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What Was Cleopatra Really Like?

Cleopatra remains an enigmatic figure, shrouded in legend and political intrigue. Her intelligence, charm, and political acumen were undeniable, captivating not just Rome's most powerful men but also the imagination of generations. As a ruler, she was strategic and resilient, navigating her kingdom through turbulent times. What other secrets does Cleopatra's life hold? Uncover the layers of her story with us.

In most books, plays, and films, Cleopatra stereotypically embodies the idea of a vixen who enticed men like Julius Caesar and Mark Antony for political gain. In reality, she was a highly intelligent ruler who spoke at least nine languages (and possibly as many as twelve).

Besides Greek, Egyptian, and Latin, ancient sources imply that she could also speak Ethiopian, Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac, Median, Parthian, and possibly others. In addition to her linguistic prowess, Cleopatra also studied mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, and oratory, and "elevated the ranks of scholars and enjoyed their company," according to some Egyptian sources.

The Egyptian ruler Cleopatra spoke at least 9 languages and studied astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics.
The Egyptian ruler Cleopatra spoke at least 9 languages and studied astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics.

Although he lived more than a century after Cleopatra, and so never met her in person, the Greek biographer Plutarch wasn't as impressed with her beauty as with her demeanor. He described the queen as having "irresistible charm" and a captivating speaking voice. She also had a knack for theatrics, allegedly arriving to meet Antony adorned to look like the goddess Aphrodite. She showed up in a golden barge propelled by silver oars and purple sails.

The real Cleopatra:

  • Cleopatra is believed to have been the child of incest and married both of her younger brothers.

  • Born to a Macedonian Greek family, Cleopatra was not Egyptian but was the last true pharaoh of Egypt before it became part of the Roman Empire.

  • While it is often thought that Cleopatra killed herself with the bite from an asp, the actual cause of her death is not known with any certainty. It is known that she was only 39 when she died in 30 B.C.

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    • The Egyptian ruler Cleopatra spoke at least 9 languages and studied astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics.
      The Egyptian ruler Cleopatra spoke at least 9 languages and studied astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics.