FROM CARPET TO ASP
Cleopatra is one of the most famous women who ever lived. Even though she was the last of a dynasty of seven Cleopatras, we think of her as if she were unique. The most beautiful and celebrated actresses of all time, among them the divine Sarah Bernhardt, the incomparable Vivien Leigh, and the legendary Elizabeth Taylor, have vied to portray her on stage and screen. Several civilizations lay claim to Cleopatra, and even today there are few unfamiliar with the queen's dramatic death at the prick of an asp (Fig. P. 1). In fact, the remarkable image of this spectacular woman lying on a couch expiring from a self-inflicted wound haunts all subsequent versions of her story; the death by suicide of this great queen remains one of history's most climactic moments.
Cleopatra's life may be glimpsed through a series of such sensational events. These episodes seared themselves into the minds of her contemporaries and into the memories of later generations. What is most striking is that each of those defining moments had to do with Rome. The convergence of Cleopatra and Rome near the turn of the first century was a momentous rendezvous with the destinies of three Romans—Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian Augustus. Cleopatra's most unforgettable moments appear to have been shared in turn with this trio.
Since the full panorama of Cleopatra's life is lost to us, we attach great importance to these incidents, which serve as tantalizing clues to what must have been fuller accounts of Cleopatra's interaction with Rome's