1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cleopatra

CLEOPATRA, the regular name of the queens of Egypt in the Ptolemaic dynasty after Cleopatra, daughter of the Seleucid Antiochus the Great, wife of Ptolemy V., Epiphanes. The best known was the daughter of Ptolemy XIII. Auletes, born 69 (or 68) B.C. At the age of seventeen she became queen of Egypt jointly with her younger brother Ptolemy Dionysus, whose wife, in accordance with Egyptian custom, she was to become. A few years afterwards, deprived of all royal authority, she withdrew into Syria, and made preparation to recover her rights by force of arms. At this juncture Julius Caesar followed Pompey into Egypt. The personal fascinations of Cleopatra induced him to undertake a war on her behalf, in which Ptolemy lost his life, and she was replaced on the throne in conjunction with a younger brother, of whom, however, she soon rid herself by poison. In Rome she lived openly with Caesar as his mistress until his assassination, when, aware of her unpopularity, she returned at once to Egypt. Subsequently she became the ally and mistress of Mark Antony (see Antonius). Their connexion was highly unpopular at Rome, and Octavian (see Augustus) declared war upon them and defeated them at Actium (31 B.C.). Cleopatra took to flight, and escaped to Alexandria, where Antony joined her. Having no prospect of ultimate success, she accepted the proposal of Octavian that she should assassinate Antony, and enticed him to join her in a mausoleum which she had built in order that “they might die together.” Antony committed suicide, in the mistaken belief that she had already done so, but Octavian refused to yield to the charms of Cleopatra who put an end to her life, by applying an asp to her bosom, according to the common tradition, in the thirty-ninth year of her age (29th of August, 30 B.C.). With her ended the dynasty of the Ptolemies, and Egypt was made a Roman province. Cleopatra had three children by Antony, and by Julius Caesar, as some say, a son, called Caesarion, who was put to death by Octavian. In her the type of queen characteristic of the Macedonian dynasties stands in the most brilliant light. Imperious will, masculine boldness, relentless ambition like hers had been exhibited by queens of her race since the old Macedonian days before Philip and Alexander. But the last Cleopatra had perhaps some special intellectual endowment. She surprised her generation by being able to speak the many tongues of her subjects. There may have been an individual quality in her luxurious profligacy, but then her predecessors had not had the Roman lords of the world for wooers.

For the history of Cleopatra see Antonius, Marcus; Caesar, Gaius Julius; Ptolemies. The life of Antony by Plutarch is our main authority; it is upon this that Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is based. Her life is the subject of monographs by Stahr (1879, an apologia), and Houssaye, Aspasie, Cléopâtre, &c. (1879).