My fascination with Cleopatra beganin 2001, parallel to my Evita journey, although I did not know it at the time. Like Evita Peron, I found out about Cleopatra in the children's book 'Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and what the neighbors thought), and as with Evita, felt compelled to learn more about this woman. Who was the queen of the Nile, really? How did she feel? What was her role in history? Why did the Romans hate her and why did we, as the West, accept their version of such an accomplished queen at face value? As with Evita, I discovered that the real Cleopatra was much more interesting than the Liz Taylor had portrayed her or Octavian had written about her, much as Evita was far more than Madonna or what Lloyd Webber stated she was.
I also was shocked-- albeit pleasantly so-- to discover Cleopatra was not merely a B.C. version of Paris Hilton. She had her sex appeal, and her reputation as a lover was well-founded, but she was also incredibly intelligent, a woman who could likely have comfortably talked chemistry with Marie Curie or politics with any modern head of state. Reality is more elusive than film portrayals, but often far more fascinating.
In high school I did my senior report on Cleopatra to discover her role in history. I discovered that the reputation she acquired was mostly unjust and began to learn the meaning of the phrase 'the winners write the history books.'
I took my trip to Argentina in 2007. Argentina is, of course, more associated with Evita Peron, but the book I read along the way-- the Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margeret George-- was somewhat of a hint where I was to go after Evita. In 2009, my mother and grandmother visited Israel, Turkey, Greece and Egypt. Though I did not go with them, their pictures and comments about the lands dear to Cleopatra were a big help and an inspiration to my novel, as my novels feature scenes in all four countries. The only place my mother did not visit was Italy, but I had been to Spain and seen a lot of the Roman architecture there, so I used much of my trip to Spain to help with the Italian scenes.
I completed my first draft of Evita and began first writing Cleopatra's story as it really happened, beginning with Cleopatra, like Eva, flashing back on her deathbed, holding the snake. But I had a writers block until I Had an interesting dream about what if she had won I spoke to my father about that the next morning at breakfast, and my father, who has been a staunch supporter of me, and also the son of an English teacher who taught Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for years, thought this was interesting and helped me a lot with the earlier drafts.
The first draft of Cleopatra was very long and I Had to cut a lot of it. In writing this, I added fates for Cleopatra's children that were happier than they truly got. To start off, with Cleopatra winning, obviously her children were spared. Caesarion became Cleopatra's 'Roman son' as opposed to being killed en route to India, Cleopatra Selene, her daughter, ruled Egypt after her, and her two sons by Antony received countries in Africa and the Middle East, and I also created a fictional daughter, Arsinoe, who became queen of Parthia. The premise of Cleopatra is not only what if she had won, but also if Christianity had been centered in Egypt rather than Rome. A very different world began to emerge in my writings.
I believe Cleopatra, like Evita, has been much maligned, most unfairly. Whether she was any better than her Roman conquerors is certainly debatable, but she was certainly no worse. For instance, Cleopatra's willingness to learn languages shows her openness to other cultures. Her fight for her nation of Egypt shows that she balanced her curiosity and openness to other nations with patriotism and self-defense. This is a message needed in today's world. Being patriotic does not mean one has to dislike other countries and being open to other cultures and building friendships and alliances should be balanced with being proud of your own. She was also, in spite of the propaganda, a loyal wife to both Caesar and Antony, and it is sad that they did not always return her loyalties and a devoted mother to all four of her children. It's time to stop believing propaganda written about women in power and examine them as they are or were. Cleopatra and Evita are both well remembered in their home countries. That is something that neither the press overseas nor Octavian could ever change, try as they might.
On a side note, Cleopatra had some interesting ties to Spain. Julius Caesar, her first husband, started his military career there, and her son in law, Juba of Mauretania, is said to have discovered the Canary Islands. I have included some interesting twists on Spanish history, having Romans discover Mexico, and plan to have some scenes in the Canary Islands in one of my sequels.