Cleopatra: A Sign of the Times Essay

Cleopatra: A Sign of the Times Essay

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Cleopatra: A Sign of the Times

"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).

Abstract

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 is easy to see how Cleopatra has been used to represent the "good woman." In other words, she has been used as a role model for women, to show what was their acceptable role in society and to shape their actions and beliefs into an acceptable form. The earliest writers saw her as an evil temptress, as attitudes changed she became a victim and now in recent representations she is seen as "a feminist hero and a savvy politician" (Nilsen 1). Following this history, one can see how the story of Cleopatra is a story that has been told many times to fit each time period's own allegiances.

The negative image of Cleopatra that has presided throughout history can be traced back to 5th Century Athens and their perceptions of women. During this time period the Greeks pit their own bourgeoisie ideal of femininity against their counterparts in "barbaric societies" (Nyquist 89). This barbarism was also associated with Orientalisms and therefore Egypt was considered barbaric. The barbarians and the Greeks were considered...


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Holland, Barbara. "Cleopatra: What Kind of a Woman Was She Anyway?" Smithsonian, Feb 1997; vol. 27, Iss. 11, pg. 56+.

Hughes-Hallet, Lucy. Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions. London: Harper & Row 1990.

Kahn, Coppélia. Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, Wounds, and Women. London: Routledge, 1997.

Lefkowitz, Marry R. and Maureen B. Fant. Women in Greece and Rome. Toronto: Samuel-Stevens, 1977.

Nyquist, Mary. "Profuse, Proud Cleopatra: "Barbarism" and Female Rule in Early Modern English Republicanism." Women's Studies [Great Britain], 1995, 24 (1-2) 85-30.

Richmond, Ray. "Cleopatra". Variety. 05-17-1999, v375i1 p.40.

Shakespeare, William. Anthony and Cleopatra [1608]. Ed. Michael Meill. Oxford UP, 1994.

Shales, Tom. "Cleopatra; ABC's Jewel of the Nile; New Comer Varela Gives Miniseries a Regal Touch." The Washington Post, 05-23-1999, pp G01.

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