Fascination of Power

"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her endless variety; other women cloy the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry where most she satisfies." William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

Powerful women through history have captured the imagination, inspiring questions about how they achieved fame, status, and immortality, what set them apart, and what they might look like today.

Cleopatra, born a minor daughter of Ptolemy XII, rose from obscurity to global prominence using social leveraging tactics still relevant today. She created her first opportunity by marrying her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, becoming co-ruler with him. Upon his death, she declared herself Pharaoh using branding to obtain the loyalty of the Egyptian middle and lower class. Knowing that the majority of Egyptians were illiterate, she put her image on low denominations of coins so that she would be recognized by the common people. For the same reason, she aligned herself with the mother goddess, Isis, who is described in The Book of the Dead as ," She who gives birth to heaven and earth, knows the orphan, knows the widow, seeks justice for the poor and shelter for the weak." This sent a strong message to the people of Egypt that Cleopatra was their champion.


As she watched the rise of the Roman Republic and its steady encroachment on territories surrounding Egypt, Cleopatra offered them financial support and access to Egypt's resources. Rome became dependent on its wealth and throughout her reign, Cleopatra kept Egypt allied with, but independent from Rome. She further insured Egypt's safety and independence by taking both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony as lovers, having children with both.


Hollywood glamorized her at the same time that they minimized her, making her a one dimensional seductress, glossing over her intelligence and savvy as a stateswoman and leader. Ancient historians emphasize her magnetism. "Plutarch makes it clear that her charm was irresistible. She manages to get powerful Romans to do her bidding. Her money speaks loudly. Every ancient commentator talks about her silken presence and her power of persuasion. They are very clear that what was remarkable about her was not her beauty, but her intelligence and her charm." Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life