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Old September 10th, 2011, 09:11 AM   #1

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How Did Cleopatra VII Die?


I just finished watching a tv show,
"Unearthing Ancient Secrets: the Unsolved Death of Cleopatra" 2009
In it, it disputes the methods by which she is allegedly have died.
No poison. No snakes. No suicide.
It purports that Octavian had her murdered.
What do the boards experts think?
Click the image to open in full size.
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Old September 10th, 2011, 09:15 AM   #2
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i thought it was suicide
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Old September 10th, 2011, 09:29 AM   #3

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Suicide was always the way I heard it; she did not want to bear the humiliation of being paraded around Rome in chains by Octavian. Though their is some disagreement about the method used.

Wikipedia has got a decent subsection of her page about her death.

Cleopatra VII - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"The ancient sources, particularly the Roman ones, are in general agreement that Cleopatra killed herself by inducing an Egyptian cobra to bite her. The oldest source is Strabo, who was alive at the time of the event, and might even have been in Alexandria. He says that there are two stories: that she applied a toxic ointment, or that she was bitten by an asp on her breast.[40] Several Roman poets, writing within ten years of the event, all mention bites by two asps,[41][42][43] as does Florus, a historian, some 150 years later.[44] Velleius, sixty years after the event, also refers to an asp.[45][46] Other authors have questioned these historical accounts, stating that it is possible that Augustus had her killed.[47]

In 2010, the German historian Christoph Schaefer challenged all other theories, declaring that the queen had actually been poisoned and died from drinking a mixture of poisons. After studying historical texts and consulting with toxicologists, the historian concluded that the asp could not have caused a slow and pain-free death, since the asp (Egyptian cobra) venom paralyses parts of the body, starting with the eyes, before causing death. Schaefer and his toxicologist Dietrich Mebs decided Cleopatra used a mixture of hemlock, wolfsbane and opium.[48]

Plutarch, writing about 130 years after the event, reports that Octavian succeeded in capturing Cleopatra in her mausoleum after the death of Antony. He ordered his freedman Epaphroditus to guard her to prevent her from committing suicide, because he allegedly wanted to present her in his triumph. But Cleopatra was able to deceive Epaphroditus and kill herself nevertheless.[49] Plutarch states that she was found dead, her handmaiden Iras dying at her feet, and another handmaiden, Charmion, adjusting her crown before she herself fell.[50] He then goes on to state that an asp was concealed in a basket of figs that was brought to her by a rustic, and, finding it after eating a few figs, she held out her arm for it to bite. Other stories state that it was hidden in a vase, and that she poked it with a spindle until it got angry enough to bite her on the arm. Finally, he indicates that in Octavian's triumphal march back in Rome, an effigy of Cleopatra that had an asp clinging to it was part of the parade.[51]

Suetonius, writing about the same time as Plutarch, also says Cleopatra died from an asp bite.[52]

Shakespeare gave us the final part of the image that has come down to us, Cleopatra clutching the snake to her breast.[53] Before him, it was generally agreed that she was bitten on the arm.[54][55][56]

Plutarch tells us of the death of Antony. When his armies deserted him and joined with Octavian, he cried out that Cleopatra had betrayed him. She, fearing his wrath, locked herself in her monument with only her two handmaidens and sent messengers to tell Antony that she was dead. Believing them, Antony stabbed himself in the stomach with his sword, and lay on his couch to die. Instead, the blood flow stopped, and he begged any and all to finish him off. Another messenger came from Cleopatra with instructions to bring him to her, and he, rejoicing that Cleopatra was still alive, consented. She wouldn't open the door, but tossed ropes out of a window. After Antony was securely trussed up, she and her handmaidens hauled him up into the monument. This nearly finished him off. After dragging him in through the window, they laid him on a couch. Cleopatra tore off her clothes and covered him with them. She raved and cried, beat her breasts and engaged in self-mutilation. Antony told her to calm down, asked for a glass of wine, and died upon finishing it.[57]

The site of their mausoleum is uncertain, though the Egyptian Antiquities Service believes it is in or near the temple of Taposiris Magna, southwest of Alexandria.[58]

