Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Legend of Cleopatra | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- She has the most renowned love story in Egyptian history, the same story that inspired Shakespeare to write his famous play “Anthony and Cleopatra”.

That’s right; I am talking about Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, the Queen whose beauty captured the hearts of two of the most powerful men in the ancient world; Julius Caesar and then Mark Antony. Her love affair with Mark Antony became one of the most renowned love stories in ancient history, igniting the world’s love affair with Cleopatra which has lasted for centuries after her death.

Numerous historians and writers in the post-Cleopatra era have continued to write about her lovingly and passionately to the point that she became the very paradigm of femininity.

Perhaps the most prominent person to fall in love with Cleopatra after her death was the renowned Arab poet and dramatist Ahmed Shawqi, whose most famous play is his masterpiece “The Death of Cleopatra.” He imagined a magnificent and dominating Queen who was more cunning than the greatest of men, and who was able to shake the very foundations of the Roman Empire before falling victim to her own charm and intelligence.

The great Arab musician Muhammad Abdul-Wahab put Shawqi’s lyrics to music, bringing to life his own masterpiece “Cleopatra.” This song depicts a devastatingly beautiful woman, who was far more than an ordinary Queen succeeding her father to the throne.

My own love for Queen Cleopatra was born out of what I read about her, whether this was history, literary, or poetry. When I began studying at the Greek and Roman History department of the Alexandria University, I remember that the great professor Fawzi El Fakharany would speak about Queen Cleopatra as if he were speaking about the most beautiful woman in the world, in addition to a Queen who was involved in politics and governance. We often spoke about Cleopatra; the story of her life, her death, and the place she was buried. This story begins with the death of Ptolemy XII, who was also known as Ptolemy Auletes [Ptolemy the Flutist], he had two daughters; Cleopatra and Arsinoe, and two sons; Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. A dispute arose between Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII over who should rule after their father’s death, although Ptolemy XII had declared in his will that Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra should jointly rule the kingdom. Ptolemy XIII was only ten years old at this time, while Cleopatra was just 14. All of the affairs of state, the leadership of the army, and the financial affairs were looked after by regents appointed by the throne. These regents were in a continuous state of struggle with one another; some trying to win over the boy-king, and others trying to win over the young Queen. This struggle reached the point where Cleopatra was expelled from the palace. At the same time, the struggle in the Roman Empire between Pompey Magnus and Julius Caesar had also reached its peak. This struggle ended with Pompey Magnus being defeated and forced to flee to Egypt, thinking that he would be granted safe haven there. However the boy king’s retinues convinced him to order the death of Pompey Magnus to gain the favor of his rival, Julius Caesar. They beheaded Pompey, presenting his head as a gift to Julius Caesar, something that he found offensive in the extreme and as being an ignoble end to a great man and Roman hero.

The great military leader Julius Caesar fell in love with the beautiful Queen “Cleopatra” at first sight, and he postponed his return to Rome in order to enjoy his stay in Egypt and tour the ancient Egyptian monuments in the company of the beautiful Egyptian Queen. At first, Julius Caesar tried to reconcile Cleopatra and her brother, however developing situations within the Roman Empire revealed its need for Egypt as the food basket of the ancient world. Since that time, Cleopatra’s name was included in all significant documents which changed the image of the ancient world. The story continues…