May. 7, 2022

So Many Cleopatras, So Little Time

Research is fun. Especially research on ancient Egypt, which I did when I wrote The Book of Invasions. You learn all sorts of amazing things that would make you the life of the party if you happened to be partying with a roomful of Egyptologists. At most other parties, you would be quietly escorted to the door.

On the chance that you, who are reading this, are an Egyptologist or attempting to find reading material that will defeat your insomnia, let me drop this crazy little truth bomb: There was more than one Cleopatra.

Boom. Mind blown.

But wait! There’s more! There were actually at least ten Cleopatras, seven of which eventually sat on the throne of Egypt. We only remember Cleopatra number seven, the last of the reigning Cleos, and that’s partly because of her dalliance with Julius Caesar. She died at the ripe old age of 39.

But wait, you say! Thirty-nine isn’t old!

And there it is. Another little fun factoid, courtesy of research. Thirty-nine was pretty old in ancient Egypt. For men, the average life expectancy was age 25, and for women, 37. Cleopatra Number Seven was well past her expiration date when she passed. Granted, the asp she convinced to bite her didn’t help the situation.

One can only the imagine the conversations between potential tomb workers and the HR representative at the hiring interview.

WORKER: ‘So what sort of benefits are you offering?
HR: ‘Very generous. Twenty gold debens a month when you retire at age 65.’

WORKER: ‘Age 65?’

HR: ‘Yes.’

And then they would both laugh hysterically, holding their stomachs and falling onto the floor, where they would probably be bitten by asps.

But let's circle back to Cleopatra. Why so many of the same name? I have a theory:

STONECUTTER (176 b.c.): 'There! It took me six months, but I've fnally chiseled Queen Cleopatra's name into the granite lintel above the palace entrance!'

ROYAL OVERSEER: 'Truly, a work of art. Oh, by the way, Queen Cleopatra has died. It was inevitable, she being in her thirties and all. So why don't you get to work on the new lintel for Queen Wilhemina O'Connelly-Smythe.'

STONECUTTER (first despairing, then his eyes brightening with inspiration, raising an index finger, smiling): 'Or...'

And so Cleopatra it was for seven dynasties.