Cleopatra: The Epitome of Egypt

         Not only was Cleopatra the infamous Queen of Egypt, but she was, in many ways, the epitome of Egypt, itself. She represents all the qualities that Octavius and the other practical Romans denied themselves - enjoyment, playfulness, sensuality, and passion. However, like Dido, the exotic Queen of Carthage, Cleopatra is more than simply an allegory of personality traits; she is, in fact, a fully-dimensional, complex human being.

        Although Cleopatra is a monarch, she is rarely seen performing the duties of the thrown. When she meets Antony, she immediately falls in love with him and appears to be totally devoted to pleasure and to finding fulfillment through her new relationship with Antony. Moreover, Antony clearly becomes infatuated with Cleopatra's exotic nature and allows himself to become seduced by her sensuality and charms.

        Like Dido, Cleopatra's love for Antony becomes ultimately the most important thing in her life. Also like Dido and Aeneas' relationship, it appears as though Antony considers Cleopatra more of a "lover" than a potential wife. Again, this is evidence of the eroticism of Eastern women. Antony, like Aeneas is encouraged to "leave his lascivious wassails" and return to his duties.
Some critics have read Cleopatra's schemes to gain Antony's attention as part and parcel of the culture she lives in: the "mysterious East," has long been symbolized for Westerners by indirection and pretense. However, since Cleopatra is a round (instead of flat) character, it is important to realize that her continuous playacting with Antony is basically a manifestation of her insecurities as a woman. She needs constant reinforcement that Antony loves her. Cleopatra's implusiveness and rash behavior is especially evident in one scene. When Cleopatra realizes that Antony has returned to Rome and married Octavia, she breaks out in a Dido-esque rage. She strikes the messenger who has just reported to her the unfortunate new, and threatens to stab him. Like Dido, Cleopatra laments her loss by weeping and praying for death.

        However in the end, Cleopatra is shown to be a much more forgiving woman than her counterpart, Dido. Cleopatra is loyal to Antony to the end. After she receives word that he has killed himself, she too takes her life. Although both stories have distinct endings and original characters, Celopatra and Dido do share many common personality traits. And Vergil's readers would most likely have Cleopatra in the back of their minds when listening to the Aeneid. If there is one common theme that runs through both stories, it is the fact that love the worlds of politics and war belong in separate spheres and can never coalesce or merge.

For a picture emphasizing Cleopatra's African and Eqyptian heritage, click here.

For a brief biography of Cleopatra's life, click here.

For a chronology of Cleopatra's life, as well as a photograph of a sculpture of the Queen of Egypt's head, click here.

For a website devoted solely to the women of Ancient Egypt, click here.