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C O U R S E 
Sexing the Canvas: Art and Gender
Jeanette Hoorn, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Political and Sexual Agency of Cleopatra
Notes taken on May 19, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
Cleopatra (69-30 BC)
Cleopatra VII Philopator [Κλεοπάτρα Φιλοπάτωρ]
from here very early ages, she knew that she was royalty
her father was King Ptolemy XII
the latest in the line of Greek monarchs who had ruled over the Egyptians for about 260 years since the death of Alexander the Great
even though the Ptolemy's were Greek, they very much stylized themselves as Egyptians
fashioned themselves as pharaohs
suggested they be worshiped as gods while they were alive
depicted themselves in iconography in ancient Egyptian garb
practiced Egyptian marriage customs
included brothers and sisters marrying each other and having children
Cleopatra's parents were most likely half-brother and half-sister, or perhaps uncle and niece
she came from a large family
two old sisters
younger half-sister
two younger half-brothers
both of them she ended up marrying
during her time Rome was taking over all of the Greek-ruled, Hellenistic kingdoms
the successor states to the conquests of Alexander the Great
mainland Greece was conquered and made into a Roman province about 80 years before Cleopatra was born
Syria was conquered when she was about six
the island of Cyprus was conquered when she was eleven
her father tried in various ways to make himself friends with the Romans
in particular to Pompey the Great with various degrees of success
so there were probably plans by the leaders of the Romans to conquer Egypt at some point
was the last of the Greek kingdoms waiting to be taken
became queen of Egypt when she was 18 years old
had been named father's successor in his will
he actually asked the Roman's to be executors of his will
she was required to marry who half-brother Ptolemy XIII, who at that time was ten
they ruled jointly for awhile
Cleopatra decided that she would be better off ruling by herself
she had been nominated as her father's successor since at that time she had been the oldest of his children
he older sister #1 had been poisoned by sister #2
then sister number #2 had been executed by her own father
so Cleopatra decided to drop her brother's name out of all the official documents
this made the people of the court at Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, very upset because they did not like the idea of a queen ruling by herself
so by the time Ptolemy XIII got to be about 13 years old, his courtiers led a revolution against Cleopatra and booted her out
but no sooner had they done this, but who should show up on the banks of the Nile but Pompey the Great, who was fleeing from a battle he had just lost, with his fellow triumpher and father-in-law, Julius Caesar
Pompey took refuse with Ptolemy XIII thinking this was the son of the man I used to help out
unfortunately, Ptolemy XIII's henchmen killed Pompey
Julius Ceasar then took control of Alexandria
Cleopatra smuggled herself into her own palace
she begged him to take pity on her and restore her as queen of Egypt
this scene is famously narrated in Lucan's poem Pharsalia written about 100 years after the event, which Lucan calls "an infamous night together"
a rather complicated war took place in which Ptolemy XIII got in cahoots with the other half-sister to try to defeat Cleopatra, but all went wrong, Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile, and Cleopatra was once again restored as Queen of Egypt, by Julius Caesar
Cleopatra then married her other half-brother Ptolemy XIV, who was now 12
Cleopatra then discovered she was pregnant with Julius Caesar's baby
she gave birth to his son which they named Cesarean, or Little Caesar
the then became Julius Caesar's mistress
she and her half-brother/husband would visit Rome on occasion for state business
but is was very clear to everyone that she was Julius Caesar's lover
he adored her so much he even made a gold statue of her
in the role of the goddess Isis
put it up in a temple of Venus in the downtown area of Rome
Cleopatra's being Caesar's mistress was a problem since they both were married
Caesar's wife was not able to produce any children
Cleopatra had met Julius Caesar when she was 21 and he was 52
they managed to keep their relationship up for a few years until on the Ides of March in 44 BCE, Julius Caesar was murdered
it seems that Cleopatra and her husband/half-brother were in Rome when that happened
Cleopatra then prompted took her whole family back to Egypt, poisoned her half-brother/husband so that she could rule by herself
a few years passed
in the power vacuum that existed in Rome, another Triumvirate was set up
Octavian: Julius Caesar's great niece who had adopted Octavian as his son
not his biological son with Cleopatra
had been given control of the Western provinces
Marcus Antonius
had been a commander in Julius Caesar's war against the Gauls
had been given control of the Eastern provinces
commanded Cleopatra to meet with him in Tarsus, in Modern Turkey to have a conversation about what role Egypt was going to have in this new world
was it going to be an ally to Rome
was it going to help Mark Anthony attack the Parthian Empire (274 BC - 224 AD) to the East of Egypt
Cleopatra smartly showed up in ostentatious wealth
throwing rose pedals
convinced Marc Anthony to come to Alexandria
they became lovers
she bore him twins at the end of 40 BCE
Alexander Helios (sun)
Cleopatra Selene (moon)
Mark Anthony, meanwhile, had returned to Rome and married Octavian's sister Octavia
bore him two daughters
36 BC went back to Egypt
Cleopatra bore him another son
they started parceling out the lands of the Egyptian empire to their children
divorced Octavia and married Cleopatra with Egyptian rights
Tiepolo's painting of Cleopatra and Alexander
this married time of their lives which Tiepolo's painting uses as its subject
the story of the painting with the earring
comes from a kind of encyclopedia written by Pliny the Elder about 100 years after the event
talks about the two largest pearls in the world
an example of luxuria
conscious consumption
there has been a theory in the last 60 years that pulverized pearls were used medicinally in antiquity as an anti-acid
one of her slaves stopped her
it's a wonderful story
the story of Cleopatra goes on
Octavia was very upset about Marc Anthony's divorce
Octavio began a campaign against Mark Anthony
that he had been seduced by an Egyptian queen
he had given away Roman lands to the Egyptian queen
had written a will saying he wanted to be buried in Egypt rather than Rome
31 BC Battle of Actium
Cleopatra and Mark Anthony had the numbers and should have won
but they didn't win
they fled to Egypt
Octavian caught up with them about a year later
Marc Anthony and Cleopatra committed suicide
Cleopatra famously after being captured by Octavia, smuggled in a poisonous asp and enabled it to bite her
Romans were not very kind to Cleopatra after her death
Horace (65-27 BCE) called her
a fatalae monstrum
a woman who was not submissive or humble
Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD)
called her a high-class prostitute
Lucan (39-65 AD)
described her has promiscuous
she as actually not promiscuous or a high-class prostitute
she loved two men in her life and gave them both children
she was also a queen in her own right
this is something that bothered the Romans most of all
she was both politically active as well as sexually active
it's one thing for heads of state to meet with each other and be friends with each other
it's another thing for heads of state to sleep with each other and have children with each other
especially when both heads of state are married to other people
this was bothersome to the Romans
what sets Cleopatra apart is her ability to combine her political agency and her sexual agency
do we look at her as someone who was very crafty and strategic and having a sexual liaison with the right men at the right time so her country did not fall into the hands of the Romans
the only man she couldn't conquer was Octavian who later made Egypt his own personal province after he made himself the Emperor Augustus
on the other hand there is something magical about love and we can't attribute all that happened to Cleopatra's desires only
it is interesting that we have Octavian to thank for keeping Cleopatra's memory alive for the Romans
according to Pliny, he took back the other pearl that she didn't dip in the vinegar, sliced it half and put each half in the earlobes of the status of Venus in the center of Rome right next to the statue of Cleopatra himself