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Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Cleopatra

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The final lecture in the Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt series is on Cleopatra. Now, I’ve been down on Dr. Brier for including so much of the Ptolomies in this course, but I believe the inclusion of Cleopatra is apt. Like the Nubians, Cleopatra might have been from an outside culture – Greek, even though born and raised in Egypt – but she respected Egypt, respected its culture, actually learned the language and participated in its rites. She, unlike the other Ptolomies, was of Ancient Egypt.

She also has such a colourful history and is such an extraordinary individual that one must applaud her inclusion. Dr. Brier’s enthusiasm is well-served here, even though his knowledge of Roman history proves quote inferior to that of Egypt. His mention of Caesar arriving in Egypt to protect the grain supply was very odd, given that his great foe in the Civil Wars, Pompey, met his end at the instigation of Cleopatra’s young brother – of course named Ptolomy. This is kind of an important episode in the history of both regions that it seems odd for Dr. Brier to get it so wrong.

Was it shorthand, a way to avoid the complexities of the Civil Wars? I can understand that to a point, but then just say the Civil Wars brought Caesar to Egypt. An interest in grain may have been part of his motivation, but he came chasing Pompey, and to mistake this forces one to question the good professor’s other conclusions.

Then again, I think the greatest use of a series like this is to whet one’s appetite. Uncovering inconsistencies or questioning statements leads to research, discovery, and knowledge. That is an end onto itself.

The series is fantastic, even with all my little quibbles. It led me to purchase Dr. Brier’s the History of Ancient Egypt. That would be the next listen through I’d like to do, but that will have to wait until at least February, as right now I’m working on two courses and a bit overwhelmed.

One last thought. It’s interesting to me that so much of lectures on pre-modern history, especially ancient and classical history, deliver assessments as facts. We really don’t know much about the past. How many sources do we have on Cleopatra as opposed to Edward I of England or Napoleon? If one were writing a biography of George III would one be happy with three sources, one of which was written one hundred years after that monarch’s death? Yet we are fine with the same for ancient history. Think of the story of Cyrus the Great or even the Emperor Titus. How much do we really know?

I guess we know enough. We know enough to colour within the lines and provide a portrait of those periods. It just allows us to continually update our knowledge for new generations.