How to seduce like Cleopatra
How to seduce like Cleopatra, one of the most powerful queens of them all?
When you bat your lashes, do men offer to father your many children or perish trying? When you exercise your wit, do they write a new will and testament? No? Then you’re doing it wrong. Do it like Cleopatra instead. She did surprising things with carpets.
Cleopatra, last Pharaoh of Egypt and legendary seductress, has a few things to teach us. But first, a quick history recap for those of you not up to scratch on your Ancient Egyptian:
Queen Cleopatra was born in 69BC to Pharaoh Ptolemy XII ‘Auletes’. She was actually the very last pharaoh of Egypt, because – due to certain ‘liaisons’ (ahem) during her reign – Rome was well placed to take over ruling the country after her death. Cleopatra started out ruling the throne with her brother, Ptolemy, but that didn’t last long – more on that spectacular showdown later.
Cleopatra had two great loves in her life: Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, both incredibly powerful Romans. She hooked up with Mark after Julius was murdered by Cassius and Brutus, and then, several years later, committed suicide with her husband after they lost a mighty sea battle against another Roman called Octavian.
Cleopatra’s story has been most famously represented by Shakespeare (“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/ Her infinite variety”) and then by Elizabeth Taylor in 1963 (back when cultural appropriation wasn’t really thought about).
That’ll do for now – more detail of Cleopatra’s life and conquests will come to light as we explore how she came to totally own the history books as the greatest temptress that ever lived.
Was Cleopatra beautiful? Probably not.
Cleopatra had a fascinating life, full of hanky panky and heavy eye shadow, but perhaps the most interesting thing about her is that history sources are seriously contradictory about whether she was actually the great beauty we’ve come to associate with the name. After all, you’d expect the woman who seduced a couple of the most powerful men in the western hemisphere to be a bit of a stone fox.
Cleopatra is famous for taking baths in milk and honey (hilariously, you can get modern day equivalents if the mood takes you). According to the experts, bathing in asses’ milk would’ve given her a certain special glow. But before we get too bogged down in trying to imitate Cleopatra’s beauty regime, let’s hear what her contemporaries had to say:
Plutarch, a historian writing just after her death, said “her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her.” Saucer of milk for Plutarch’s table! Or was he just making a factual statement?
There’s also the unavoidable fact that the coins bearing Cleopatra’s image aren’t all that flattering! Take a look for yourself.
So, if Cleopatra was no Elizabeth Taylor, what did she having going for her?
Wee-eeell… she did rule Egypt. Ever been attracted to someone because you know they could have your enemies killed? Now imagine that kind of power, wielded by a not-half-bad-looking woman in a world of male rulers. Pretty overpowering. And that’s before we even get to the pyramids.
But decent looks and a rich and fertile ancient African country wasn’t all Cleopatra had up her sleeve. Check out this quote from Cassius Deo, another historian of that era:
“She possessed a most charming voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to every one. 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”.
So she also had some serious smarts.
Seduction Tip 1: Look after yourself, but don’t spend all your time preening and lovelifying yourself. Instead, practice exuding intelligence and influence and take some time to learn a thing or two about power and politics.
Cleopatra respected her bad self.
There’s absolutely no point bathing in milk and honey or racing to the top of your local political social ladder if you don’t respect yourself while you’re doing it. Cleopatra knew that over 2000 years ago.
Things started to get interesting for Cleopatra when she took charge as a ruler. Remember her brother who she started out sharing the throne with? Here’s two things I didn’t tell you. One: she was forced to marry him. Two: he was TEN. Nothing like a bit of compulsory incest to get the blood boiling.
After her father’s death, Cleopatra put up with Ptolemy the (seriously) younger for a while, but soon started to drop his name from official documents and told the royal mint to lay off printing his face on coins.
Predictably, Ptolemy took this opportunity to have a good sulk. He set up a new throne in a nearby harbour and then, very misguidedly, ordered the execution of someone called Pompey. There’s a lot of hardcore history behind this action, but the short version is that he did it to try and get into Julius Caesar’s good books, who happened to be visiting Egypt on a debt-collection mission.
Unfortunately for Ptolemy, Caesar was furious (wouldn’t you be if someone killed your widowed son-in-law?). Cleopatra then displayed her first recorded act of political verve at the tender age of 18 and decided to take advantage of the situation. While Caesar was camping out with Ptolemy, Cleopatra had herself smuggled past the guards by wrapping herself in a carpet. A carpet! The minxy genius.
Having gained access to Caesar’s chambers, she proceeded to seduce the most powerful man in the world and, nine months after their first meeting, gave birth to his only son Ptolemy Caesar, who she nicknamed ‘Caesarion’, meaning ‘little Caesar’.
Seduction Tip 2: There are no rules. Respect yourself, but don’t be a bore about it. Instead, take your new-found awareness of ‘self’ and do something awesome and surprising with it. Something that may, or may not, involve carpets.
If all else fails… become a living myth
If you can’t find an African state within your price range… or if you get allergies from dust mites in carpets… or if you’re a vegan and don’t believe in using goats’ milk and bees’ honey for your own personal gain, there is one last thing you can try to reach the giddy heights of Cleopatrean seductiveness…
Try modelling yourself on a goddess of fertility. In this case, Cleopatra opted for Isis, friend to slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden, and also goddess of motherhood and magic.
Seduction Tip 3: Aim high and, if you put enough energy behind your convictions, you might just pull off divinity. If you’re a non-believer, perhaps you could opt for some great dead scientist or thinker as your role model of choice.
Looks don’t matter as much as one might think. This Roman denarius coin portrays Cleopatra not as a stone fox but as a sharp-nosed, thin-lipped woman with a protruding chin.
Then again, maybe the Romans were sulking. In 2008, Egyptologist Sally Ann Ashton presented a computer-generated image of what Cleopatra probably looked like, based on piecing together images from artefacts. The result is a beautiful young woman of mixed ethnicity.