Oh the Places You'll Go: Part 3 Cleopatra Queen of the Nile
"Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.” -Oprah Winfrey
When last we met, I was turning 21 floating down the Nile on a felucca and had just confirmed my distaste for Cuban cigars. As we continued sailing our way towards Alexandria, I couldn't help but remember my Grandmother’s stories of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile. I was about 5 years old when Grandma first told me the story of the enchanting young queen who wooed Julius Caesar, smuggling herself into his personal quarters wrapped in a carpet. Years later, she made her grand introduction to her future lover, Mark Antony, sailing down the Nile on a golden barge adorned with purple sails, rowed by oars made of silver. She sat under a gilded canopy, dressed like the goddess Aphrodite. Antony, who fancied himself the embodiment of the Greek God Dionysus, was instantly enchanted and the two went on to have one of the most infamous love affairs in history.
Years later, Cleopatra and Mark Antony took their lives after the second Battle of Alexandria in 30 B.C. Reportedly, while under attack, Antony heard a rumor that Cleopatra had committed suicide. He fell on his sword, dying just as news arrived that the rumor was false. After burying Antony nine days later, Cleopatra closed herself in her chamber with two of her female servants and took her life. The means of her death is uncertain, but Plutarch suggests she used a poisonous snake known as an asp. This interpretation has persisted through popular culture and has become an iconic symbol of her tragic death. More recently, however, scholars and toxicologists suggest it was more likely poison (a combination hemlock, mixed with wolfsbane and opium) versus snake bite. After her death, Cleopatra’s body was buried next to Antony’s. She was the last Pharaoh before Egypt became a Roman province under Emperor Augustus I.
This iconic love story has been depicted in countless Hollywood movies and novels over the past millennium, but what we don't often hear about is the brains behind the irresistible charm. Cleopatra spoke as many as a dozen languages and was educated in mathematics, philosophy, oratory and astronomy. She was also a diplomat, naval commander, medical author, and chief religious authority of the realm. Egyptian sources later described her as a ruler that, "elevated the ranks of scholars”. Her mind and power of intellect has inspired me for years. A Queen of Queen’s, she attained greatness in life and became legendary in death. As Oprah said, “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is a steppingstone to greatness.”