Cleopatra's son by Caesar, Caesarion, was proclaimed pharaoh by the Egyptians, after Alexandria fell to Octavian. Caesarion was captured and killed, his fate reportedly sealed when one of Octavian's advisers paraphrased Homer: "It is bad to have too many Caesars."[59] This ended not just the Hellenistic line of Egyptian pharaohs, but the line of all Egyptian pharaohs. The three children of Cleopatra and Antony were spared and taken back to Rome where they were taken care of by Antony's wife, Octavia Minor. The daughter, Cleopatra Selene, was married through arrangements of Octavian to Juba II of Mauretania.[60]"
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Old September 10th, 2011, 09:36 AM   #4

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The show delved into the suicide thought.
They tested the amount of poison it would have taken
for Cleopatra and her servants to kill themselves and it
would have taken a lot. No smuggling it in.
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Old September 10th, 2011, 09:59 AM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by tjadams View Post
The show delved into the suicide thought.
They tested the amount of poison it would have taken
for Cleopatra and her servants to kill themselves and it
would have taken a lot. No smuggling it in.
There is no real way to know how she or any other historical figure of the ancient world died, but the ancient sources all seem to say it was suicide, not murder. A bite from an Egyptian Cobra is perfectly capable of doing the deed, the only reason some scholars question its use is because it is not the most pleasant way to die. As for smuggling poison in, we don't know if she killed herself before she was captured by Octavius or after, so it is matter of speculation as to whether she or one of her two servants could have theoretically smuggled an asp or enough poison in to kill all three of themselves.

Last edited by Shaddam IV; September 10th, 2011 at 10:04 AM.
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Old September 10th, 2011, 12:23 PM   #6

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ya gotta love this one --


Egyptian Asp Snake - Cheappetstore.com

number 5

Quote:
Reaction to Children and other Pets:
Quote:
Under NO circumstances should children or pets be allowed to be around a poisonous snake without strict supervision. Even with adult supervision, a child should NEVER be allowed to handle any poisonous snakes. Pets should be kept away from asp snakes, as they may become the next meal for the snake.
</H3>
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Old September 10th, 2011, 01:55 PM   #7

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We don't know for sure, some say that she committed suicide while others that Octavian murdered her and made it seem as suicide for political reasons. I personally believe that Octavian murdered her though admittedly, her committing suicide is more spectacular.
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Old September 10th, 2011, 02:41 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Niki86 View Post
We don't know for sure, some say that she committed suicide while others that Octavian murdered her and made it seem as suicide for political reasons. I personally believe that Octavian murdered her though admittedly, her committing suicide is more spectacular.
The show I mentioned sure cut it down to what you said.
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Old September 10th, 2011, 09:04 PM   #9
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It doesn't make sense to me that Octavian would murder Cleopatra when it robbed him of the chance to have her march in his triumph. Unlike Antony, she was fair game for that event, and it no doubt would have been a political coup for Octavian by implying that the war was fought against a foreign queen and not against a fellow Roman.
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Old September 10th, 2011, 10:01 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaddam IV View Post
Suicide was always the way I heard it; she did not want to bear the humiliation of being paraded around Rome in chains by Octavian. Though their is some disagreement about the method used.

Wikipedia has got a decent subsection of her page about her death.

Cleopatra VII - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"The ancient sources, particularly the Roman ones, are in general agreement that Cleopatra killed herself by inducing an Egyptian cobra to bite her. The oldest source is Strabo, who was alive at the time of the event, and might even have been in Alexandria. He says that there are two stories: that she applied a toxic ointment, or that she was bitten by an asp on her breast.[40] Several Roman poets, writing within ten years of the event, all mention bites by two asps,[41][42][43] as does Florus, a historian, some 150 years later.[44] Velleius, sixty years after the event, also refers to an asp.[45][46] Other authors have questioned these historical accounts, stating that it is possible that Augustus had her killed.[47]

