Day of Fortuna Redux
Fortuna Restitutrix, Isis and the Final Pharaoh
(Portions of the lesson which may be repeated from last year are shown in bold italics. Please be sure to review any repeated portions and study the new material.)
We have been talking about syncretism and cross-culturalization this season, and now we will talk about Egypt and the Roman Empire, who were allies for 200 years. Due to the strength of the Roman Empire, the Egyptian rulers chose to make a pact with Rome, rather than allow their cities to come under the threat of the Roman Empire. By 51 B.C.E., the Romans expected tributes paid to them from Egypt under the threat of invasion. This year, the ruler of Egypt passed the kingdom to the ruler who would be the final Pharaoh of Egypt; his eighteen-year old daughter, Cleopatra VII.
The Egyptian deity, Amun-Re, was said to be the ruler of Egypt and acted through the Pharoah as the father of the next Pharaoh. For this reason, Egyptian law required Cleopatra to marry a member of the family, who would act as Amun-Re. For Cleopatra, this meant marrying her twelve-year-old younger brother, Ptolemy XIII. This was not well received by Cleopatra and, although she complied with the law her younger brother was replaced by two successors, including Cleopatra’s own son, before the end of her reign. Cleopatra clearly had ambitions to rule for a matriarchal Egypt.
Cleopatra was a brilliant young woman, and she was fluent in nine languages, although she was not knowledgeable about the Latin language. Although she was not particularly pretty, she was very creative and charismatic, and had a brilliant flair for business and mathematics. She had two affairs in her life. One was with Caesar, whom she respected. After Caesar’s death, she had an affair with Mark Antony, for whom she had much less respect. The actions of these three people may have caused the fall of Alexandria and Egypt to the Roman Empire. Their downfall was a lack of ethics and overwhelming ego and ambition.
Before Caesar arrived in Alexandria, Cleopatra believed that she had the power to take on the Roman Empire, and had taken steps in this direction shortly after she became Pharaoh. Her affair with Caesar followed his threat to invade Egypt, and Cleopatra did what she felt she had to do to keep the peace between the nations. Cleopatra was young and charming, and Caesar married her in Alexandria, despite the fact that he was already married to a Roman woman, and Roman law forbade him from multiple marriages and marrying a foreigner.
Caesar and Cleopatra went on a honeymoon down the Nile, where Caesar enjoyed Cleopatra receiving public adoration as a Pharaoh. Their son, Caesarion was born to Cleopatra on June 23, 47 B.C.E, and they all returned to Rome, where Cleopatra outdid herself. She had a statue made of herself in gold and had it placed in the Temple of Venus Genetrix, then calling herself the New Isis. Caesar appointed himself ruler, which made his own senators conspire against him. He did not survive this conspiracy and Cleopatra fled back to Alexandria, in Egypt, with their son.
Trying to keep the peace between Egypt and Rome, once again, Cleopatra attempted to befriend one of Caesar’s associates, and later tried to send a fleet of ships to Octavian and Mark Antony, although a huge storm prevented this from happening, and Octavian got sick and returned to Rome. Mark Antony was Cleopatra’s only hope and she put out her best effort to impress him in order to secure peace, once again, between the nations.
Mark Antony was an easy catch for Cleopatra. He was known as a drunk who was not very smart, and he already had a wife and a mistress at home. In her desperation, Cleopatra went too far in her efforts to impress a man who was not the quality of Caesar or Octavian. Cleopatra’s show for Mark Antony’s attention was just as outrageous as her actions in Rome had been with Caesar, and Mark Antony found this to be exciting, particularly because of her royal lineage, and her money.
Her show included dressing as Aphrodite, the goddess of love, while sailing in a boat with purple sail, rowed with silver oars, with handmaidens steering and fanning her. This was an unfortunate show for Cleopatra, because Mark Antony was more interested in her power and money than he was in establishing peace between the nations. Cleopatra had three children with him, and wound up financing all of his campaigns, many of which were unsuccessful.
Mark Antony’s wife had gotten into arguments with Octavian, during Mark Antony’s absence. When Mark Antony discovered this, he abandoned Cleopatra for four years, as he had abandoned his own wife to take up with Cleopatra before. That’s just the kind of guy Mark Antony was.
In an attempt to reconcile their friendships, Mark Antony agreed to marry Octavian’s sister, who was recently widowed. Like Cleopatra, his new wife was much smarter than Mark Antony, who pined away for Cleopatra’s money as he spent time with his new wife. When he eventually got Cleopatra’s money, it was at Rome’s expense because the interest rate in Rome fell from 12% to 4% in the process. Remember, Cleopatra was a brilliant mathematician. In return for the money, Mark Antony gave Cleopatra back land in Cyprus, the Cilician Coast, Phoenicia, Coele-Syria, Judea and Arabia. These areas had lumber, which Cleopatra used to build ships.
