ByMichael Johnson, writer at
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Michael Johnson

Egyptian ruler Cleopatra is one of the most powerful and influencial women of all time. She lived a life full of lavish and luxury, as well as war, blood and family turmoil — her relationships were legendary, her rise was extraordinary and her death was poetic. Cleopatra's history has been told in writing, art and film, and this time it'll be Arrival director Denis Villeneuve to bring the Egyptian queen to the big screen.

The film will be based on Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff's biography, Cleopatra A Life, which looks into the queen more than a woman who used her sexuality to bed and wed powerful men. Villeneuve will be tasked with portraying in a light that explores the depths of her character, which Hollywood has yet to successfully depict.

Here are several points that Villeneuve needs to address.

Acknowledge Her As More Than a Seductress

'Cleopatra' [Credit: Altes Museum Berlin]
'Cleopatra' [Credit: Altes Museum Berlin]

Many of us only know Cleopatra from Elizabeth Taylor's 1963 depiction, which shows her using her beauty to convince Caesar to put her back in power — but that's far from the truth. The idea of her being this overly attractive temptress who's main asset was her physical appearance has been debunked. Not to say that she wasn't attractive, but what made her great was the essence of her character and other qualities that weren't so superficial.

Scholars suggest that it was Cleopatra's intellect and skills in conversation are what made her attractive to men — and also made her a great leader. Cleopatra and Caesar may have teamed up to win a war, but she was capable of growing her own army. According to Erich Gruen, history details a different take on her rise to power, and it was more than just her seductive nature:

"Cleopatra was no mere sexual predator, and certainly no plaything of Caesar... [she was] a very astute woman who had maneuvered Rome – and would maneuver Rome again – into advancing the interests of the Ptolematic legacy."

'Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners' by Alexandre Cabanel
'Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners' by Alexandre Cabanel

After the death of Cleopatra's father, King Ptolemy XII in 51 BC, then 18-years old Cleopatra VII was co-ruler of Egypt with her 10-year old brother, Ptolemy XIII. Unfortunately, she was banished by her brother after their short reign together fell to pieces. Cleopatra fled to Syria where she put together an army of mercenaries. A year after fleeing Egypt she returned to face her brother launching a civil war.

Caesar breathed word of this, and headed to Alexandria, looking to keep the piece for political purposes. Although many historical depictions of Cleopatra see her as the one who went to Caesar — it was her brother, Ptolemy who first tried, but failed to convince Caesar to help him. Like any politically savvy person, Cleopatra did the same. She snuck into Caesar's palace and successfully pleaded her case to him, and the rest is history. With Caesar's help, Cleopatra defeated Ptolemy, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The Ptolemaic family had some serious issues, which is something else we need to see addressed in the movie.

Tell The Story Of Her Bloody Family Legacy

Most of us who grew up with brothers and sisters have probably experienced a sibling rivalry — but the Ptolemaic family was something else. In fact, some of Cleopatra's history reads like something straight out of Game of Thrones. The Ptolemaic family legacy is similar to that of the Targaryens in that they relied on inbreeding as a way to preserve the family bloodline. It's believed that Cleopatra herself was a product of incest. Furthermore, Ptolemy XIII was more than just Cleopatra's sibling, he was her first husband. After his failed rebellion, thanks to Cleopatra, Ptolemy XIII was said to have drowned in the Nile River and his 13-year old brother Ptolemy XIV stepped in as her husband and co-ruler.

It is also believed that after Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, Cleopatra killed young Ptolemy. There was another sibling out there, and Cleopatra saw her as a threat, so she had Arsinoe IV killed as well. The Ptolemy bloodline was far from dead, however: Caesar and Cleopatra had a son who succeeded his uncle as Ptolemy XV. It was those savage and strategic moves that forced history to re-write what Cleopatra was all about.

Explore The Mother, Goddess And Wielder Of Great Power

Papyrus depicting Cleopatra from Temple of Kom Ombo
Papyrus depicting Cleopatra from Temple of Kom Ombo

Cleopatra's decision to have a child as Caesar's mistress was another politically savvy move. Their child earned her the support from Greeks, along with Egyptians, which aided in her prowess. With Caesar dead, Cleopatra was a single mother and it aided in her cause. The aura of greatness she exuded, on top being a mother, allowed her to not only claim, but believe that she was the reincarnation of the Egyptian Goddess Isis. Like a goddess, Cleopatra was lavish, as evident when she was summoned by Marc Antony — she wore the robes of Isis and sailed to Tarsus in a sophisticated ship.

Cleopatra wasn't just swooning with the general and co-ruler of Rome; their affair served as a benefit. Antony swore his allegiance to her and aided in getting her sister Arisone killed. Antony left his wife and children to spend the winter of 41 and 40 BC with Cleopatra — she would later give birth to his twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. Their relationship also proved politically worthwhile: Antony gave Cleopatra Egypt's eastern empire in exchange for financial support in a military campaign. Egypt flourished under her rule, but her relationship with Anthony would be her demise.

Tell The Story Of Love, War And Tragedy

'The Death of Cleopatra' by Reginald Arthur
'The Death of Cleopatra' by Reginald Arthur

Cleopatra's relationships weren't admirable: after all, she was a mistress to two powerful, married men. However, there's something to be said about the relationship she shared with Marc Antony. They were truly in love, at a time when Cleopatra was ruling and Egypt continued to flourish, Antony completed her. After the death of his first wife, Antony declared his loyalties to Octavian's sister Octavia, but it didn't stop him from being with Cleopatra. They continued their affair and had a third child together. After Antony lost the war, he ended his marriage in humiliating fashion and subsequently his alliance with Octavian. Antony left Octavia for Cleopatra, returning to Egypt where the people marveled at their extravagant presentation of their family.

Naturally this outraged Octavian, who spread rumors that Cleopatra had forced Antony to give up part of Rome to her. Antony, in retaliation, acknowledged Cleopatra's son Caeserion as the true heir to Egypt, as opposed to Octavian himself. This sparked a civil war that saw Cleopatra and Antony battle Octavian in a losing effort that forced them to retreat. Antony, however returned to the battlefield where he was lead to believe that Cleopatra had died, so Antony killed himself. Upon hearing this news, Cleopatra allowed herself to be bitten by an Egyptian cobra.

'Cleopatra' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
'Cleopatra' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

Hopefully we will get to see all these things in the upcoming film now that and producers Scott Rudin (Ex Machina) and Amy Pascal (Spider-Man: Homecoming) have finally found their guy, even if it took a while. In fact, marquee names like James Cameron, Paul Greengrass and David Fincher circled the project one time or another.

Now it is up to Villeneuve and his film, Cleopatra to fix the mistakes Hollywood has made by vastly misrepresenting the last Egyptian queen. The misconception that Cleopatra was nothing more than a seductress is tiresome, and clearly her history is richer than that of a woman who exploited her sexuality and bore children for two historically powerful men. Now the only question left is, who'll make up the cast? The prospects are endless, and it'll be interesting to see who lands the lead. Only time will tell where it goes from here.

What do you want to see from Denis Villeneuve's Cleopatra? Leave a comment below!

[Source: Biography, Deadline, History, Live Science,]


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