Ptolemys, poisons and Cleopatra
“There was a lady of Egypt, I’m told
The barge she sat in was of burnished gold;
Her moral code made the sphinx perspire,
Her Roman scandals set the Nile on fire!
They tried to make her marry
Her brother Ptolemy,
She said ‘I won’t ptolerate Ptolemy
To collar me!
I only sell sell to the highest bid . . .
Now she’s hotting up the pharaohs
In the pyramid!
(from Salad Days, a musical by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds)
Ptolemy was a childhood friend, confidant, soldier and general of Alexander the Great. The Macedonian King conquered Egypt in the 4th century BC, and Ptolemy was made the first of a long line of Ptolemaic Pharaohs, ruling Egypt under 30 BC.
Ptolemy I was a man of outstanding diplomatic, military and organisational abilities. He rose from minor Macedonian aristocracy to become king of Egypt because of the absolute faith Alexander had in him. Many, many Ptolemys followed him in the dynasty he created, but they were a thoroughly bad lot.
Historians, authors and playwrights have given Queen Cleopatra a drubbing for centuries. She stands accused of murdering her brothers (among them a Ptolemy) to remain in power. If she did, and it is most likely that she did – it was nothing new in the family founded by Alexander’s great friend. Cleopatra’s ancestors were a murderous bunch, and Cleopatra herself used to amuse herself (and her maids-in-waiting) by watching the effects of selected poisons on condemned criminals, lazy servants or unsatisfying lovers. (more…)