Cleopatra is arguably the most fascinating woman who has ever lived. The Pharaoh is so captivating that at least 2000 years after her death, there are nearly 200 films, TV movies and documentaries and almost 4000 books written about her listed on Amazon.com! (This compares with 1200 books on Marilyn, 300 written about Madonna and 150 about Coco Chanel). I devour anything and everything I can about Cleo, from documentaries on the History Channel to archaeological articles sent to me online by a friend.
Why? What makes a woman that lived so long ago still irresistible after all this time? After my preliminary research on Cleo, I lounged on my velvet bed wearing an Egyptian bellydance costume (research darlings!) I was entranced by all the detail and care that went into its creation and the luxurious feeling of the beads caressing my body. At that moment, I finally received the divine inspiration I was seeking. I would examine her extraordinary life from a new perspective: Cleopatra as a role model and what lessons can be learned from how she lived her life.
I divided her fantastic biography into four "Cleotes" and how we can apply these quotes and lessons to our own lives.
1) Make up your own rules and break theirs!
Contrary to the popular belief that Cleopatra was merely a seductress (a tactic she used sometimes), it was her political prowess that lifted her status to legendary. She used her femininity and brilliant tactics to maintain her own political power during some of the most dangerous and complicated times the world has ever seen. The Roman Empire had conquered all of Europe and North Africa and had set its sights on the final jewel on its path to world domination. Egypt was the richest land in the Mediterranean and the last country independent of Rome. Cleopatra not only sought to prevent Rome from subjugating Egypt, but she did everything she could to make Egypt equal in power with Rome. She nearly succeeded.
Cleopatra was a brilliant, curious, and highly educated child who spoke at least 6 languages (some scholars say 9) and was allowed to sit in on political meetings with her father. She was only 18-years-old in 51 BC when her father died and left. Egypt to her to co-rule with her 10-year-old brother. However, the Ptolemaic (Cleo’s family) empire was unstable and Cleopatra was living in exile in Syria and could not claim her throne. Meanwhile, Julius Caesar made a grand entrance into Egypt to protect Rome's main economic interest: the agricultural wealth of the Nile Valley. Egypt was financially indebted to Rome and Cleopatra was raised watching Roman power render her father’s authority impotent. She hatched a (now legendary) scheme to sneak herself into the palace rolled up in a carpet for an audience with Caesar with the awareness that his diplomatic intervention could help her regain her throne. When Cleopatra tumbled out of an unfurled carpet in front of the 52-year-old general, she made a profound impression that was the beginning of a powerful relationship. Caesar fell madly in love with the courageous Egyptian Queen and Cleopatra gave birth to a son, Caesarion, securing her future as a partner with the Roman Empire. Caesar shocked his country when he erected a golden statue of Cleopatra in the middle of Rome. With his help Cleopatra became the sole Queen and Pharaoh ruling Egypt.
Learn to live like Cleopatra:
It takes serious moxie to follow through on what seems impossible and to do it with style and magnificence. Take Cleo’s lead and go for what you want with gusto, adding your signature mark. Start with the small daily things that seem unattainable, such as a goal to lose weight or sculpt your body. Instead of focusing on all the reasons you have struggled with this, imagine the innovative way Cleopatra would find a solution to it and add her own panache. I envision her searching vigilantly for a fitness routine that she could feel passionately about (in other words, not settling for, “I don’t like to workout.”) Next, she would get wrapped up in that exercise (just like the carpet), for instance, hiking all the trails in a nearby park. Then she would do it with flair and become known as that chic hiker, wearing a distinct scarf, flower, necklace or hat.
Once you have achieved the smaller goals, go ahead and think about the other things that in the past seemed out of the question: traveling to Paris, buying a house or starting your own business. Then, find inventive ways to realize NOTHING is beyond your reach!
2) Live Big and Give Big!
What kind of pharaoh was Cleopatra? Cleopatra identified herself with the Goddess Isis and created much of the mythology that surrounds her to this day. After she regained the throne, Cleopatra began the business of ruling Egypt and focused on creating Egyptian nationalism. In order to communicate with the people of her country she was the first Ptolemaic Pharaoh that learned to speak Egyptian (she was of Greek descent). Several decrees she wrote serve as evidence that she was concerned with the welfare of the citizens. One law she personally and glamorously enforced was the proclamation that guaranteed grain would be delivered to the poor and not just the wealthy. While corn was being delivered to the Egyptians, their Queen and Pharaoh dressed as Isis and sailed up the Nile on her royal barge with purple silk sails drenched in rose oil! By aligning herself with all Egyptians, rich and poor, Cleopatra was able to cement her position as ruler and legend.
