Cleopatra

Cleopatra (klēəpă´trə, –pā´–, –pä´–), 69 BC–30 BC, queen of Egypt, one of the great romantic heroines of all time. Her name was widely used in the Ptolemaic family; she was Cleopatra VII. The daughter of Ptolemy XII, she was married at the age of 17 (as was the family custom) to her younger brother Ptolemy XIII, and the two inherited the crown in 51 BC The force and character of the royal pair was, however, concentrated in the alluring (though apparently not beautiful), intelligent, and ambitious queen. She led a revolt against her brother, and, obtaining the aid of Julius Caesar, whose mistress she had become, she won the kingdom, although it remained a vassal of Rome. During the war, her young brother-husband was accidentally drowned in the Nile. She then married her still younger brother Ptolemy XIV, but she followed Caesar to Rome; there she bore a son, Caesarion (later Ptolemy XV), who was said to be his.

Returning to Egypt after the murder of Caesar and the battle of Philippi, she acceded to the summons of Marc Antony to meet him at Tarsus. She famously arrived (42 BC) on a gilded, purple-sailed barge, reclining on a divan and luxuriously attended. Intending to demand an account of her actions, he fell hopelessly in love with her. Cleopatra, conscious of her royalty and even her claims to divinity as the pharaoh's daughter, seems to have hoped to use Antony to reestablish the real power of the Egyptian throne. They were married in 36 BC Most of the Romans feared and hated Cleopatra, and Octavian (later Augustus) undertook to destroy the two lovers. Antony and Cleopatra were defeated in a battle off Actium in 31 BC, and, returning to Alexandria, they tried to defend themselves in Egypt. When they failed, Antony committed suicide by falling on his sword. Cleopatra, faced by the cold and unmoved Octavian, also killed herself. Her schemes ultimately failed, but her ambition, capability, and remarkable charm have left a great impression on history. Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, based on Plutarch, describes the tragic end of the queen's career, and Dryden's All for Love: or, The World Well Lost is a reworking of Shakespeare. Caesar and Cleopatra, the comedy by G. B. Shaw, deals with the early years of her story.

See biographies by J. Lindsay (1971), M. Grant (1973), L. Hughes-Hallett (1990), J. Fletcher (2008), D. W. Roller (2010), and S. Schiff (2010); J. Samson, Nefertiti and Cleopatra (1987); D. Preston, Cleopatra and Antony (2009); A. Goldsworthy, Antony and Cleopatra (2010).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Cleopatra: A Biography
Duane W. Roller.
Oxford University Press, 2010
Cleopatras
John Whitehorne.
Routledge, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 15 "Cleopatra VII's Suicide"
Caesar against Rome: The Great Roman Civil War
Ramon L. Jiménez.
Praeger, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Part Three "Caesar and Cleopatra"
Cleopatra and Rome
Diana E. E. Kleiner.
Belknap Press, 2005
Government Leaders, Military Rulers, and Political Activists
David W. Del Testa.
Oryx Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: "Cleopatra VII" begins on p. 40
Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became An Excuse to Teach Myth as History
Mary Lefkowitz.
Basic Books, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "Was Cleopatra Black?" begins on p. 34
Ptolemaic Alexandria
P. M. Fraser.
Clarendon Press, 1972
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Cleopatra begins on p. 794
Who's Who in Ancient Egypt
Michael Rice.
Routledge, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Cleopatra VII" begins on p. 41
A Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt
Rosalie David; Antony E. David.
Seaby, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Cleopatra VII begins on p. 34
Women and Race in Early Modern Texts
Joyce Green MacDonald.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Cleopatra: Whiteness and Knowledge"
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