Cleopatra in Greek Mythology (referenced from Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

The historical Cleopatra (69 B.C.-30 B.C.): Queen of EGYPT, the daughter of PTOLEMY XI, she was married (as was the custom) to her younger brother, PTOLEMY XII. By revolting against him, with the aid of Julius CAESAR, she won the kingdom, although it remained a vassal of Rome. After her husband died, she married another brother, Ptolemy XIII; but she was the mistress of Caesar, and in Rome she bore a son, Caesarion (later Ptolemy XIV), said to be his. Returning to Egypt after the murder of Caesar, she was visited by Marc ANTONY, who fell in love with her. She seems to have hoped to use him to re-establish her throne's power; they were married in 36 B.C. But the Romans were hostile, and Octavian (later AUGUSTUS) defeated Antony and Cleopatra off Actium in 31 B.C. Failing to defend themselves in Egypt, Antony and Cleopatra killed themselves.

But the setting for the Iliad preceded the historical Egyptian queen by 1200 years and Homer's actually writing the words preceded her by 700-800 years. Who is the Cleopatra that Homer refers to in the Iliad? And how is it that the character in Greek mythology and the Egyptian queen share the same name?

Cleopatra of Greek mythology (Graves, G. M. 48.a-c) was the daughter of

Boreas, (the North Wind, who was the son of Astreus and Eos, and brother of the South and West Winds)


and Oreithyia (who was:daughter of Erechtheus, King of Athens, and Praxithea)

She married King Phineas, the victim of the Harpies
According to Homer (Graves, G. M. 45.2), she was
  wife of Meleaeer (Iliad ix.952)
  called by title of Alcyone

thereby connected to the halcyon myth (A footnote to this reference in Norton's Anthology of World Masterpieces gives the following explanation: Idas, the famous archer, carried off and married Marpessa. Apollo also had been her suitor, and he overtook Idas and carried off Marpessa. Idas challenged Apollo to combat, but Zeus decided the choice was up to Marpessa, who preferred Idas. They gave their daughter Kleopatra the nickname Alkyone [compare "halcyon", the name of the sea bird that is supposed to mopurn for its mate.)

Graves (G. M. 45.2) says Kleopatra is often used as an example of the Greek custom of women commltting suicide on the death of their husband

Graves (G. M. 80. passim) provides the following story of the mythological Cleopatra

  Meleager married Cleopatra, daughter of Idas from Messene?

but while on the Calydonian Boar Hunt he fell in love with Atalanta;

when he honored her with the pelt of the boar, his uncles were insulted and flew into a rage;

he killed them in:the ensuing:fight;

Meleager's mother Althaea, as she watched the dead bodies of her brothers being carried home, set a curse on Meleager, which prevented him from defending Calydon when his two surviving uncles declared war on the city;

at last Cleopatra persuaded Meleager to take up arms and kill these two uncles, despite their support by Apollo;

this doomed Meager and he was quickly overcome by the enemy;

on his death, Althaea and Cleopatra hanged themselves.

A second mythological Cleopatra: Cleopatra the Younger (Graves, G. M. 158.g) was a daughter of Tros and granddaughter of Skamander.
But how did an Egyptian queen come by this Greek name?

By 324 BC, Alexander the Great (Macedonian Greek) had carved an empire that stretched from Greece to India in the east and Egypt to the south (he conquered Egypt in 332 BC). In 323 BC Alexander, not yet thirty-three years, died, probably of a fever. After Alexander's premature death, his generals engaged in a long and bitter struggle to determine who would succeed the conqueror. Since none of the generals or their heirs had enough power to hold together Alexander's vast empire, the wars of succession ended in a stalemate. By 275 BC, the empire was fractured into three dynasties: the Ptolemies in Egypt, the Seleucids in western Asia, and the Antigonids in Macedonia. Therefore, the historical Cleopatra was descended from the Greek Ptolemies, not the native Egyptians. In fact, Cleopatra was a fairly common name for female descendants in the Ptolemy line.

IRONY: The historic Cleopatra also committed suicide after the death of her husband (Marc Antony) just as did her mythological namesake.

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