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Cleopatra’s Meeting with Caesar

Annotation

Cassius Dio’s history of the meeting between Cleopatra and Julius Caesar uses powerful word-choice to develop a characterization of the female Egyptian ruler. After Pompey’s assassination, Cleopatra immediately develops a scheme to ally with Caesar. Dio uses words like “beauty,” “striking,” and “charming” to describe her and explains that she had the “power to subjugate” anyone. It is clear from the narration that she sets out to seduce Caesar and thereby secure the alliance. Dio frames her as the enchantress who utilizes a particularly feminine form of negotiation or trickery. Cleopatra had lost out to her brother in their struggle for power, but with her newfound power over Caesar she has now become a joint ruler of Egypt.

This source is a part of the Cleopatra, Gender, Beauty and Power in Egypt and Rome teaching module.

Cleopatra's Meeting with Ceasar, Cassius Dio, c. 3rd century CE.

Text

Excerpts from Section 34 and 35:

Cleopatra, it seems, had at first urged with Caesar her claim against her brother by means of agents, but as soon as she discovered his disposition (which was very susceptible, to such an extent that he had his intrigues with ever so many other women — with all, doubtless, who chanced to come in his way) she sent word to him that she was being betrayed by her friends and asked that she be allowed to plead her case in person. For she was a woman of surpassing beauty, and at that time, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was most striking; she also possessed a most charming voice and a knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone.

Being brilliant to look upon and to listen to, with the power to subjugate every one, even a love-sated man already past his prime, she thought that it would be in keeping with her rôle to meet Caesar, and she reposed in her beauty all her claims to the throne. She asked therefore for admission to his presence, and on obtaining permission adorned and beautified herself so as to appear before him in the most majestic and at the same time pity-inspiring guise. When she had perfected her schemes she entered the city (for she had been living outside of it), and by night without Ptolemy's knowledge went into the palace.

Caesar, upon seeing her and hearing her speak a few words was forthwith so completely captivated that he at once, before dawn, sent for Ptolemy and tried to reconcile them, thus acting as advocate for the very woman whose judge he had previously assumed to be.

https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/cassius_dio/42*.html

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Cleopatra’s Meeting with Caesar in World History Commons,
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