119 Years of Trust Fact File THE TRIBUNE
Saturday Plus
Saturday, March 20, 1999



By Illa Vij

CLEOPATRA, queen of Egypt and a world-famous beauty, captivated people’s attention by her charm, her wit and her learning. It is believed that she spoke 10 languages, including Latin, Hebrew and Syriac. She was born in 69 B.C. When she was 17 years old (some sources say twenty), she became joint heir to Egypt’s throne with her brother, Ptolemy-IV. She was expected not only to share legal authority with him but also to marry him. She was soon deprived of her rights and she withdrew to Syria.

Cleopatra, in exile, had gathered an army in Syria and had decided to reconquer her kingdom. At this time, Emperor Caesar, retiring from a victory, arrived in Alexandria. Ptolemy’s faction approached him and sought his support in the imminent civil war. At the same time, Cleopatra too wished to meet Caesar, and she wanted to make her entry a dramatic one. As the council of Roman generals was about to break up after taking a decision in favour of Ptolemy, a man entered with a gift of an oriental rug. The rug was unrolled and the young beauty emerged laughing. She immediately captivated the audience. The 53-year-old Caesar fell under her spell as she pleaded her cause. By dawn Ptolemy had lost. In the conflict, Ptolemy was killed and Cleopatra got the right to the throne.

Caesar lived in Egypt for several months. Cleoptra gave birth to Caesar’s son, who was named Caesarion. Cleopatra, along with her son and younger brother Ptolemy V,who shared a minor part of her throne, accompanied Caesar when he went back to Rome. Cleopatra lived in Caesar’s villa on the bank of the Tiber. One day, Caesar was assassinated and Cleopatra knew that she must return to Egypt. She had realised her unpopularity and immediately left for her native land. Clever and shrewd, and heartless too, she poisoned her younger brother Ptolemy-V and proclaimed her son, Caesarion, a joint ruler of Egypt along with herself.

When another famous warrior, Mark Antony, gained control in Rome, he got completely captivated by Cleopatra’s beauty and the oriental splendor of her court. She and Antony had three children. The people of Rome grew dissatisfied with their leader and Octavian Caesar was sent to attack Antony. Octavian was Antony’s co-ruler at Rome. Antony was married to Octavian’s sister Octavia, who lived in Rome. Octavian subdued both Antony’s and Cleopatra’s forces and reached the walls of Alexandria. Cleopatra retreated to a mausoleum she had built earlier. Antony went into depression — he had lost a great naval battle and he felt that Cleopatra had betrayed him. Soon Cleopatra spread a rumour that she had committed suicide, and in a state of shock and grief Antony killed himself with his own sword. Before dying, he learned that Cleopatra was alive, and he was carried to her where he finally breathed his last.

With Antony dead, their kingdom lost, Cleopatra could see only darkness around her. The enchanting woman could not have her way anymore. Cleopatra knew that Octavian would publicly humiliate her, so she decided to end her own life. She decided that she would not allow Octavian to lead her through the streets of Rome as his captive. Cleopatra had her brothers killed to suit herself. Her thoughtlessness had led to turmoil, disaster and ruin of Julius Caesar, Antony and, of course, she too had not been spared.

An asp was smuggled to her in a basket and she allowed it to bite her. Egypt lost its famous, enchanting queen on August 29, 30 BC. Cleopatra’s story has been told in the form of many plays — Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, All for Love by John Dryden and Caesar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw. back

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