Figures of Legend in History Thesis

Pages: 10 (3464 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

Figures of legend in history often take on proportions which may be

less a reflection of the actual characteristics of these folklored

individuals as they are a reflection of the purposes of history's authors.

The icons who ruled over their people and the groundbreakers that stand out

as nexus points in evolution are remembered by more than just their factual

legacies. Beyond that, they are recalled with pointed romanticism or

intentional vilification, the subject of debate, adoration, art, literature

and pop culture, their images shaped by the needs of the venue, the

interests of the historian or the desires of liberal artistry. Such is to

say that history is a sort of self-reflexive mythology, and that its

figures, rather than serving as eminent examples of quality personage, "are

better suited to inform, and give us juster Notions of Ourselves, as they

are Originals, and present the Eye with the prospect of Human Nature, taken

from Life, and not extended beyond the Limits of Credibility and

Truth."(Gadeken, 2) Thus, in our legends there is rarely one biographical

perspective which can be assessed as truly factual. Even the most familiar

characters in our collective history are more amalgams of image,

superficial detail and speculation, much like the celebrities of present

day which we profess to know.

When one then considers the history of a prominent woman, an even

greater alertness to an opportunistic subjectivity in historiographical

perspective must be employed. Multiple histories on one subject areBuy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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usually the result of cultural, political and ideological perspective.

This is to say that the stories which survive the obscuring of passing time

are most often those told by the victor and, moreover, these stories will

be reshaped as they age as per the evolving purposes of their maintenance.

So with regard to the treatment of women in historiographical review, it is

often synonymous with the actual treatment of women throughout history.

More often then not, prominent feminine historical icons have been those

Thesis on Figures of Legend in History Often Take Assignment

which exist in our annals in spite of prevailing sociological trends toward

a patriarchal order. This standard may either play a substantial role in

the notoriety of the figure, with her exploits against the conventional

view of women drawn explicitly in her story, or it may exist in subtextual

premises which have come to define her legend. The latter of these two

cases is that which divides historians on the characterization of


While she is perhaps the first and most famous female celebrity in

history, already a legend of literature by the start of the Common Era, her

status as a person is hardly a thing of recorded fact. Hers is an image

drawn to us by Liz Taylor in celluloid, William Shakespeare in

theatricality and stoic ancient sculptures, inanimate features in a British

Museum. And in each of these venues, there is a bias which accompanies the

perspective expressed, with the gaps in Cleopatra's known history filled in

by the pretenses of the auteur. There is, as a result, a sprawling

dichotomy in the figure of Cleopatra. A strong female ruler, driven to the

expansion of power and the reclamation of her birthright, her behavior,

demeanor and purpose have been depicted in ways which set her in

contradictory modes. On one hand an exemplar of the earliest feminist

potential of powerful women and on the other a deceitful temptress who used

her womanly charms to exploit the weaknesses of men, these two versions of

Cleopatra are the products of two decidedly divergent purposes. And

naturally, due to inbuilt societal impulses which favored a perpetuation of

the latter of these two depictions, this is the one which has been most

actively preserved. Though there are surviving views of Cleopatra,

especially in Egyptian history and feminist teaching, as an important and

effective leader, with certain aspects of global history affirming such

ideas, they are often pushed to the periphery of a characterization which

is more consistent with the arguably misogynistic depictions in literature.

The positive views of Cleopatra, as a pharaoh of greatness in Egypt,

are the product of her actual popularity of the time. The surfacing of

ancient artifacts which have been connected to her illustrate that she was

well regarded, powerful and, to the view of her domestic artistic

biographers, responsible for a certain degree of success for their people.

