The Fictionistas would like to welcome special Guest Star, author Stephanie Dray, to the blog today.
What Cleopatra Can Teach Us About Love
by Stephanie Dray
She was a ruler, a businesswoman, an author and religious icon. But Cleopatra VII of Egypt is primarily remembered for her dramatic love affairs with two of the most powerful men in the ancient world. She is said to have ensnared Julius Caesar in a May-December romance that scandalized Rome and may well have led to his assassination. Later, she set her sights on Mark Antony and during their tumultuous relationship, they quite nearly ruled the world.
In writingLily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s daughter,I spent a great deal of time pondering what sorts of lessons on love Cleopatra may have imparted to her children. Given Cleopatra’s tragic end, I imagined that her daughter would be quite wary of love--that she would see love as a threat to her ambitions...a threat to her very life itself. But then, Selene was a royal hostage, held in a Roman court of intrigue, at the mercy of the very man who destroyed her family. By contrast, we have the luxury of taking an altogether more lighthearted look at her mother’s legacy! So, here are five things the legendary Queen of the Nile may have advised when it came to love:
Men Like Girls With Moxie. The most famous tale about Cleopatra is how she had herself smuggled into the palace in a carpet and rolled out at Julius Caesar’s feet. The specifics of this story have come into question. Was it really a carpet or bed linens or a laundry sack of some sort? No one seems to know. But does it really matter? The point is that a very young queen risked her life in a dangerous gambit. Even having survived the perilous journey to slip past enemy soldiers, she had to know that Julius Caesar could have her killed on the spot. After all, she’d chosen the wrong side in the recent civil war; Caesar had no reason to favor her. But she gambled that Caesar would admire her spunk. Her reward? He took her to bed--quite possibly that same night--and would later make her the most powerful woman in the world.
Treat Your Relationship As Something Sacred. Though she was the mother of Julius Caesar’s son, he couldn’t marry Cleopatra by law, both because she was a foreigner and because Romans were only allowed one wife--he was already married to Calpurnia. However, Caesar and Cleopatra intended to make their love known. To this end, Caesar took the remarkable step of commissioning a golden statue of Cleopatra and placing it in his family temple of Venus Genetrix. Here, Cleopatra was depicted both as a goddess and a member of the Julii. No stronger statement about the sacred nature of their bond could be made. After Caesar was assassinated, Cleopatra built a giant temple in the royal district of Alexandria and celebrated him as a god.
When it Comes to Love, Go Big or Go Home. When Mark Antony summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus, it was to chastise her for having failed to provide him with ships in his recent battles. Though she was the Queen of Egypt, he was a Roman Triumvir. He demanded that she come to him and explain herself. Her response? A bit of over-the-top stagecraft. A known lover of wine, spectacle and debauchery, Antony was riveted by the sight of Cleopatra’s golden barge as it sailed into the harbor. Cleopatra presented herself as a goddess come to meet a god and all her attendants were costumed as mythological figures. Perfume and rose-petals were the order of the day and when she entertained Antony aboard her ship, lavishly gifting his men with silver plate and other priceless gifts, he was smitten. The lesson? Don’t settle for a subtle seduction. Big romantic gestures create a lasting memories!
Encourage The Ambitions of Those You Love. Julius Caesar certainly didn’t need Cleopatra to prod him to world domination, but he certainly seemed to welcome her as a cheerleader and financier. That she shared in his visions of a future of empire building probably made her a more compatible lover in every way. Antony, on the other hand, seems to have been ambivalent about his own ambitions. Though Cleopatra is often blamed for his downfall, it’s unclear that Mark Antony wouldn’t have simply faded into obscurity without her. When he lost direction, Cleopatra was always there to stroke his ego and help him find his way. Consider the story of the infamous fishing trip during which Cleopatra played a prank on Antony. When he was frustrated at catching nothing, Cleopatra had her divers attach salted fish to his hook. When Antony pulled up his line and found the dead fish, laughter ensued and she told him, “Leave behind your fishing rod, General; your game is cities, provinces and kingdoms.” The lesson for us? Have a great sense of humor. Also, be your beloved’s greatest fan and encourage him or her to excel at what they do best.
Dance With The One That Brung Ya. Though Cleopatra has a reputation as a great seductress and a manipulative schemer, she seems to have been remarkably loyal. She was first loyal to Pompey. Then Caesar. Then Antony. When her war with Rome was lost, Cleopatra was offered the opportunity to ingratiate herself with her conqueror, perhaps sparing her life and her throne, in exchange for Antony’s head. As Antony had taken refuge in Egypt, he was entirely at her mercy. But she could not kill her lover. In the end they both committed suicide and were buried together to rest eternally side by side.
Stephanie Dray is the author of a projected trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.