This is why I can’t read reference works in e. You can highlight in e, sure, and you can search, but searching is not the same as dogearing or sticky noting, and forget about scribbling marginal notations.

So I’m railing against Adrian Goldsworthy again, this time because of this passage in Caesar:

Probably in late 46 BC Cleopatra, her brother-husband Ptolemy and their court arrived in Rome.

A little later:

Cleopatra…may well have felt safer near [Caesar] and away from Egypt.

That isn’t the first time I’ve run into that notion. I call bullshit.

The Ptolemies were Greeks. Alexander the Great took Egypt by force and founded the city named for him, after which his general, Ptolemy, snapped it up after Alexander died. There followed three hundred years of the Greeks keeping the Egyptians barefoot and pregnant and down on the farm, and three hundred years of the Egyptians revolting and rebelling and generally making nuisances of themselves to their rulers in Alexandria.

Historians agree on very little about Cleopatra, but one incident they all refer to almost without exception is that sometime during Ahket (Inundation) of the same year her father, Ptolemy XII, died, Cleopatra travelled upriver to Thebes to escort the new Buchis bull to the temple of Mont, the Egyptian god of war. It was her first recorded public act. She presented herself as the goddess Isis on earth specifically to the Egyptian citizens of her kingdom. The subtext is obvious: “I’m not like the rest of those yahoos who came before me, I hear you, I see you, I respect your customs and religions, I am one of you, you can’t you rebel against me if I’m one of your own.”

The Egyptians rebelled against every single Ptolemy but one: Cleopatra VII. She reigned for 20 years. If they’d wanted to rebel, they had time.

Having begun her reign in propitiating her Egyptian subjects in this manner, it makes no sense that she would then go tarryhooting off to Rome, whether she felt safe in Alexandria or not. No sane ruler (and, albeit grudgingly, most historians do at least pay lip service to her intelligence and her abilities) would abandon her subjects to rebel in her absence. Nature abhors a vacuum, and capable rulers knew that long before Aristotle. (And Cleopatra would have studied Aristotle, by the way.)

Further, Caesar left three legions behind when he departed Egypt. Now, that may in truth have been to secure Egyptian grain for Rome, but as Caesar’s appointed heir the presence of those legions would have made Cleopatra’s throne feel that much more secure beneath her backside.

Even if she did go to Rome in 46, it seems very unlikely that she would then remain there until April 44. Not only does it make no sense as a ruler, it makes no sense as a woman, because Caesar left for Spain in November 46 to put down yet another Pompeian rebellion (man, those guys were persistent).

Goldsworthy also reports how Cleopatra’s sister, Arsinoë, inspired such pity in the Roman citizenry watching her march in Caesar’s triumphs that he commuted her death sentence to life imprisonment. Again I have to say, seriously? More likely he needed a spare Egyptian queen in order to keep Cleopatra in line. Further, Arsinoë was on house arrest in Ephesus. I’ve been there. The toilets are made of marble. That’s some hard time right there.

There is a reason I have chosen to begin the first three Eye of Isis novels with this quotation:

Honestly, I think historians are all mad.–Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time

The first Eye of Isis novel,
available everywhere in e.

Chatter Eye of Isis Writing

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

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