BMCR 1996.06.08

1996.6.8, Whitehorne, ed., Cleopatras

, Cleopatras. New York: Routledge, 1994. 1 online resource (x, 243 pages) : illustrations. ISBN 0203036085. $49.95.

‘This book had its origins in the invitation to write the article on Cleopatra for the Anchor Bible Dictionary’ (p. viii). Thus the author explains the genesis of this peculiar but interesting study of ancient women bearing the name Kleopatra, which begins with the mythical wife of Meleagros ( Iliad ix 555-605), the daughter of Tros, and the sister of Midas, and concludes with Kleopatra Selene, the daughter of Kleopatra VII and wife of Juba II of Mauretania. Chapter 1 (pp. 1-13) discusses the Kleopatras of myth and legend; chapter 2 the early Makedonian queens of that name (14-29); chapters 3 and 4 (pp. 30-42; 43-56) Kleopatra-Eurydike, the last of Philip II’s seven wives; and chapter 5 (57-69), the sister of Alexander the Great and wife of Alexandros I of Epeiros. From here it is a considerable chronological and geographical jump to Kleopatra I of Egypt (the daughter of Antiochos III), and the sixth chapter, ‘From Aegae to Alexandria’ (70-79), rehearses Hellenistic history from 308 to the battle of Panion, which set the stage for the marriage of Antiochos’ daughter to Ptolemy V Epiphanes. Chapters 7-14 then trace the convoluted and sordid tales of the Seleukid Kleopatras who imposed themselves on Egyptian history only to become the Ptolemaic Kleopatras who played no small role in the emasculation and decline of Seleukid Syria. Chapter 7 is devoted to Kleopatra I, who ruled as consort of Epiphanes and regent for Ptolemy VI, appropriately named Philometor (‘mother-loving’), an epithet used also by Ptolemy IX Soter II (Lathyros) and Ptolemy XV (Caesarion), both of whom were dominated by their mothers, Kleopatras III and VII. Chapters 8-11 consider the careers of Kleopatra II, the sister and consort, in turn, of Philometor and Euergetes II (89-102; 103-120), and of Kleopatra III the daughter who supplanted her as wife of the reprehensible Physkon (121-131; 132-148). Chapters 12-13 explore the tangled web of Kleopatra Thea and the wives of her sons, Antiochos Kyzikenos and Grypos (149-173). With Chapter 14, we return to Egypt and the family of Ptolemy XII ‘Auletes’ (174-185), father of the most famous Kleopatra, whose death is the topic of Chapter 15 (186-196) and whose daughter’s career closes out this survey (Chapter 16, pp. 197-202). Since it is impossible to tell the Ptolemies without a program, Appendix I treats us to a ‘Who’s Who’ (203-210), while Appendix II supplies three stemmata of Argeads, Ptolemies and Seleukids (211-214). Brief notes (215-226) precede a Bibliography (227-232) and Index (233-243).

