Monday, July 26, 2010

Oh, Baby!

People often ask me what I found most surprising in researching Cleopatra for my upcoming book, CLEOPATRA RULES! They usually do so with a twinkle in their eye, hoping for some good juicy gossip on the supposed temptress queen.

Their eyes widen in surprise when I give them my answer: That Queen Cleopatra VII was the proud mother of four—yes, FOUR—children.

Most people don’t know that about our supposed sexpot queen. That’s because, thanks to Hollywood, people generally prefer to picture Cleo as a super-hot Elizabeth Taylor or Angelina Jolie.

Yet it could be argued that she relished her role as a mom of four. After all, she likened herself to Isis whose fertility resulted in Egypt’s first pharaoh, her son Horus. To the people of the Nile, a fertile queen boded well for fertile crops. She and her people likely saw her large family as specially blessed by the gods.

Now, keep in mind, we know only of the four children that survived childhood. She may have had others that didn’t make it. (Infant mortality, even in the glittering palaces of great queens, was sadly very high in the ancient world).

What happened to her kids after her death is another post. And, um, another upcoming book.

Art source:


Tracy Barrett said...

What did you find out about her appearance? I've heard she was no great beauty. Some people seem to think that the only way she could have had so much power over men was because she was a babe!

Tracy Barrett said...

p.s. Of course, by "some people" I don't mean you!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Tracy, according to Plutarch, she wasn't an extraordinary beauty but was known as being very charismatic--she was smart, quick, had "a thousand ways to flatter," and had a lovely voice. I think people want to make her out to be a great beauty because it's "expected" or "more fun" to do so. But I think her immense wealth combined with savvy political smarts is what proved more irrisistible.

Unknown said...

Interesting post!

I'm not sure how much of it was Roman propaganda and how much truth, but the thing I found shocking about Cleopatra was her willingness to kill her siblings off, in particular her younger sister Arsinoe, who was given sanctuary at The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

There was a great documentary about it recently from the BBC - The somewhat dramatically titled 'Cleopatra- Portrait of a Killer'

Those who missed it can watch it here:

Looking forward to your book Vicky!

Kind Regards
Hasan Niyazi

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Hi Hasan, thanks for stopping by. I tend to think that a lot of the bad press against Cleo is indeed Roman propaganda. Octavian had to make a very good case against Cleopatra to wage war on her, when in truth, he was waging a civil war against Antony. So she got smeared in order to Octavian to legitimize an illegal war.

That said, there is no proof she did kill her siblings--or that she DIDN'T! However, the source for all these stories was Octavian/Augustus, who was no angel himself. With Antony, he proscribed hundreds of Romans and then later, sacrificed hundreds of Roman Senators on the Field of Mars for the "sin" of supporting Antony.

And yet, he is considered the "good guy!" Anyway, sorry about writing the equivalent of another post but my personal opinion is that she's been the target of a thorough and effective smear campaign... said...

I didn't realize that Cleopatra had children until I read Cleopatra's daughter. It was like a light bulb went on, why had I never heard that? Darn Hollywood!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks for commenting, Gwen. Yeah, when Hollywood finishes sprinkling their "magic" dust over their version of history, it's forever hard to tease out the truth!

vicki leon, historical detective said...

Excellent post about Cleo and her kids---I look forward to more! As we've both come to know, she did her utmost for them, even at the end. Re: Hollywood. It would be nice if filmmakers stuck to history but they are making a film as opposed to a book, which can easily sustain flashbacks and internal thoughts and all kinds of nuances that film cannot. Film is all about scenes. That is why most films about writers are so dull--to watch someone thinking is like watching paint dry.