Whoa. Just revisited this old uni assignment from my Introduction to Writing course back at the end of 2013. Holy shit, it’s funny how you read something you wrote ages ago and notice how much your writing has changed. I can still hear myself in this and I don’t dislike it but I’d definitely do a fair bit different these days.
The assignment was to write a research-based portrait of a real life person. I already knew a bit about Cleopatra, mostly from the TV show Rome which is not exactly something you can use as a reference in your uni assignments, so I backed this up with online research and a trip to a real life library, which was actually heaps of fun. The main comment from the grader was that I perhaps went a bit overboard on the research and could have focused a bit more on a fictionalised POV. Which I can see but at the time I didn’t think the assessment outline really gave us that option. Oh well, I got an overall credit for this assignment and a distinction for the unit overall.
Cleopatra was thirty-nine years old. The salty sea air filtered through the palace windows and it almost felt like any other day in the great city of Alexandria. It seemed strangely appropriate to think of Caesar at such a time. He was never really far from her mind; when she looked at Caesarion, when she thought of Antony and Rome and what might have been. Everything had seemed so bright and full of promise.
The first time she met Caesar was in this same palace seventeen years ago. If she wanted to – if the guards would let her – she could walk down and stand in the exact spot where they first met. He was not a young man even then and she had thought it would be hard to bring herself to do what must be done. He was not handsome but he was powerful and it was always the powerful ones she was drawn to. He had helped her defeat her brother, Ptolemy XIII. He had given her a son… but this was a sore point and she shook her head angrily, tears coming to her eyes. That he should choose Octavian over Caesarion, his own son! She had spent almost two years in Rome. He had placed a statue of her next to Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Julius Caesar. It all meant nothing now! He was dead. Murdered by his ‘fellow Romans’. And she was left alone and without friends.
Years passed and then Antony sent for her at Tarsus. She was unsure. What did he want of her? What all men want, she knew. Her wealth, her power, her body too, perhaps. She went nonetheless, taking her pleasure barge up the river Cyndus… playing the part she knew was expected of her: the Egyptian Helen of Troy, seducer of men. But it was all for Egypt and her dynasty, whatever she did was for Egypt’s independence, its protection.
Antony had been so different, so brash and confident. She had felt safe but even then she knew he was no Caesar but she chose to ignore this, thinking ‘maybe it was for the best’. His defeat at Parthia was the first disappointment. She remembered his rage, his disbelief that he could lose. She had gone to Phoenicia to comfort him but already she doubted him. He had always been Caesar’s right hand and now the right hand had no Caesar to tell it what to do and it was blundering. Their defeat at Actium was inevitable. Their ‘allies’ had vanished and, nine days ago, Antony had fallen on his sword (for her, they said). She had loved him and the three children she bore him and yet, again, she found herself alone and without friends.
Octavian was a different kind of Roman man. Those cold eyes had stared at her, assessed her, calculated her worth. He wanted her for his triumph and that was the one thing she could not permit. Would that he wanted her like Antony or Caesar had wanted her. But those eyes said nothing of passion and everything of greed and vengeance. He wanted her humiliation, nothing else.
She turned to her handmaids. “Charmion, Eiras, is it ready?” They nodded. She would not see Rome again.
Image credit: Quote Addicts