cleopatra prepares for her suicide -- 11/11/16

Today's selection -- from The Story of Egypt by Joann Fletcher. Cleopatra (or Kleopatra as transcribed by Professor Fletcher) ruled Egypt from 51 BCE to 31 BCE. She found herself pursued by the superior forces of the Emperor Octavian of Rome, and holed up with Mark Antony in Alexandria, she made preparations for her suicide. Officially, she was Cleopatra VII, a name adopted from the beloved Cleopatra I, a young Syrian woman who married Egypt's Ptolemy V, and who was one of thirty-three ancient women known to have held this Macedonian name. When Cleopatra VII died, it was the end of the long-standing Ptolemaic dynasty and the end of Egypt's independence for almost 2000 years:

"Although Octavian had control of the north and west [of Egypt], the east and south remained free, and this is where Kleopatra planned her next move. She was well aware that the Mediterranean was not Egypt's only coastline, and since the Red Sea was the route to the east, so began a 'most bold and wonderful enterprise' as she followed the ancient Egyptian practice of transporting her remaining fleet overland, to 'set afloat in the Arabian Gulf -- to fight on a different front and, if needs be, escape.

"But disaster struck when her ships were destroyed, burned by Nabataen Arab traders who had long resented the Ptolemies' incur­sions into their territory and were determined to maintain their trade routes around the Red Sea.

"And it was this event, not Actium, that determined the fate of Kleopatra VII and Egypt.

Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners -- Alexandre Cabanel

"In a year-long stalemate, the couple, holed up in Alexandria, renamed their 'Inimitable Livers' dining club 'Those who will die together', a 'Suicide Club', partying each night quite literally as if there were no tomorrow.

"Determined to follow the example of her uncle Ptolemy of Cyprus [who committed suicide rather than subject himself to a humiliating imprisonment] when the Romans took his kingdom from him, rather than walking through Rome as a defeated enemy like her sister Arsinoe, Kleopatra planned an appropriate means of suicide should the need arise. As the sources reveal, she 'was busied in making a collection of all varieties of poisonous drugs and in order to see which of them were the least painful in the operation', including 'venomous animals', discovering a toxin that would supply the perfect means to pass over into the afterlife with the dignity befitting her status.

"At the news that Octavian's forces were approaching south through Phoenicia, she stockpiled half 'her gold, silver, emeralds, pearls, ebony, ivory and cinnamon' in her tomb, and put her remaining efforts into the continuity of her dynasty. She sent sixteen-year-old Caesarian with the other half of her treasure to Koptos, from where supporters would take him across the Eastern Desert to the Red Sea to escape by ship; the three youngest royal children were also evacuated, placed in the care of their tutor, who took them south to Thebes."


Joann Fletcher


The Story of Egypt: The Civilization that Shaped the World


Pegasus Books


Copyright 2016 by Joann Fletcher


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