Impertinent Questions WITH DUANE W. ROLLER

Article excerpt

All hail Queen! Duane W. Roller, professor emeritus of Greek and Latin at Ohio State University, has crafted a new account of the life of Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt. The first account to be based solely on primary sources from the era, Cleopatra: A Biography (Oxford University Press, 20 1 0) moves beyond two thousand years of romance and popular portrayals to discover a formidable ruler. Roller is the author of eight books, including The Building Program of Herod the Great ( 1 998) for which he also received NEH support.

I was surprised to learn that Cleopatra was a scholar. What did she write?

She is known for at least two works, Kosmetikon - which does not mean "Cosmetics," although some have thought that would be a suitable title for her; the word has a more medical usage about care of the body - and a treatise on weights and measures necessary for medicine, trade, and economics.

She was also multhingual. What languages did she know?

Greek was her native language; she knew Egyptian; and there is a passage by Plutarch that says she knew six other languages (all local languages within or near her kingdom). She probably knew Latin. She was famous for conducting diplomatic business in the language of the person she was speaking to.

What role did being a mother play in Cleopatra's life?

Probably a major role. She had four children over twelve years. Of course, she would have had a cadre of servants to take care of them, but the most important fact is that her kingdom would survive only through her children, so proper rearing of them was essential. She not only had to choose a partner carefully, but also devote a good many months to being pregnant.

Cleopatra is notorious for her liaisons with two leading Roman statesmen. How would you describe her relationship with Julius Caesar?

She was young - twenty-one - and impressed by having the most powerful Roman as her guest in her palace. Obviously what brought them together was a political need, but the hormones eventually took over, and you can easily see their relationship slipping from political to personal. She had no children and needed an heir, and Caesar had no male children and was himself thinking in monarchical terms that might require an heir. The product. Kaisarion, remained Cleopatra's principal heir for the rest of her life.

Her relationship with Marc Antony?

In much the same way. After the death of Caesar, Antony became the most powerful Roman, and Cleopatra was still vulnerable both politically and in terms of having only a single heir. They met on political terms: Antony was on an extended stay in the eastern Mediterranean to clean up the mess left by Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Caesar. …