Cleopatra taught me there was sex in history. Before the sixth grade, I pretty much thought it was invented in 1987 (sorry Philip Larkin), to produce my brother (I was immaculately conceived). Then came Egyptian history, and I found out that a first-century queen could have lovers, and her lovers could have lovers (Caesar was reportedly bisexual! Meaning he had sex! With not just one, but two genders of people!) But according to a new book by Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley, covered in Newsweek, Cleopatra's sexpot image may be somewhat undeserved. Octavian called her a whore, but she was actually "a competent ruler in difficult times" — and her sluttiness was highly exaggerated.Tyldesley says that Cleopatra "probably had no more than two, consecutive relationships," and that she used sex in a "sensible" way, as "one of the few tools available to women." Romans like Octavian had an incentive to think of Cleopatra as a slut, making her a scapegoat for the broken alliance between Antony and Caesar. She has now "become a kind of "Rorschach test," with scholars and filmmakers projecting their interests and desires onto her. Historical debate on Cleopatra seems to focus on two questions: was she hot? And was she white? Popular depictions — including the famous 1963 film and an upcoming musical starring Catherine Zeta Jones tend to answer yes to both questions. But Tyldesley's more interested in Cleopatra as a ruler in her own right, which is awesome, even if it means less sex for sixth grade girls to giggle over. The Queen of Denial [Newsweek] Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt
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