Cleopatra- A sign of times Essay

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Pages: 15

Cleopatra: A Sign of the Times by Diana Lerman
"For Rome, who had never condescended to fear any nation or people, did in her time fear two human beings; one was Hannibal, and the other was a woman" (Lefkowitz 126).
Cleopatra VII, the last reigning queen of Egypt, has intrigued us for centuries. Her story is one that has been told many times, and the many different and vastly varied representations of her and her story are solely based on the ways in which men and society have perceived women and their role in society throughout history. By looking at the perceptions of women starting from the Hellenes, the Greeks who greatly influenced Roman ideals, and following those perceptions through to the end of the 19th Century, it
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Cleopatra is shown having all of the opposite qualities and/or virtues of a "good" Roman and European woman: modesty, propriety, chastity, obedience, wisdom, honor, virtue, beauty and motherhood. Faithful to the ideals of his time, Boccaccio depicts Cleopatra as being dominated by strong unwanted female characteristics like power through sexuality and self-confidence.
Thus Cleopatra, having already acquired her kingdom through two crimes, gave herself to her pleasures. Having become almost the prostitute of Oriental kings and greedy for gold and jewels, she…stripped her lovers of these things with her art…" (Boccaccio 193)
She is represented as barbarous by her "two crimes": incestuously marrying her brother and ruthlessly murdering him and by prostituting herself to Caesar to maintain her position on the throne. As a queen "she is driven by limitless desires for power, for wealth [and] for pleasure" (Nyquist 96-7) and she uses her lovers to gain them. Her role as a strong political and sexual woman is tainted with negativity and thus she becomes the classic tyrant. Most notably, because every aspect of her tyrannical rule is sexualized, the threat she poses is symbolized primarily as a threat to the accepted domestic and marital codes, which directly affect male privilege and power (Nyquist 97). "By fusing the xenophobia that fostered Roman