Carefully read the following passage from the work of the Roman historian Cassius Dio. In this passage, how does Cassius Dio characterise Cleopatra? How does this compare with the other ancient written sources you have met in the chapter? Cleopatra is one of the most famous female figures in the ancient history whose study is mainly emphasised from the Roman point of view. This essay will analyse how Cassius Dio characterized Cleopatra in the passage provided and compare it with other written sources.
Cassius portrayed Cleopatra as an exceptionally beautiful woman especially ‘in the prime of her youth’.
Quotes from the passage ‘possessed a most charming voice’ and ‘make herself agreeable to every one’ indicate that with a seductive tone of her voice and compelling personality, Cleopatra was able to captivate people and make herself the centre of attention. In the quotes ‘with the power to subjugate’ and ‘reposed in her beauty all her claims to the throne’ Cassius characterized Cleopatra as a charming yet cunning woman who with her beauty has a capability to overpower and ensnare people even powerful leaders such as Caesar.
The extract from the passage ‘adorned and beautified herself’ and ‘pity-inspiring guise’ shows that after obtaining permission to meet Caesar, Cleopatra purposely made herself very attractive. Her intention was to display herself in majestic and luxurious manner but she deliberately made herself look as she needs protection and help. She planned her entrance in a cunning and schematic way without Ptolemy’s awareness. Throughout the passage Cleopatra comes across as a beautiful, charming, calculating and alluring woman confident in her own intelligence and power.
A quote from Antony’s biography by Roman historian Plutarch ‘her beauty, so we are told, was not of that incomparable kind’ describes Cleopatra as not a very attractive and beautiful woman. Another quote from Plutarch’s work ‘there was an attraction in her person and her talk’ is comparable to Cassius Dio depiction that her desirability came from the charm of her personality and the tone of her voice rather than her physical appearance. Plutarch also characterized Cleopatra the same way as Dio as a manipulative, daring woman who has a capability to charm and capture people with the strong power of her personality.
It is clear that Plutarch and Dio disagreed about Cleopatra’s beauty but agreed on her skills and personality. In the first part of Ode 1. 37, Roman poet Horace used harsh language and portrayed Cleopatra in a very hostile way. With a use of negative imagery such as ‘mad queen’, ‘crazed with hope’ and ‘drunk with sweet fortune’ Horace’s depiction of Cleopatra as a crazy queen drunken with ambition to destroy Rome is very similar to Cassius Dio’s portrayal. They both characterized Cleopatra as an ambitious and determine ruler.
Towards the end of the Ode, there is a significant change in his attitude towards Cleopatra. In quotes ‘fiercer she was in the death she chose’ and ‘to be a humble woman in a proud triumph’ Horace depicted Cleopatra as a dignified and courageous woman who desires to die as a queen. Unlike in Cassius Dio’s work, Horace’s unmistakable condemnation and criticism of Cleopatra becomes a great admiration. Horace’s attitude to Cleopatra is not directly unreceptive as Dio’s and Plutarch works might lead us to believe.