Learn to live like Cleopatra:
You can use Cleopatra as your guide to LIVE BIG and GIVE BIG! She showed us women that we can be of service to others while being divine and decadent all simultaneously! As women, we are by nature, caretakers. Decorating your co-worker’s cubicle for a birthday? No problem. Wiping runny-noses? Done. Consoling a random girl crying about her boyfriend in a restaurant’s bathroom? Handled. Now, ramp it up to Cleopatra’s level. (I have a girlfriend in Alaska and another in New Orleans who recently did this, so don’t think you have to be an A-list celebrity to pull this off): (1) Hold a charity benefit event at your local community center, restaurant or club for a cause to raise money and awareness. 2) Perform one of your many talents as the entertainment for the event or have your boyfriend/husband resurrect his band to perform or be the Mistress of Ceremonies. 3) Create such beauty and splendor that everyone will talk about your benefit for 2000 years (or at least on Monday at the water-cooler).
3) Go beyond the call of duty!
You would think that after she seduced the world’s most powerful man and knew an entire nation worshiped her as a Goddess, she would rest on her laurels. Not even with Rome’s dictator at her side did she ever lose sight of her goal: to maintain Egypt's independence from the rapidly expanding Roman Empire. Cleopatra began trading with Eastern nations such as Arabia and as far away as India. She learned their languages and customs and made her incredibly rich country even richer. This strategic foreign policy built up Egypt's economy, bolstering her country's status as a world power.
Learn to Live like Cleopatra:
Cleopatra personified the feminine quality of cooperation by applying this attribute to embracing people from different cultures and beliefs. Let this inspire you to do the same in your life. You might be surprised to find how much you have in common with people that seem so different. Reach out of your comfort zone and find ways to unite and help strengthen each other. For example, take a salsa dance class or have and “Italian night” at your house with Italian food and watch the movie “Cinema Paradiso” or go to a Greek restaurant, smash plates on the floor and ask the owner to your table for a conversation.
No matter what the outcome is, taking a baby step will pull you out of your rut and you never know what great things lay outside the rut! Apply this philosophy to the world at large. Realizing that every one could be a potential ally will ultimately strengthen you and create untold opportunities.
4) Don't be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin.
When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cleopatra wasted no time in finding a new partner in Roman general Mark Antony. Cleopatra fought fiercely to keep Octavian, Caesar's heir and Antony's rival, from conquering Egypt. Gender traditions did not restrict Cleopatra’s ferocious battle to save Egypt. She was the first woman to take a fleet to sea and on horseback into battlefield. When the Romans set fire to her beloved library, the Great Library of Alexandria, Cleopatra locked herself within the palace walls. Mark Anthony, gravely wounded in battle, returned to the palace to die in her arms. Her final act in her stupendous life was inciting an asp, a poisonous snake, to bite her. Shakespeare described her death vividly in his play Antony and Cleopatra.
After her death, Egyptians mourned deeply and revolted against the new super-power of Rome. Her legend was rising with each passing day. In an attempt to counter-act the Cleopatra idolatry, Octavian began a strategy to ruin her reputation. Many of the beliefs held about her today are the result of his construct. As new leader of the entire Roman Empire, it was easy to spread the word that would attempt to erase her political genius, brilliant mind and compassion for her country to reduce her status to a simple seductress. However, we continue to uncover coins, decrees and hieroglyphic reliefs about Cleopatra that reveal the true woman that was Egypt’s final Pharaoh.
Learn to Live like Cleopatra:
No matter what, never, ever give up on your dreams. There will be times that you will have to fight hard for them, but if you don’t, no one else will. Don’t be limited by what other people have previously done or what is considered proper. Cleopatra went out into the battlefield, where no woman had formerly gone, and if your goals require it, go for it!
A woman who is ambitious and owns her feminine powers is threatening to some men and women. Don’t be afraid of the harsh words they might say about you and your character. Yes, it stings, but don’t let their insecurities about you become your battle because this will lead you astray from your ambitions. The truth will come out in the end, it always does – even 2000 years later!
After I made a status update about Cleopatra on Facebook this morning, a fiery dialog ignited amongst my friends. There were some proclamations of their admiration and a few disagreements. I couldn’t help but be amazed by her enormous enduring power to fascinate. Here we were, communicating on a computer on a social networking website – 2000 years later still talking about her!
She was born during a historical time, into royalty and was incredibly intelligent. She also had seemingly insurmountable obstacles put in her way. That was the hand life dealt her. What she did with those cards was nothing short of astonishing. We are all dealt our own hand and it’s up to us to how we play. Be brave, relentless, and glamorous, and follow your dreams just like Cleopatra!