Friday, March 29, 2019

Cleopatra Reimagined

From Helen Davis:
Cleopatra has come down to us as the most famous member of her dynasty, the Ptolemies. But the Ptolemies were not a native dynasty, but rather, began ruling Egypt in the late 4th century B.C. Alexander the Great, when he died, had to have his empire split up among four generals. Ptolemy, a Macedonian Greek, took Egypt and they would become the last dynasty of Egypt before its annexation in 30 B.C. by Augustus Caesar. Our Cleopatra was actually Cleopatra VII of a long dynasty of Cleopatras. Many of her predecessors who likely served as examples to her, were all illustrious, ambitious women, each with stories as interesting as hers, but have been eclipsed by their more illustrious descendant.

Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C. For all her fame, we don't know the identity of her mother. There is speculation this woman was Queen Cleopatra V, a sister of Cleopatra's father, or an unnamed concubine. For my novel, I chose Cleopatra V, but this is still not known. We do know Cleopatra VII grew up in Alexandria, a great city founded in 324 B.C. by Ptolemy I, the progenitor of her dynasty. She grew up in a world that was simultaneously luxurious and hostile. As a princess, she had all she could dream of- servants, fine clothes, and jewelry. But she also grew up in an atmosphere of palace politics in which her siblings and her—she had three sisters and two brothers--tried to outshine each other in a race to win the throne. Although Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII, was the ruler of Egypt, he was despised by his people and many in his family. Cleopatra is alleged to have been his favorite child. In a patriarchal era, Auletes declared Cleopatra his successor even though he had two sons, later her co-rulers. Quite a contrast to the infamous Henry VIII.

If you are a fan of the Tudors and enjoy reading about the intrigue growing up between Edward VI, Elizabeth I and Mary I, then the story of Cleopatra's childhood and siblings will intrigue you too. Cleopatra's three sisters were Cleopatra VI (yes, there were two Cleopatras in her family), who briefly ruled Egypt from 58 to 57 B.C. after her father, Auletes went into exile, Berenice IV, who likely killed Cleopatra VI and ruled from 57 to 55 B.C. upon her father's return, and Arsinoë IV, who later rivaled Cleopatra as queen of Egypt during the first decade of her reign. Cleopatra's brothers were Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, with whom she would share brief co-reigns. (Read more.)

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