Searching for Cleopatra: A Re-Examination of the Modern Icon Through Her Ancient Portrayal
Modern and ancient sources alike take a fascination with Cleopatra. Her portrayals in literature, art, and film have established her as a hallmark of sexual allure, foreign mystique, and guile. Yet in many of these depictions, Cleopatra’s character is exploited to serve a cinematic or dramatic end. Often, her role as a ruler and leader is minimised. Modern research is striving to seriously consider Cleopatra’s political role, her personal identity, and how these impacted historical events. This promising comprehensive approach to the ancient queen searches for more sympathetic portrayals which may elevate her character beyond the epitomised femme fatal. Adopting this view, this article will trace Cleopatra’s portrayal back to the source. By analysing ancienttexts, it will uncover her ancient reception and historical character according to those accounts. These accounts recognise how Cleopatra represented the interests of her country on an international scale and often at the risk of conflict. They acknowledge how she successfully secured political allies as well as how she honourably conducted herself in war. Even in the words of her enemies, Cleopatra emerges as a powerful woman and leader capable of challenging the Roman Republic and threatening its succession into an empire. The aim of this research is to establish a sympathetic interpretation of Cleopatra which accounts for the attributes ancient sources inherently ascribe her, but which can go overlooked. These findings challenge the accepted view of Cleopatra and more generally encourage the re-examination of historical female figures.