What a great subject for research!
Having decided that I must include a meeting between the protagonist of the new novel and the infamous Queen of the Nile, I am really enjoying this. Cleopatra is so loaded with our preconceptions that peeling away the layers is proving fascinating – and what we really know about her is so little it is shocking. We have built her up into a monster.
Why have people decided that Cleopatra must be impossibly beautiful? From our sources we know that she had relationships with two men, had four children, could speak many languages and committed suicide. Nearly everything else is up for debate!
Looking at this quotation from Plutarch’s Life of Antony written a century after Cleopatra was alive, I am struck by how very different are modern interpretations of Egypt’s last Pharoah:
“For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased…”
Plutarch, Life of Antony (XXVII.2-3)Plutarch’s Parallel Lives (1916) translated by B. Perrin (Loeb Classical Library