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Cleopatra. Source: Lumixera / Adobe Stock

Not Just a Pretty Face: Cleopatra Was a Genius Who Spoke 9 Languages


Cleopatra VII (69 – 30 BC) was Queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt and its last active ruler. Most famous for her love affairs with Mark Antony and Julius Caesar, Roman propaganda was quick to paint Cleopatra as little more than a seductress who forged her position in the beds of powerful men.

Cleopatra was a powerful and accomplished ruler, but historical accounts discredited her, minimized her successes and vastly exaggerated her indiscretions. The common view of Cleopatra presented in ancient Roman text and popularized in modern media is one of a temptress who used her sexual talents to gain political advantage.

What these ancient accounts fail to mention is that she was, in fact, one of the greatest intellectuals of her time. She was educated by the leading scholars of the Hellenistic world and studied at the Mouseion in Alexandria, which included the famous Library of Alexandria.  There she studied geography, history, astronomy, philosophy, international diplomacy, mathematics, alchemy, medicine, zoology, and economics.

Cleopatra and Caesar (1866), a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (Public domain)

Cleopatra and Caesar (1866), a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (Public domain)

Cleopatra was the only member of her dynasty to speak ancient Egyptian and read hieroglyphs. Apart from this, she knew ancient Greek and the languages of the Parthians, Jews, Medes, Trogodyatae, Syrians, Ethiopians and Arabs

It is known that Cleopatra VII spent a lot of time in a type of ancient laboratory. She wrote several works related to herbs and cosmetology. Unfortunately, all the books by her were lost in the fire of 391 AD, when the great Library of Alexandria was destroyed. Famous physician Galen studied her works and was able to rewrite a few recipes created by her. One of the medicines which he also suggested to his patients was a special cream, which helped men to gain back their hair.

Her impact on the sciences and medicine was well known even during the first centuries of Christianity. In a world full of powerful people that were out to see her dead, Cleopatra was able to outsmart them all.

After the death of Cleopatra, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire, marking the end of the second to last Hellenistic state and the age that had lasted since the reign of Alexander.

Read more: The Wisdom of Cleopatra, the Intellectual Queen Who Could Outsmart Them All

Top image: Cleopatra. Source: Lumixera / Adobe Stock

By Joanna Gillan

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Joanna Gillan is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. 

Joanna completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in Australia and published research in the field of Educational Psychology. She has a rich and varied career, ranging from teaching... Read More

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