All this time, Mark Antony had made many excuses to his wife, Octavia, for why he was away from home so much, and they could not meet. These excuses were lies. Eventually, Octavia became tired of his excuses and wrote a letter to her brother, Octavian, explaining the situation, while she remained faithful to Mark Antony, as the wife of an unfaithful husband. If Mark Antony had simply returned to Rome, he may have had a future there, but he was not smart enough to figure this out, and did not return to Octavia.
Instead, Antony went on a successful campaign into Armenia, and paraded Cleopatra, as the New Isis, around Alexandria. This was not enough for the enormous egos of both Cleopatra and Mark Antony. He also paraded himself around as the New Dionysus and, according to some, he may have had a drinking problem, himself.
Topping this all off, their children were given royal titles in an official ceremony, and Cleopatra was given a the title, Queen of Kings, her son with Caesar, Caesarion, King of Kings. Their oldest son, Alexander Helios was named Great King of the Seleucid empire, Cleopatra Selene, named after the moon, was called Queen of Cyrenaica and Crete, and their baby, a two-year-old son, Ptolemy Philadelphos was named King of Syria and Asia Minor.
Cleopatra became enamoured of herself and went about saying “As surely as I shall yet dispense justice on the Roman Capital.” In a final slight to Octavian, Antony put Cleopatra’s image and name on Roman coins and divorced Octavia, which was perhaps the stupidest decision Mark Antony would ever make.
Octavian officially declared war against Mark Antony, personally. Within two years of Octavia and Mark Antony’s divorce, Octavian defeated Mark Antony in Alexandria, where he died in 30 B.C.E. Cleopatra was captured in Alexandria and taken to Octavian where she was held as prisoner, and where she learned of his plans to publicly dethrone her. From her prison she ordered an Egyptian cobra to be hidden in a basket and brought to her, to secure her historic legacy to Egypt and the royal throne, as she died from the cobra’s bite. Cleopatra’s children with Mark Antony were raised by Octavia. Cleopatra was the final Pharaoh of Egypt.
Today is the first week of a three-week celebration of Fortuna Redux, which will be revisited once more before the end of the year. It is a celebration of the safe passage for Octavian in securing Egypt away from an unethical, former friend, Mark Antony, for the Roman Empire. A man who insulted not only his country, but his own sister Octavia. It also is a celebration of safe passage for all of our friends and loved ones away from home.
It is said by some that our personal power is judged by the power of our enemies. Certainly, Cleopatra was an incredible super-power of her day, and her claims to deification came out of the beliefs of the Egyptian system of Royalty that they were descendents of Ra, the sun king. Cleopatra did not feel that her actions were outrageous or insulting to Rome and, perhaps she felt as though she would be thought of less highly if she were not associated with Greco-Roman deities. Her motivation was for her country, and not to slight Octavia or her brother, Octavian.
Today, as we honor the safe return of loved ones, we also honor Cleopatra. A very flamboyant, brilliant and ambitious young Egyptian queen who used every trick she could think of to bring about independence to her country from the Roman Empire. That she failed in this task is more a slight to Mark Antony than it is to Cleopatra. She made every decision boldly and is a legend that lived beyond her short life, as she would have wished.
By the first century A.D., images of Fortuna-Isis, who was a blend of Our Goddess Fortuna and Isis, a Roman mother goddess who was herself derived from the name of an Egyptian funerary Goddess, began to appear. Some statues believed to be Fortuna-Isis show images of snakes on her crowning headdress. Many of her statues show her with the cornucopia of Fortuna, filled with harvest, and half-moon symbols.
We hypothesize that this syncretization was influenced by Cleopatra’s advertising campaign as The New Isis in Rome, and her death by the Egyptian cobra. As always, we will test this theory and this will be a topic of a sermon some day in the future. This idea arises, as we tell her story. The story of Cleopatra in Rome.
Cleopatra, the final Pharoah of Egypt.
Isis-Fortuna bronze lararium statue
from the private collection of Henry Walters
public domain image
Mark Antony Legionary Denarius, 32-31 BCE
photograph by Dr. Tom Buggey
used with permission
THE BOOK OF THE DEAD, The Papyrus of Ani
by E. A. WALLIS BUDGE, 1895
Cleopatra: The Woman Behind the Name