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Common Myths About Cleopatra



She was Egyptian

Nope, she was Greek. Her family lived in Egypt for three hundred years or so, which might make her Egyptian in your eyes and mine, but to the Egyptians she was still Greek. She was descended from the general Ptolemy who served under Alexander the Great during his conquests. Following Alexander's untimely death, Ptolemy and two other generals divided up his empire and he got Egypt.

She was beautiful

Depends on who you ask, but most would agree that she wouldn't have won any beauty contests. She had a large hooked nose and fleshy face. You can see this in the Roman coins Antony had minted in her honor. Elizabeth Taylor she wasn't.

Cleopatra wore her hair with bangs

Watching any of the Hollywood movies based on her "life," one would assume it was the height of Egyptian fashion to wear bangs. Not so, Cleopatra wore a wig of tight curls on her shaven head. Claudette Colbert in Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 classic wore bangs because she had a personal fondness for them. In the early 1960's bangs were 'in', so Elizabeth Taylor wore them in the 1963 re-make.

Cleopatra was so wickedly decadent she dissolved a monstrously expensive pearl in a cup of vinegar (or wine).

Maybe they made vinegar differently in those days, but currently, pearls do not dissolve in vinegar.

Julius Caesar was in love with her.

Doubtful. If he was interested in her, it was for her money. Egypt was a rich country and the Roman civil wars were expensive. Of course, he claimed the money was owed to him anyhow due to a large debt Cleopatra's father ran up. In fact he was so enamored with her he made sure she got a proper marriage - to someone else, her brother.

Antony fell in love with Cleopatra at first sight.

They knew each other for years before they ever fell in love; assuming that he loved her at all.

Antony loved Cleopatra

This one could be true, but let's examine the evidence. There was the time they met in Asia Minor and made love. Afterwards, Antony agreed to kill Cleopatra's sister so that she wouldn't have any challenges to her authority. Then he went back to his wife.

Luckily for Cleopatra, his wife died about this time, so he immediately married - someone else. His second wife Octavia was the sister of his rival, Octavian. The marriage helped Antony maintain his political position. Of course, as soon as he found the time, he ran off to see Cleopatra and the twins he fathered. Cleopatra was irritated. It had been three and a half years since he had visited.

Cleopatra killed herself out of grief after the death of Antony

No doubt she was upset at her lover's death, however it seems that she killed herself because she was led to believe that she was going to be disgracefully paraded through Rome in chains.

Cleopatra died from the bite of an asp.

Again, this is an iffy one. The story of the asp first comes to us from Plutarch, but he didn't say it was actually true. All we know for sure is that there were two tiny marks on her arm when her body was found.

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