In 2010, the German historian Christoph Schaefer challenged all other theories, declaring that the queen had actually been poisoned and died from drinking a mixture of poisons. After studying historical texts and consulting with toxicologists, the historian concluded that the asp could not have caused a slow and pain-free death, since the asp (Egyptian cobra) venom paralyses parts of the body, starting with the eyes, before causing death. Schaefer and his toxicologist Dietrich Mebs decided Cleopatra used a mixture of hemlock, wolfsbane and opium.[48]

Plutarch, writing about 130 years after the event, reports that Octavian succeeded in capturing Cleopatra in her mausoleum after the death of Antony. He ordered his freedman Epaphroditus to guard her to prevent her from committing suicide, because he allegedly wanted to present her in his triumph. But Cleopatra was able to deceive Epaphroditus and kill herself nevertheless.[49] Plutarch states that she was found dead, her handmaiden Iras dying at her feet, and another handmaiden, Charmion, adjusting her crown before she herself fell.[50] He then goes on to state that an asp was concealed in a basket of figs that was brought to her by a rustic, and, finding it after eating a few figs, she held out her arm for it to bite. Other stories state that it was hidden in a vase, and that she poked it with a spindle until it got angry enough to bite her on the arm. Finally, he indicates that in Octavian's triumphal march back in Rome, an effigy of Cleopatra that had an asp clinging to it was part of the parade.[51]

Suetonius, writing about the same time as Plutarch, also says Cleopatra died from an asp bite.[52]

Shakespeare gave us the final part of the image that has come down to us, Cleopatra clutching the snake to her breast.[53] Before him, it was generally agreed that she was bitten on the arm.[54][55][56]

Plutarch tells us of the death of Antony. When his armies deserted him and joined with Octavian, he cried out that Cleopatra had betrayed him. She, fearing his wrath, locked herself in her monument with only her two handmaidens and sent messengers to tell Antony that she was dead. Believing them, Antony stabbed himself in the stomach with his sword, and lay on his couch to die. Instead, the blood flow stopped, and he begged any and all to finish him off. Another messenger came from Cleopatra with instructions to bring him to her, and he, rejoicing that Cleopatra was still alive, consented. She wouldn't open the door, but tossed ropes out of a window. After Antony was securely trussed up, she and her handmaidens hauled him up into the monument. This nearly finished him off. After dragging him in through the window, they laid him on a couch. Cleopatra tore off her clothes and covered him with them. She raved and cried, beat her breasts and engaged in self-mutilation. Antony told her to calm down, asked for a glass of wine, and died upon finishing it.[57]

The site of their mausoleum is uncertain, though the Egyptian Antiquities Service believes it is in or near the temple of Taposiris Magna, southwest of Alexandria.[58]

Cleopatra's son by Caesar, Caesarion, was proclaimed pharaoh by the Egyptians, after Alexandria fell to Octavian. Caesarion was captured and killed, his fate reportedly sealed when one of Octavian's advisers paraphrased Homer: "It is bad to have too many Caesars."[59] This ended not just the Hellenistic line of Egyptian pharaohs, but the line of all Egyptian pharaohs. The three children of Cleopatra and Antony were spared and taken back to Rome where they were taken care of by Antony's wife, Octavia Minor. The daughter, Cleopatra Selene, was married through arrangements of Octavian to Juba II of Mauretania.[60]"
This is indeed a good and well-referenced Wiki-article: even so, some trivia is inexact.
E.g. Strabo said nothing about Kleopatra's breast; LM Plutarchus mentioned an altenative poison hypothesis too (a curious one on a hollow comb) and was skeptical on the Asp story.

When precision is required, it's always wise to check out the sources.

That said, must agree with our Eumenes here; C. Octavius had more than enough reasons to overtly execute this queen without the need of any secret scheme.
The honorable suicide seems to be still by far the most plausible explanation.
Some poision (it's IMHO impossible to determine which one) was the most likely cause of death; the pedestrian and unromantic oral route would have been more than enough.
Aside from the valid objections on the painful process of the Asp's death, it's extremely dangerous to manipulate such snakes.
Additionally, if the story of the snake (asp?) in Kleopatra's effigy at Octavius' parade was true (a big "if" IMHO) some inherent symbolism was always possible (she was the queen of Egypt after all).
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