The 'myth' of Cleopatra : a reception-historical study

Breytenbach, Malene M. (199912)

Thesis (M.A.)--University of Stellenbosch, 1999.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY: Cleopatra VII of Egypt (69-30 BCE) has a protean story. She was a woman of variety, great appeal and passion. She was also an astute politician. Her charisma and eventful life as the "last pharaoh" of Egypt, the last of the Ptolemaic line that assumed power after the death of Alexander the Great, have been described in various histories and tales. She was one of the protagonists at a cataclysmic time in world history, when the Roman empire was expanding. The Greek historian Plutarch included her history in his lives of the great Greeks and Romans as she had captured the emotions of two very powerful Romans, firstly Julius Caesar by whom she had a son named Caesarion, and secondly Mark Antony. The Cleopatra myth was born in the second half of the first century BCE, after the assassination of Caesar. His successors, Mark Antony and Octavian (who was to become Caesar Augustus) were competing for power after having punished Caesar's murderers. At first they divided the Roman world among them. As the most influential and experienced, Mark Antony chose as his arena of power the richest and most important part, the Oriental Mediterranean, the jewel and breadbasket of which was Egypt. He became allied to its queen, Cleopatra, and together they strove to regain the empire of Alexander the Great. Octavian had taken possession of the western part of the Mediterranean which included Rome. As he feared Cleopatra's power, coveted the wealth of Egypt and resented her influence on Antony, he launched a successful and virulent propaganda war against her, before actually declaring war on her and emerging victorious from the struggle. Cleopatra was therefore depicted by ancient writers and historians as a depraved, luxurious and cruel Oriental despot who ruled men by passion and unnatural temptation. She was accused of having emasculated Antony and alienated him from his Roman compatriots. U sing these sources, writers such as William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw carried on the negative tradition. So did other authors, as well as the masters of art and fllms. The Cleopatra of popular tradition became an enchantress rather than an ambitious intellectual and astute politician. Her story contained a great deal of disinformation and "myth". She was perceived in history, literature and the visual arts as a symbol on which the creators projected their own views and desires. Her image has been received according to the tradition and "reality" of period and place, as art mirrors values and beliefs.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Cleopatra VII van Egipte (69-30 vC) se verhaal is 'n veranderlike een. Sy het groot aantrekkingskrag, verskeidenheid en hartstog gehad. Sy was egter ook 'n uitgeslape politikus. Haar charismatiese en veelbesproke lewe as die "laaste farao" van Egipte en die laaste van die Ptolemese linie wat na die dood van Alexander die Grote geregeer het, is in 'n verskeidenheid van geskiedenisse en verhale beskryf. Sy was een van die hoofspelers in 'n tyd van groot omwenteling in die wereldgeskiedenis, toe die Romeinse Ryk besig was om uit te brei. Die Griekse historikus Plutarchus het haar geskiedenis ingesluit in sy lewens van die prominente Grieke en Romeine, aangesien sy die liefde van twee magtige Romeine gewen het, naamlik Julius Caesar by wie sy 'n seun, Caesarion, gehad het, en vervolgens Markus Antonius. Die Cleopatra mite het in die tweede helfte van die eerste eeu voor Christus en na die moord van Caesar ontstaan. Caesar se opvolgers, Markus Antonius en Oktavianus (wat Caesar/Keiser Augustus sou word) het om heerskappy meegeding nadat hulle Caesar se moordenaars uit die weg geruim het. Aanvanklik het hulle die Romeinse wereld verdeel. Markus Antonius, die invloedrykste een met die meeste ondervinding, het die oosterse Middellandse See gebied met ryk Egipte gekies. Hy het hom aan die koningin van Egipte, Cleopatra, verbind en saam het hulle gepoog om die ryk van Alexander die Grote te herstel. Oktavianus het die westelike Middelandse See gebied geneem, wat Rome ingesluit het. Aangesien hy Cleopatra se mag en invloed oor Markus Antonius gevrees en gewantrou het en die rykdom van Egipte begeer het, het hy eerstens 'n suksesvolle en kwaadwillige propaganda-oorlog teen haar gevoer, en vervolgens oorlog teen haar verklaar, wat hy inderdaad gewen het. Cleopatra is deur antieke skrywers en historici as 'n immorele en wrede Oosterse potentaat voorgestel, wat mans met hartstog en onnatuurlike versoekings verlei het. Sy is daarvan beskuldig dat sy Antonius in en swakkeling verander het en hom van sy Romeinse landgenote vervreem het. Skrywers soos William Shakespeare en George Bernard Shaw het van die bronne gebruik gemaak en die negatiewe tradisie voortgesit. Ander skrywers, asook die meesters van kuns en rolprente, het dit ook gedoen. Die Cleopatra van populere tradisie het en verleier eerder as en ambisieuse, intellektuele en slim politikus geword. Haar verhaal bevat baie verdraaiings en het "mite" geword. Sy is in die geskiedenis, letterkunde en die beeldende en visuele kunste voorgestel as en simbool waarop die skeppers hulle eie sienings en begeertes geprojekteer het. Haar beeld is geresepteer volgens die tradisie en "werklikheid" van tyd en plek, aangesien kuns waardes en geloof weerspieel.

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