Why Cleopatra Still Matters
SS: I wouldn't dare to speculate as to Cleopatra's falling in love. Her relationships are too convenient for that. And, traditionally, a sovereign entered into alliances rather than engage in love affairs; marriage was a matter of state rather than of the heart. That said, Cleopatra and Caesar had a world in common. Both were subtle-minded, impeccably educated, charismatic individuals who never underestimated themselves and who knew very few people they considered their equals.... With Mark Antony the relationship is longer-lived—the two are together on and off for over a decade—and it undergoes a shift: Initially he has the upper hand. Three children later, Cleopatra does. There is every indication that she enjoyed Antony's boisterous company, but again, she saw him as a sort of patron, a guarantor of her rule. Many versions of her end would have us believe she died of her love for him, but that is putting a romantic spin on things.
Q: What lessons should today's aspiring women leaders take away from a study of Cleopatra?
SS: Don't stumble over gender. Inevitably, it will be an issue: You can't escape being a woman. But you can make it work for or against you. Don't hesitate to play by your own rules. Loyalty counts for everything. Always give good gifts. And, for better or worse, appearances matter.
Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, Saint-Exupéry, and A Great Improvisation.