So much for scope and dimensions. What then of the book’s aim and usefulness? Let me say at the outset that I found book highly entertaining and, as a source of information about royal women named Kleopatra, extremely useful. In terms of detail, it surpasses the corresponding sections of Grace Macurdy’s Hellenistic Queens. A Study of Woman-Power in Macedonian, Seleucid Syria and Ptolemaic Egypt (Baltimore, 1932). But Macurdy’s study had both a unifying thread (‘woman-power’, as stated in the sub-title) and a revisionist purpose to free Hellenistic princesses and queens from the stereotyping (as vixens, or rather ‘tigresses’) imposed upon them by men like Mahaffy and Bevan. Whitehorne’s common denominator is the name, ‘Kleopatra’, and that, in a nutshell, is the major weakness of the book. As the author himself recognised ‘a common theme has obstinately refused to emerge’ (p. viii). The problem is, of course, the nature of the selection. But it could easily be remedied. Apart from the temptation to include a discussion of ‘Philip’s Tomb’, there is little to gained from the consideration of the early Kleopatras. The mythical ones were non-Makedonian; the early Argeads only remotely related to Philip and the ill-fated wife, whether or not she shared Philip’s final resting place, no Argead. Philip’s daughter, the full-blooded sister of Alexander the Great, was perhaps not as close to her famous brother as Whitehorne would suggest. The connexion of all these women, who occupy pages 1-69, with the Kleopatras of the Near East is virtually non-existent, a fact which requires the unbiographical sixth chapter. By contrast, the remaining Kleopatras do constitute a logical unit, in which woman-power and the perils of inter-dynastic marriage form the intertwining and unifying themes. Furthermore, had Whitehorne devoted his attention solely to the Seleukid/Ptolemaic Kleopatras, space would have allowed the full treatment of the notorious ‘Queen of the Nile’, which the author omits. In truth, Kleopatra VII scarcely needs more than three chapters (the amount of space given to the daughter of Antiochos III) to do her justice; most modern biographies are, anyway, two-thirds Roman republican history (Lucy Hughs-Hallet’s book is expanded by a combination of Nachleben and psycho-analysis).

One lamentable drawback to this otherwise useful volume is the author’s failure to include references to the ancient evidence in all but a few places. Here Macurdy provides better guidance. Oddly, too, Whitehorne’s book begins with a discussion of the significance of the name, but, after some amusing comments about comedy, Richard’s nickname and Mr Farquhar of Bangor, curiously omits the interesting word-play implicit in the Kleopatra (Patroklos) exemplum in Iliad ix, noted already by E. Howald in 1924. Similarly, the translation of ‘Neos’ (as in Neos Dionysos) is more likely ‘young’ rather than ‘new’ as the author himself notes on p. 177).

Whitehorne notes that Kleopatra III collected titles in a conscious effort to outdo her female predecessors (pp. 133-34), but the inclusion of Dikaiosyne and Nikephoros must surely be more significant than that: Kleopatra was thus moving into the masculine sphere of authority, appropriating the functions of law-giver and conqueror. Whitehorne comes to a similar conclusion in the interpretation of her Egyptian titulature ‘the female Horus, … mighty bull’, where he recognises that Kleopatra III has ‘succeeded in uniting the masculine potency and invincibility of the god-king with the cherishing femininity of Isis’ (p. 147). The significance of the Greek epithets is unmistakable. The author is also reluctant to reject entirely the allegations of Justin 39. 4 that Ptolemy X Alexander I was guilty of matricide, but the charge revived so many years later, with regard to a woman who appears to have died of a lingering illness, smacks of invention. In fact, much of what we are told about the Syrian/Egyptian Kleopatras comes from sources like Pompeius Trogus (Justin), Athenaios, Pausanias and Josephus, all of whom had their reasons for distorting primary evidence that was probably not very good to begin with. Nor am I convinced by Whitehorne’s contention that celebration of the wedding of Kleopatra I and Ptolemy V Epiphanes at Raphia was not ‘a symbolic way of rubbing Seleucid salt in Ptolemaic wounds’ (p. 81) and that Antiochos III was willing to compromise and treat his Ptolemaic son-in-law as an equal. Antiochos, unwisely, was not intimidated by the Romans, whose ambassadors he rebuffed at Lysimacheia, and he will not have been concerned about the dignity of the boy-king Epiphanes, even if the latter had the benefit of an alliance with Rome in reserve.

But, on the whole, this is an enjoyable book, which serves as a valuable introduction to a difficult period of late Hellenistic history. Whitehorne has a good command of the evidence and writes with authority and a sense of humour. The discussion of Kleopatra VII’s suicide is succinct and sensible, but it only serves to underline the fact that Cleopatras would be a better, and more unified, book if the author had allotted the 79 pages devoted to earlier (non-Ptolemaic) Kleopatras to the most famous bearer of the name. Whitehorne does a splendid job of answering the question posed on the dust-jacket: ‘Who were the other Cleopatras?’ But inquiring minds want to know more about Number 7.