kings". Her enemies in Rome feared
that Cleopatra, ...was planning a war of revenge that was to array all the East against
Rome, establish herself as empress of the world at Rome, cast justice from
Capitolium, and inaugurate a new universal kingdom. This is an account of the
celebrations in Alexandria after Antony defeated the Parthians in 34 BC. A great
crowd gathers in the stadium in Alexandria. All eyes are on two tiers of thrones. On
the upper level sit Antony and his wife Cleopatra, robed as the Egyptian goddess Isis.
On four lower thrones are their own three children together with Cleopatra's eldest
son, Caesarion, the child of Julius Caesar. Antony distributes the kingdoms of the
eastern Mediterranean to his new family.
Antony declares Cleopatra to be the Queen of Kings and Caesarion the King of Kings,
jointly ruling over Egypt and Cyprus and joint overlords of the kingdoms of the other
children. To Alexander, his own son, aged six, he gives the territories east of the
Euphrates; to Alexander's twin sister, Cleopatra, he gives Libya and Tunisia; and to
his younger son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, aged two and appearing in Macedonian
costume, he gives Syria and much of Anatolia. It is a gorgeous occasion, but one
which will need to be explained on the battlefield. 2000 years later the Alexandrian
poet Cavafy describes the event in a poem, the Alexandrian Kings.
The battle between the forces of Octavian and Antony and Cleopatra takes place at
Actium, in Greece, on 2 September 31 BC. What happened at the battle is disputed,
but the famous couple are defeated. They escape to Alexandria, on Cleopatra's
flagship. However, both commit suicide in the following year, when Octavian arrives
in Egypt with his army and Antony’s soldiers tired of fighting defect to him.
Cleopatra chooses to kill herself in a manner of great significance to her subjects.
She has always taken her Egyptian role seriously, and is the only ruler of her dynasty
in three centuries to have learnt the Egyptian language. She is already a prisoner
guarded by Octavian’s guards in her own palace. So she arranges for a small
poisonous snake, an asp, to be smuggled into her quarters in a basket of figs. She
puts on her royal robes, lies on a couch of gold, and applies the asp to her breast.
Sacred to Amen-Re, the Egyptian sun god, the snake both protects the royal house
and deifies anyone it strikes. The queen's final moment is as dramatic, and as much
remembered, as anything in her life. Her death brings to an end the Ptolemaic dynasty
in Egypt, the last Hellenistic dynasty to rule Alexander’s Empire. Octavian kills
Caearion, briefly Egypt's last nominal pharaoh as Ptolemy XV, and takes Mark
Antony's three children back to Rome to be displayed in his triumph with the vast
treasures of the Ptolemaic dynasty. He also orders that all images of Cleopatra be
destroyed. Egypt is a Roman province. However, Octavian could not kill Cleopatra’s
legend. Her legacy survives in the numerous works of art and the many
dramatizations of her story in literature, including William Shakespeare’s tragedy
Antony and Cleopatra, Jules Massenet's opera Cléopâtre and the 1963 film Cleopatra
with Elizabeth Taylor.
Cleopatra was not regarded as a great beauty in the ancient world but as very clever
and seductive woman. In his Life of Antony, Plutarch remarks that judging by the
effect of her beauty upon Caesar, she had hopes that she would easily bring Antony
to her feet. He thought what made her attractive were her wit, charm and sweetness in
the tones of her voice. Cassius Dio also spoke of her allure: "For 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 everyone. Being brilliant to look
upon and to listen to with the power to subjugate everyone 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 sexual appeal rather her political
astuteness and strength of character. However, I admire her for her love of learning,
her ability in keeping her Kingdom free for over 21 years against the odds and her
bravery in the end. The last Hellenistic Queen was a worthy representative of
Alexander’s empire.