Not once in my new biography on Cleopatra do I call her a diva, despite the fact that, for my young teen readers, it would seem a fun and modern way to describe the great Queen. After all, “diva” implies high drama, intrigue, and theatrics, which have always been parts of Cleopatra’s story.
But here’s why I avoided the “diva” label: the minute a powerful woman is called diva, she is instantly diminished. She is then assumed to be a spoiled brat and obnoxiously self-centered. Her accomplishments suddenly don’t matter.
Now, we don’t know if Cleopatra was spoiled or self-centered, but we do know that she was a brilliant politician and ruler. Cleopatra ruled her kingdom for more than 20 years during the volatile period when Rome was taking over the world. She kept Egypt independent and even—with shrewd negotiations—wrested back from Rome important territories that expanded and strengthened her kingdom.
She spoke at least seven languages, wrote a number of books and hosted intellectual salons for the most brilliant scientists and mathematicians from her great Library in Alexandria. She was the devoted mother of four children (yes, four) who negotiated fiercely for their safety after Antony’s death, despite repeated threats on their lives by her enemy (Octavian/Augustus).
Finally, she maintained her independence and dignity until the bitter end, even “stealing” her enemy’s glory by committing suicide in a powerfully symbolic way.
Cleopatra was a complex, multi-faceted human being who captivated the world with her intelligence and daring. Surely, such a great queen deserves a better descriptor than “diva!”
Vicky Alvear Shecter is the author of the recently released, Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen.
Editors note: For more on Cleopatra…
Some Little Known Things About Cleopatra (Cleopatra: A Biography)
Cleopatra’s Daughter review by Kris Waldherr
Cleopatra’s Daughter review by Marie Burton