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What did the Egyptians think of Cleopatra?

In his book “Egyptology: The Missing Millenium”, Okasha el Daly claims that hieroglyphics were decoded several 100 years before Champollion by scholars during the height of the Islamic empire.  There was a great interest in retrieving "lost knowledge” and they translated every piece of papyrus they could get their hands on.

El Daly maintains that the Arabs referred to Cleopatra VII as the “Virtuous Scholar”.  I can't read Arabic, but in the French and German translations, I’ve never seen anything ressembling this term.  However, in following up his references, the Arab scholars clearly respected Cleopatra’s accomplishments as defined in the ancient records they translated.  There’s a couple of references to Cleopatra the scholar, and a few more as Cleopatra the builder.

I've collected what translations I have on this webpage,  Plutarch names her a polyglot, Al Mas’udi a polymath.  There are some historic mistakes about canals and the Pharos, but the impression is clear.

Some people make a big deal out of Cleopatra speaking multiple languages (Plutarch lists 8, omits Greek which she’d learned in her crib, and she’d be a fool if she didn’t speak the language of the superpower .. Latin, but Plutarch finished with “many more”).  Mithridates of Pergamon was said to have spoken 20:  he *HAD* to … he ruled over 20 distinct territories.  Perhaps in an era with many small kingdoms the size of Luxembourg, a responsible leader was expected to be a multi-lingual.  Yeah, the later PTOLEMIES weren’t like that … I did say “responsible”.


If Cleopatra was a polymath, she would naturally be multilingual as well. If she spoke Greek,from her descent from Alexander’s general, she would be speaking the language most educated people spoke then. She might not need Latin until she came to Rome with Cesarion.  She would also speak ceremonial Egyptian, and maybe Hebrew.  Perhaps Nabatean, but Greek would be the language of educated discourse. Caesar would speak it, and Anthony.


Something I doubt she had any

Something I doubt she had any erudition based on historical summaries


Which historical summaries do you mean?  Were they contemporaneous? Victorian and C20th academics regularly got their jollies by denigrating women.  

Many royals whiled away the hours by getting educated and they could gain access to brilliant teachers. Roger Ascham became Elizabeth I Latin secretary, and she spoke Latin fluently. 

Cleopatra was clearly clever and clever people don’t usually like to be idle.  They have to entertain themselves in the prison of their circumstances. Her brother was co-ruler with her and this was an equal partnership. Siince he was in the grip of priests and was 7 years younger than she was, she was more equal than he was.

I was never that much interested in Egypt and was mostly aware of the Amarna period and Hapshepsut who was almost obiterated by subsequent parties, I don’t have much detail, but it IS common knowledge that Cleopatra was very clever, brilliant even, and captured the interest of Julius Caesar who was probably the greatest genius Rome ever produced.


Well, she would certainly know quite a lot about Egypt.  She would have been trained by priests about the history of her people, especially about her predecessors.  She would need to have information brought to her by spies and traders, often the same thing about the nations that she would encounter.  If they were preparing for war, what goods were hard to get in their countries, what they would pay a lot for, how much crime was usual in their country, how much they respected women if at all.  

For example, she knew the Romans had the Paterfamilias arrangement in their families, with the husband having the power of life and death over his household, wives, children and slaves. She needed to surprise Caesar hence having a carpet rolled out with her inside it.  I can’t rememberoffhand if this was Shakespeare’s idea (he copied most of them from other people) or something that actually happened.  It would have surprised him and given her a momentary advantage since he was arriving as a conqueror. 

well..... I also agree with

well..... I also agree with your pointof view.

Chitra Mishra


You have a very interesting perspective. 

Historical erudition

Polyglot – “For her beauty, as we are  told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with Barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. Nay, it is said that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language, and some actually gave up their Macedonian dialect.” – Plutarch. Life of Antony, 27:2   ……. plus Greek & Egyptian, and PROBABLY Latin (she was in Rome in 56BCE before she met Caesar in 49BCE).

Polymath – “She was a princess versed in the sciences, and devoted herself to the study of philosophy, admitting scientists into her inner sanctum. She composed, on medicine, charms, and other parts of the natural sciences, works which bear the name of their author, and are known to men versed in the art of medicine.” – Al Mas'udi, Muruj adh-dhahab wa ma'adin al-jawah, Volume 2, Chapter XVII, 285-292

Known Books by Cleopatra VII:
1) Alchemy: Arab translations refer to "The Book of Cleopatra" (Risalah) . The "Codex Marcianus" contains the "Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra" (alchemical equipment and drawings). The "Discourse of Philosophers" is really just an alchemy quiz.
2) Toxicology: In "The Book of Poisons" by ibn Wahshiya, he refers to a book written-by Cleopatra  <Quite a keen interest in poisons for 100's of years in that area of the world.>
3) Mathematics: Mathimatika, also known as "Katon's Book To Cleopatra" - probably co-authored with the scholar Cato.
4) Law: "The Abridged Law of Cleopatra" - described by Ibn Juljul (10th Ad) and Ibn al Ibri (13th AD).
5) Medicine:
a) Gynaecia - Women's diseases. The 1566 AD version is a composite of many authors, but includes snippets of Cleopatra. De pessis Cleopatrae - probably just extracts from Gynaecia. Liber Geneciae ad Soteris obsetrix - likely a further composite of more authors. De passionibus mulierum - contains Cleopatra references and appears in the 12th AD.
b) De Medica .

In "Egyptology: The Missing

In "Egyptology: The Missing Millennium," Okasha el Daly contends that Arab scholars decoded hieroglyphics centuries before Champollion. Cleopatra, dubbed the "Virtuous Scholar" by Arab scholars, challenges traditional perceptions. Comments discuss Cleopatra's potential multilingualism and her diverse intellectual pursuits in alchemy, toxicology, mathematics, law, and medicine. The conversation showcases the evolving narrative around historical figures and emphasizes Cleopatra's multidimensional intellect.