Open University Aa100 Tma1 Cleopatra

AA100 Assignment One

Part 1: Cleopatra

In the passage from his Roman History Cassius Dio portrays Cleopatra as a beautiful and cunning seductress. He takes quite some time describing that she was a “woman of surpassing beauty” and in the prime of her youth was “most striking”. She was “brilliant to look upon”. This external beauty was coupled with a “charming voice” and “knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to every one”.   Cassius Dio is clear that Cleopatra was able to use these natural talents to “subjugate” Caesar.   She cunningly entered the palace to meet Caesar by night without Ptolemy’s (her brother’s) knowledge and showed herself in a “majestic” yet “pity-inspiring guise” in order to manipulate the Roman Emperor.   Dio’s characterisation of Cleopatra is therefore quite negative as it brings with it negative connotations of manipulation and scheming, although he clearly feels her beauty was something worth admiring.
Another Roman source, the historian Plutarch, claims, in contrast to Dio, that Cleopatra’s beauty itself was not “incomparable” and did not “instantly captivate” onlookers (Fear, 2008, p. 9).   Plutarch puts much more emphasis on her skill as a seductress and speaker saying that “the charm of her presence was irresistible” and she had “peculiar force of character”.   Cleopatra was able to bewitch men (Caesar and Antony) and put them under her “spell”.   To Dio a beautiful woman made a man vulnerable, but by eliminating this natural element (that Cleopatra would have been born with) Plutarch emphasises her skill and perhaps deviousness. This is further backed up by Plutarch’s description of Cleopatra’s scheme to sneak into Caesar’s palace disguised in a sleeping bag which was carried in by her servant. Plutarch says this was a “trick” and “captivated Caesar” (Fear, 2008, p.17). Both historians also highlight that Cleopatra’s successful plan was aimed not just at Caesar but at her own brother (and the rightful ruler of Egypt) Ptolemy. This...