She was a key figure in a time of geopolitical transition, with many of her

actions having a significant bearing therein. Her rise began rather

circumstantially, when she was just seventeen years old:

When Alexander died, male Argeads were in scarce supply: there was

only a mentally deficient half-brother, and Alexander's wife Roxane

was pregnant with a son, later known as Alexander (IV). After

considerable strife a Macedonian noble was chosen as regent for these

two joint kings, and the rest of Alexander's generals moved to seize

parts of the empire he had conquered. Female members of the royal

family were more plentiful in this period than males." (Pomeroy, 155)

This was the circumstance that saw Alexander the Great's sister,

Cleopatra, wage battle against her then husband/brother Ptolemy IX, for

control of Egypt. Both she and her brother were heirs to the Ptolemic

Dynasty which, under the diminishing autonomy of Egypt and a greater

international influence of the burgeoning Roman Empire, had gradually ceded

the bulk of its authority to Italian authority. Naturally, the

strengthening of Roman authority was only aided by the divisive power

struggles within the Ptolemic ruling family, centered in the capital of

Alexandria, on the Nile. This is where the history of Cleopatra takes a

path that is subject to multiple interpretations. In 48 B.C., when

Cleopatra was 22 years old, she is said to have been famously delivered to

the visiting Julius Caesar, rolled up in an ornate Persian rug, thus

inducing an alliance between Cleopatra and central power in Rome. With

Caesar's aid, she was able to easily defeat her husband and assume full

control of Egypt. (Ashmawy, 1) By this point, her ingenuity and

ruthlessness had elevated her to a certain status amongst the Egyptians,

amongst whom "Cleopatra was long remembered as a great ruler of divine

status, and we hear of an image of her being reverently gilded as late as

AD 373, when the empire was nominally Christian." (Walker, 1)

The visible political motives of such an alliance as Cleopatra's and

Caesar's, for example, is illustrative of the admirable tenacity with which

Cleopatra is said to have pursued the glory of Egypt. Though influence had

declined under the reign of 200 years of Ptolemic subservience to Rome,

Cleopatra was the first of Egypt's rulers since the inception of that

relationship, to have increased the sphere of its influence. She did so,

as this story illustrates, by aligning with that force which had been an

entity of lordship theretofore.

However, the story of the Persian rug does suggest a great deal more

about her character, or at least its use in history, than simply her

diplomatic prowess. The explicit element of seduction here is a self-

inflicted objectification that suggests her power was derived from her

virtues of womanhood as much as from her competence as a leader. And in

her relationship Caesar would originate a hefty piece of ammunition in the

salvo against Cleopatra's character. The opportunistic series of

relationships which aid Cleopatra in her augmentation of influence help to

constitute the image of a bewitching temptress, blinding the senses of her

male counterparts to achieve her own devices. Certainly, this is the view

that Romans held of her when she came into the favor Julius Caesar.

In 45 BC, Cleopatra and Caesarion left Alexandria for Rome,

where they stayed in a palace built by Caesar in their honor. Caesar's

acts were anything but overlooked by the Romans. In 44 BC, he was

killed in a conspiracy by his Senators. With his death, Rome split

between supporters of Mark Antony and Octavian. Cleopatra was watching

in silence, and when Mark Antony seemed to prevail, she supported him

and, shortly after, they too became lovers." (Ashmawy, 1)

At this point in her biography, it would appear that the powerful men

with whom she endeavors into romantic relationships have had a defining

effect on Cleopatra's path. And indeed, "her liaisons with distinguished

foreigners, equally, represented no departure from tradition, but recalled

the exploits of her ruthless forebear Cleopatra Thea, who had married three

kings of Syria." (Walker, 2) She differed fundamentally though from this

precedent though. In both positive and negative accounts of her, it seems

that it may be, contrarily, that she is the force which has had a defining

effect on the men with whom she involves herself. And by extension, this

would naturally have a real bearing on the subordinate nations represented

in these men.

Cleopatra's actual intentions, whether motivated by love, lust, greed

or politics, are at this point unknown. And as a point of fact, much of

the haziness surrounding her actual nature is derived from the primary

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APA Style

Figures of Legend in History.  (2009, March 30).  Retrieved February 22, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Figures of Legend in History."  30 March 2009.  Web.  22 February 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Figures of Legend in History."  March 30, 2009.  Accessed February 22, 2020.