“I will not be triumphed over.”  – Cleopatra

Lessons learnt: Lust and vice can corrupt great leaders and topple large empires. Normal life can continue relatively peaceful in spite of turmoil in royal families.

Cleopatra comes from a family that has left its mark by engaging in crime and vice. Many, or maybe all, of her predecessors engaged in acts such as using the wealth of the nation for themselves, adultery and incest. For a very long time, Egypt had Alexandria as its capital, thanking its origin to Alexander the Great. Back in ancient times (but also now), Egypt was relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Ptolemy was the first ruler of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great and started a long reign of prosperous and fertile Egypt, but filled with intrigues and vice. Jacob Abbott’s Cleopatra describes in detail this reign, with a detailed description of Cleopatra’s intrigues, seductions and eventual downfall.

Cleopatra as a young woman already showed the ambition and cunning required for an empress. When her father Ptolemy was reaching the end of his life, he, however, was more compelled to let a son be the emperor than his oldest child, Cleopatra. This dilemma he solved in the way many of his ancestors had done, he married Cleopatra to Ptolemy (his son). The true execution of the rule over Egypt he left to Pothinus (a eunuch), Cleopatra and Ptolemy were only 18 and 10 years of age at the time. In the following years, Cleopatra grew stronger but was exiled by a conspiracy between Ptolemy (her husband) and Pothinus over a struggle for power. She would not be gone for long.

In Syria (a very central country in much of the history of the world) she raised an army in order to fight her way back to rule. A battle never occurred because Ceasar won the civil war that had been raging in the Roman empire and by coincidence ended up in Alexandria. In one of her cunning moves she smuggled herself into Alexandria, Caesar had tried to pursue Pompey there, where she presented her case to Caesar. Caesar was taken back by her charm and daring moves and immediately resolved to get her to consolidate with her brother.

“My honour was not yielded, but conquered merely.” – Cleopatra

The subsequent intrigues are too many to mention in this summary. They constitute Ceasar abandoning his duties as ruler of the Roman empire by staying in Alexandria for a great many years. Cleopatra bears multiple children who are presumed to be from Ceasar, a man who has a wife back in Rome. They together live in the most luxurious ways possible at that time and enjoy each others company. After the assassination of Ceasar, Cleopatra succeeds in seducing the next ruler of the Roman empire, Anthony. Their love leads to more adultery, vice and children. In the end, Antony is defeated by opposing forces in the Roman empire and dies in Alexandria. Not much later Cleopatra is taken prisoner and eventually dies from poison she inflicts on herself.

Cleopatra by Jacob Abbott is a tragic story, for all the power and wealth available to many of the main antagonists, they let their urges and needs to take control instead of reason. Where Ceasar and Anthony were in great positions to rule the Roman empire without much opposition, they both chose to perish in Egypt. If the history of Cleopatra shows anything, it is that even the greatest of man can fall by the touch of a woman. Although Cleopatra is a rather long read, it is worth it if you are interested in the history of Egypt and the fallibility of mankind.