Dear Friends: I am thrilled to be joining friend and Deadliest Blogger Barry Jacobsen to discuss the epic Battle of Actium, as well as delve into some new theories about the iconic queen’s death. Please join us Aug. 29th at 7 pm PST/9 pm CT/10 pm EST.
As a matter of fact, Vanity Fair has a wonderful spread on the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 movie classic starring Cleopatra:
Last week, the Cannes Film Festival and Bulgari kicked off a 50th-anniversary celebration for Cleopatra, the Oscar-winning, Egyptian-set epic that famously brought stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton together, featured 20,000 costumes, and premiered with a four-hour running time. Today, the festivities continue on VF.com with an interactive time line that explains how the picture came together, with photos of the stars, details on the film’s wardrobes (including the 24-karat-gold cloth worn by Taylor) and impact on 60s fashion, video of Taylor inking her record-setting salary, and anecdotes about her on-set chemistry with Burton.
And that site is really worthwhile checking if you are a fan of that film.
Now, onto Actium: Here is the gist of what happened —
It’s one of the most crucial naval clashes in history, but the Battle of Actium scarcely lasted longer than a day. Flanked from behind by 60 of Cleopatra’s Egyptian warships, Antony’s fleet of 500 lacked speed. His heavily armored quinqueremes ships, designed with bronze bows to ram into enemy fleets, trudged through the water. Agrippa tried to maneuver his speedier boats around the back of Antony’s fleet, causing the lines of combat to break in the middle . As Octavius’ forces advanced, the outcome appeared grim for Antony and Cleopatra. What happened next determined the course of history for the next 400 years.
Cleopatra’s fleet raised its sails and pushed through the opening. But it wasn’t in pursuit of Octavius; Egypt was retreating. Once Mark Antony noticed that Cleopatra was fleeing, he and 40 other ships turned course to follow. Catching up to her ship, Antony boarded but didn’t speak to his Egyptian wife. He realized that the remaining ships and the 5,000 men on them couldn’t defend themselves, and the battle was lost. The desolate consul reportedly sat with his head in hands, barely moving for the next three days.
Criminal profiler Pat Brown did a cold-case investigation and came to the conclusion that Cleopatra was murdered, which she presents in the book, “The Murder of Cleopatra“.
There was no suicide by asp, advises Brown; the most famous woman of antiquity was strangled on the orders of the victor of Rome’s civil wars, Octavian. Resting this belief on her reputation as a professional criminal profiler, Brown examined the sources about Cleopatra’s demise (Plutarch, Suetonius, Cassius Dio); detected defects in their descriptions of the death scene; and then traveled to Egypt in 2003 to investigate. There was more motivation to her trip than personal curiosity. Brown reveals that a TV production company enlisted her to appear in its program on Cleopatra, a natural choice because Brown’s own TV profile was high; according to her website (patbrownprofiling.com), up to 2010, she frequently appeared on tabloid TV shows to talk about crimes and criminals. For the cold case of Cleopatra, Brown envelops her suspicions of murder within a narrative of Cleopatra’s contested rule of Egypt, which she diplomatically maintained through Julius Caesar and Mark Antony until Octavian came knocking.
And a video of the author discussing her book:
Finally, there is a great article on Rehabilitating Cleopatra.
The years after Actium were a time of extravagant praise and lavish mythmaking. Cleopatra was particularly ill-served; the turncoats wrote the history. Her career coincided as well with a flowering of Latin literature. It was Cleopatra’s curse to inspire its great poets, happy to expound on her shame, in a language inhospitable to her. Horace celebrated her defeat before it had occurred. She helpfully illuminated one of the poet Propertius’s favorite points: a man in love is a helpless man, painfully subservient to his mistress. It was as if Octavian had delivered Rome from that ill as well. He restored the natural order of things. Men ruled women, and Rome ruled the world. On both counts Cleopatra was crucial to the story. She stands among the few losers whom history remembers, if for the wrong reasons. For the next century, the Oriental influence and the emancipation of women would keep the satirists in business.
Propertius set the tone, dubbing Cleopatra “the whore queen.” She would later become “a woman of insatiable sexuality and insatiable avarice” (Dio), “the whore of the eastern kings” (Boccaccio). She was a carnal sinner for Dante, for Dryden a poster child for unlawful love. A first-century A.D. Roman would falsely assert that “ancient writers repeatedly speak of Cleopatra’s insatiable libido.” Florence Nightingale referred to her as “that disgusting Cleopatra.” Offering Claudette Colbert the title role in the 1934 movie, Cecile B. DeMille is said to have asked, “How would you like to be the wickedest woman in history?”