5. book review – ‘Cleopatra’, by Michael Grant   Leave a comment

Image [authentic first-person evidence of “Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion”, on the Dendera Monuments, 30 b.c.e.]

1. ‘Jesus was Caesar: on the Julian Origins of Christianity’ – book review

2. Esoteric Historians, the Resurrection Poets Osiris, Homer, and St. Mark

3. ‘King Jesus’, by Robert Graves – book review

4. Ancient Egypt online/ Cleopatra-Caesar

 

     In this 5th of the series, on this Dionoia blog, on the factual origins of the 3 contemporary monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, only a very few really hard facts – literally, in stone – are evident to prove what happened in the Mediterranean region over 2,000 years ago; and that still profoundly affect almost all human affairs today.

     Cambridge professor Michael Grant’s 1972 biography of Egypt’s famous Queen Cleopatra VII became almost the standard textbook for a neverending rash of popular bestsellers, films, and TV shows about her. And yet he is careful to point out:

                      “The only contemporary historians from whom a few references to Cleopatra have come down to us are Julius Caesar and one of his officers, both writing in Latin, and the tutor of her children Nicolaus of Damascus, writing in Greek. Julius Caesar in his ‘Civil War’ touches briefly, and with a characteristic mixture of accuracy and disingenuousness, upon the initial stages of his visit to Alexandria in the autumn of 48 BC; and a member of his staff narrates the ensuing ‘Alexandrian War’ which continued early in the following year. But they tell us nothing about Caesar’s personal relations with Cleopatra. The voluminous compositions of Nicolaus of Damascus, who taught Cleopatra’s children before entering the service of Herod, are represented only by six excerpts from his autobiography and two sections of his eulogistic account of the youth of Octavian. However, a good deal more of his work has come down to us at second hand in the pages of Josephus. Apart from these allusions, almost all contemporary literary evidence for the life and reign of Cleopatra is lost.” – p. 239, Bibliography, Ancient Sources

     Huh? It turns out that all the information about her notorious love-affair with Julius Caesar came out over a century later and in foreign countries, from Plutarch in Greece and even Josephus in Judaea, and Roman historians Tacitus and Dio another hundred years after that, from second-hand and third-hand sources that were little more than gossip. It sounds like the unreliable sources for the gospels and history of the early “Chrestian” Church.

     Professor Grant is also a little more than disingenuous when he seems to dismiss the hard evidence of contemporary coinage and stone monuments errected in Egypt by Cleopatra herself. He attributes her lineage solely to a Greek/Macedonian descent from Alexander the Great through his general Ptolemy {and whom some historians like Robin Lane Fox think was a son of Alexander}, even though he admits, “We do not know who Cleopatra VII’s mother was.” [p. 3] He goes on to describe her great linguistic skills and desire to restore the glory of Greece – and ignores Africa and Egypt. “Cleopatra, too, was a Greek much more than anything else. Though queen of Egypt, she possessed not a drop of Egyptian blood in her veins. The last ruler of the dynasty of the Ptolemies, she was of wholly Greek upbringing, and to a very considerable extent of Greek race.”

     How does he know that? He writes in the Bibliography at the end of the book we know almost nothing about her. At the beginning of the book in the Foreword, where this quote was taken from, he does inform us we know a lot about the first 12 or so Ptolemies, before her and her brothers came to power around 50 BC, who had ruled Egypt since Alexander died in Persia back in 323 BC. “Her father Auletes [Ptolemy XII?] a complex individual whose influence upon her development is often underestimated.” Apparently there are hard-rock evidences of this, as well as some hieroglyphic testimonies also carved in rock. But . . . “The ancient sources upon which every such inquiry has to be based are tantalizingly fragmentary, intractable and enigmatic.” [ -p. XVIII, Foreword]

                   “We also rely on several categories of non-literary evidence. In the first place, there are many coins extant, some with Latin and some with Greek inscriptions. Although much work on the subject still remains to be done, this numismatic material is revealing not only (rather disconcertingly) about Cleopatra’s physical appearance, but also about her political position and ‘image’. Two coins of c. 34 BC bearing the heads of Antony and Cleopatra are as replete with historical information as any other documents of the age.

                   “A number of Greek and Latin inscriptions add their quota of evidence. And finally there is the valuable but cryptic Egyptological material, including various shrines illustrating the building activity of Auletes, the Bucheum stele apparently describing a visit by Cleopatra to Hermonthis immediately after her accession, and the politically significant birth temple of Caesarion at the same centre. These reliefs display the Pharaonic trends which still persisted in Egyptian art, though other works of art of the period blend native and Egyptian features in varying proportions.

                   “All these sources only add up to a tantalizingly inadequate total, and while making the best use of them that we can, we have to concede that it still remains impossible to penetrate all the mists. We can only hope that, in the future, further research and discoveries will throw new light on Cleopatra’s profoundly significant career.” [ – p. 245]

 

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Posted April 5, 2012 by dionoia in Uncategorized

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