Sunday, September 25, 2011

From Left to Write: Cleopatra

In Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff digs into the history books to share with us who the true Cleopatra was. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Cleopatra: A Life on book club day, September 27 at From Left to Write. I need to emphasize this post is not a review of how well the book was written, but simply thoughts springing from what I learned from the book.

I didn't really know much about Cleopatra before I read this book. I had this vague notion that she died tragically but I had no idea at what age or why. I think like most people my age or older, if someone mentions Cleopatra, I immediately think of Elizabeth Taylor (need to watch that movie!). I learned from the book that Cleopatra was 39 years old when she died, having ruled Egypt for 22 years. During her life, she committed all sorts of atrocities to stay in power, but she also enjoyed peace and prosperity in her realm for the most part, unlike any previous Pharaoh. She is one of the earliest examples of a working mother who reached the pinnacle of success in her profession. But how her life ended makes me really angry.

Instead of facing utter humiliation by walking down the streets of Rome in shackles as a prisoner of war, she chose to kill herself. Sorry, but to me that erases all the incredible things she did during her rule and makes all the things she had done utterly meaningless. At this stage in my life I need inspiration from history and today on how to be a good mom, whether that be a good working mom or a good stay-at-home mom. Killing yourself and leaving four children behind, three of them under the age of majority, is not being a good mom. Even a bad mom is better than a dead mom. H&R have both told me that I'm a bad mom on many occasions but when I offer to let them exchange me for someone else, they don't take me up on it (most of the time).

Being a mom of three young children, I am constantly reminded of how fragile they are and how much love they need. Because I chose to bring them into the world, I have a sense of responsibility that I need to take care of them. Yes, it's true, as a leader Cleopatra suffered the ultimate defeat of losing the sovereignty of her nation to another. But she still had her responsibility to her children. If she had stayed alive, who knows, perhaps she would have found a way to save her son Caesarion, instead of his life being cut short at the hands of Octavian. Because of her selfish act, her three younger children became orphans and were raised by her lover's wife. I can't help but feel sorry for those kids--if they ever wondered why they weren't enough to keep their mom from killing herself.

Yes, I'm judging this woman harshly and she may have acted within reason in the world she inhabited. But when I look at my newborn daughter and I feel the love just surging out of my heart, I just can't understand how any parent could commit suicide and leave their baby. Yes, sometimes it's difficult and some people truly can't cope with life, but there is help out there. If you're a parent and you need to get healthy mentally or financially or overcome substance abuse before you can be a parent, there are resources that can help you and your child. Even if the best decision for your child is that you give your child up for adoption, don't end your life and leave that child with a lifetime of unanswerable questions. 

When you have a child, you lose the right to do whatever you want all the time. No more late nights at the club, drinking with your buddies till dawn. If you have school age children, you can't just take vacation whenever you want (unless you home school, of course). You can't spend your (or your spouse's) entire paycheck on designer clothes and handbags and meals at celebrity chef restaurants. And you can't kill yourself! That's just my opinion and, I'm sure, not the takeaway that Ms. Schiff intended with this biography. I plan to reread this book in ten years when I'm at a different life stage. Hopefully by then I will be a good mom.

10 comments:

Taylor U. said...

I can totally understand what you are saying - as a mom of two young ones I cannot imagine leaving them to face such brutality.

JoycetheRockStar said...

I explicitly remember the time H said you were a very good mom when you told him that people would think you're a bad mom because he was misbehaving in public.

Brenda Bartella Peterson said...

I totally understand where you're coming from with the bad mommy tag but the cultural circumstances for Cleo that were so different than for the average Mom. Let's cut her some slack. :-)

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

I think motherhood was very different back then. I also think that rich women did not have such a hands on approach when it came to raising their children. Perhaps because the life expectancy for children was very low. I'm sure she did the best she could in her circumstances.

I'm so happy today that we can be more hands on with our children. And take a break when we need to.

Eunice said...

I guess I look at her and compare her to the other women I either associate with that time, Mary mother of Jesus, or with Egypt--the Pharaoh's daughter that adopted Moses and the Pharaoh's wife that wept for her son when the first born of Egypt died. And then I compare her to the greatest female monarch of all time--Queen Victoria, who had nine children with whom she had real mother-child relationships. No matter the background or wealth, she still chose her pride over her children and that is really sad.
Thanks for reading my post everyone, I appreciate the comments!

milfalert said...

I agree. Being a parent involves so many sacrifices. But Cleo did not have her parents around to guide her so in many ways her actions make sense.

Emily Cullen said...

Things were so different back then. Cleopatra did not have the relationships and quality time we spent with our children now. Look, they killed their own siblings!

As for your take on suicide I am close to a situation, not me, I can honestly say, where sometimes suffering from mental illness is so great that nothing becomes more important than ending one's suffering. I am not in the situation, but I am around it enough to while not understand it myself, see how mental illness can drive a person to suicide, no matter who is in their lives.

Joy Weese Moll said...

Movie producers must agree with you. Neither of the Cleopatras I saw in the films died with children. Claudette Colbert's Cleopatra didn't have children. Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra had one son who was dead by the time she killed herself, leaving her with nothing to live for.

Alicia said...

Cleopatra was raised differently, more like a soldier in training. She was raised to be a Queen, not a mother. Even today there are many women that choose say a man or drugs over their children. Some women just don't have the mothering instinct. Cleo strikes me as one of those mothers. I love seeing how other's were inspired by this book. Your point never even dawned on me and yet I can see how it was selfish of her to worry more about losing power than leaving her children behind.

P said...

The familial tragedies and perverse family politics of ancient Egypt where incest was commonly practiced and fratricide was a legitimate tool to obtain political power are very disturbing indeed. In all fairness, in the end Cleopatra was an advocate for her children, trying to secure a future among the ruling class for them. Considering some of the more brutal acts that were performed at this time, perhaps she had legitimate reasons for choosing suicide over whatever fate might have awaited her. But I also look at my children and cannot imagine leaving them under ANY circumstance.