This has won a couple of contests over on Writers’ Cafe. I’m 6thhekatombaion over there, if you want to take a look! This is one of two pieces that I’ve written about a woman from history; the other concerns Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great. Regardless of your views on Cleopatra, even the ancient Roman sources (and they really disliked her!) admit that she was clever, witty and persuasive. She’s a fine example of a powerful woman in politics. As you will probably see, I have zero sympathy for her brother Ptolemy. Nothing like his ancestor, Alexander’s general Ptolemy Lagides.
When her spies and messengers come to her, they tell Cleopatra of the effect her actions have on Ptolemy XIII and his court. It gives her great pleasure that they are beginning to fear. She has made certain that her pitiful brother-husband and his advisers, who are not fit to kiss her feet, know very well what she is capable of.
They might flatter him with preening titles, but soon the Mighty Lion will be squealing in her grasp like a little mouse. She is the glory of her father. She can speak in many tongues and the one that comes especially easily is the tongue of the Great Lady Isis. Ptolemy knows this. He knows that the goddess smiles upon her and speaks through her. He knows that her dark eyes hold dangerous secrets and her slender fingers channel magic.
Not only can she commune with the powers of the universe, she has correspondences with the powers of the mortal world. Ptolemy perhaps fears this more. Pergamum will raise ten legions in her name. Her heritage will secure her place in Greece – the blood of Ptolemy Lagides, he who was made king of Egypt by Alexander himself, runs through her veins as hot as a flame. The people of Alexandria, in the north of her beautiful home, are loyal to her, although the shadow of her mewling brother looms over them like a portentous black storm-cloud.
She might have armies ready to march on her orders. However, she still requires support from one man and his empire. Julius Caesar is in Alexandria. She has had reports from the city that her brother-husband has displeased him greatly. Ptolemy sought to worm his way into the consul’s affections. He slayed Pompey – Caesar’s companion in consulship and embittered rival – on the shores of Pelusium in the east of her lands (for they are, and have always been, hers). He had the head of Pompey severed and presented to Caesar, a grisly peace offering. Caesar has sworn to kill the man who committed the deed.
When the story was told to her, Cleopatra laughed aloud, tears of mirth in her eyes. Her brother is a fool. He is no lion of Aker; he is a lowly serpent like Apep, trying to slither his way into Caesar’s favour. He knows little of diplomacy; she would not have made so grave a mistake. No matter how fiercely Caesar and Pompey might have struggled for power, Pompey was still a consul of Rome and Ptolemy had dared to calculate his demise.
A miscalculation indeed.
Caesar will not forgive the insult easily. The gods dictate that her time is now. Ptolemy is playing into her hands. She must strike, an asp at the collective throat of the usurpers, and meet with Caesar. She will inform him of her sadness at Pompey’s murder, her disgust at Ptolemy’s actions. My brother is a fickle child, lord, and a puppet of wiser men. His advisers seek power. She must tell him of how she has been exiled from her own lands, of how Ptolemy seized her power. Then why have you not returned with an army and claimed the throne? I would not wish civil war upon my people, my lord. I want only peace and prosperity between Egypt and Rome. Perhaps he will nod in approval. Perhaps, if she lets a few carefully-placed tears fall, he might take her hand.
Julius Caesar is the most powerful man in the empire, possibly in the world, yet he is still merely a man. It will not hurt him to believe that she is merely a woman too.