Cleopatra Outfoxed Her Brother by Seducing Caesar: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "Cleopatra: A Life." The book is by Stacy Schiff. Source: Hachette Book Group via Bloomberg

Cleopatra was 18 when she and her 10-year-old brother, Ptolemy, jointly ascended the throne of Egypt. The family had a long history of internecine betrayal and murder, so it was no surprise when the siblings, now married, engaged in a fierce battle for supremacy.

At 21, Cleopatra found herself exiled in the desert, 200 miles from her palace, hopelessly trying to raise an army to combat her brother’s 20,000 troops. Then came Julius Caesar in 48 B.C., summoning both rulers before him.

The wily queen eluded enemy soldiers, crossed a dangerous frontier and had herself smuggled into the palace hidden in a sack (probably not the carpet of legend).

By the time Ptolemy arrived, she and Caesar were getting along very well. The young king was furious to discover he’d been outwitted, burst into tears, and rushed into the crowded streets, screaming “Betrayal!” Caesar’s men dragged him back and placed him under house arrest.

It wasn’t long before Cleopatra found herself pregnant with Caesar’s son and eventually occupied the throne until 30 B.C., by which time Ptolemy was long dead.

I spoke with Stacy Schiff, author of “Cleopatra: A Life,” on the following topics:

1. Sources: Moralists & Hacks

2. Rome on the Rise

3. Seducing Caesar

4. Seducing Mark Antony

5. Peeling Away the Myth

To listen to the podcast, click here. To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)


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