Cleopatra; the name alone invokes images of wealth, romance, and the last Ptolemaic ruler of ancient Egypt. Old Hollywood reinvented her for audiences from the beginning in the silent era to its last gilded mega-film starring Elizabeth Taylor. But who was she really? Cleopatra VII lived in a world dominated by the Roman Empire. She was fluent in several languages and she even troubled to learn the native language of her countrymen; the first in the Ptolemy dynasty to do so. Cleopatra managed to align herself with Caesar, as in The Caesar; the one murdered in the senate by the senators. That upset would have floundered most usurpers of power and yet she came through like a champion captivating Mark Anthony.
In the halls of history there are so few woman that are remembered that the ones that are must have been really intuitive, persuasive, and extremely intelligent to be a woman alone in the realm of power surrounded by men, men and yes more men. Cleopatra did achieve all that a man could dream of; a ruler of her own county and all before the age of thirty. What I have never been able to believe is that she was so savvy in politics that she packed it all in to commit suicide. I mean she faked her death once who is to say she didn’t do it twice?
This concept inspired my poem: how could a woman who had two rulers of Rome at her side quit so easy? It seems inconceivable that a woman with all the knowledge of her culture would give it all up; legend says she had at least two of her siblings assassinated so as not interfere with her climb to the throne. This does not sound like a quitter. I give you the con of Isis…
The Con of Isis
Suspicion dwells long in the royal coward’s heart,
But among the cunning, illusion is an art.
The devoted have long since gone to their tomb,
To tell Cleopatra’s last moments in her room.
Two brazen kohl black rimmed eyes,
That were so bold as to Rome defy.
Men sought to thrust her memory into Time’s abyss,
However she learned too well from the exalted Isis.
A brilliant student and full of promise,
She was a challenge only for the strongest,
If we could plead an answer to this mystery,
That seems to contradict her written history;
A gilded life within a regal cage,
Where I danced upon the royal stage,
Peace was a fantasy,
Silence a rhapsody.
Death’s black barge the only transportation,
Little asp was the pull to my liberation.
One so pretty and sure to bite,
The girl who sought to steal my might,
I tempt her with my jewels that she may shine,
While I in a coarse dress to live sublime.
Secreted away from legend’s sheen,
Golden Cleopatra the river’s queen.
Octavian a glutton for power,
And so very sure of my last hour,
Finely honed is my royal knowledge;
Of just how the usurpers abolish,
A jealous child makes for a greedy custodian,
And sure I was he would grind my image to oblivion.
If I were the queen of such renown,
Would I so easily be put down?
All original words and images by LC Fagan
“Beware all who enter…” How often are we warned to be wary? Sybella helps Cygnet and her brother Silas escape from the clutches of the Guild. To be a scruffy free being or a well-fed slave was the caution Sybella instructed in our last installment of the Guild. How many of us have chosen the path of safety instead of the reckless road of discovery as Amedeo Modigliani, or Vincent van Gogh? Christopher Columbus was warned not to sail too close to the edge of the world lest he doom the voyage, and yet isn’t that exactly what Pablo Picasso did?
Every single day is an opportunity for self-discovery and also of the world around us. Beware my friends for though there be dragons and monsters in the secret places of the world if there were not there would be no heroes to sing praises too.