Cleopatra’s Reputation as a Product of “Misrepresentation”
An extensive discussion of the bias and subjectivity of existing sources, along with the difficulty of trusting primary sources, allows concluding that the political image of the Ptolemaic empress has many nuances and elements which may not have fully corresponded to reality. As a rule, a person’s reputation is built based on public rumors and tidings describing the actions and intentions of the individual. In the case of Cleopatra, such rumors stemmed from a Roman culture that sought to denigrate the honor of a powerful woman.
There are actual works, whether Horace’s Ode or Octavius’ Speech, which ambiguously address Cleopatra’s historical image. Plutarch, who described the life of one of the empress’s chief political antagonists, Octavius, described Cleopatra as a cruel manipulator who skillfully used appearance disguises to seduce great men. In fact, there are several vital nuances here that shed light on the objectivism of these sayings. First of all, Plutarch was describing Octavius’ Speech hundreds of years after his life, which means that the original intentions and motives were amended by time and error. Second, even assuming that Octavius did speak unflatteringly of Cleopatra, one must remember his political motivation and interest in belittling a descendant of the Ptolemaic family. Thus, a study of Cleopatra based solely on the speech would inevitably lead to a distortion of her reputation.
On the other hand, Horace’s Ode seeks to take a different view of the woman’s image. In the first part of the poem, the author speaks crudely about Cleopatra, calling her a crazy and insane woman. In the description of her suicide, however, Horace uses nicer epithets, describing the empress’s decision as fearless and desperate. This work seems to bring more clarity to Cleopatra’s reputation but still has a propagandistic character.
To summarize the above, in any, even contemporary discussions of the role of women in the ancient Egyptian community, one should look exactly for a presupposition that determines the motivation for the study. Cleopatra’s current reputation is highly fragile, and many of the current trends — such as Afrocentrism — can significantly alter the perception of the ancient Egyptian empress. Thus, any extant notes and historical information alone do not reflect Cleopatra’s reputation in its entirety, but with extensive, critical analysis, they can reduce the level of distortion and error.