American Egyptomania Search


Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

Memoirs of Celebrated Female Sovereigns (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1842), Volume 1

Celebrated British feminist Anna Brownell Jameson was one of many women writers to become fascinated with the figure of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra in the nineteenth century. Cleopatra was a source of an enormous amount of interest in the 1800s, on many levels: she was powerful and yet tragic, political and erotic, a strong female figure yet associated with aggressive and “unnatural” sexual appetities, and, last but not least, a figure of controversy regarding the racial identities of the ancient Egyptians. Jameson’s Memoirs of Celebrated Female Sovereigns (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1842) contains this historical portrait of Cleopatra, in which Jameson faces a complicated problem: how does a white feminist claim Cleopatra as an honored member of white – that is, Greek, Caucasian, or even European – history, while attempting to explain the scandalous sexuality for which the queen was so well known?

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CLEOPATRA presents herself to our fancy ill fine contrast with Semiramis. While the majesty of Assyria, " in sceptered pall comes sweeping by," a mighty but vague impersonation of power, guilt, and grandeur, Cleopatra stands before us a vivid reality, combining with her historical and classical celebrity. all the interest that poetry, romance, and the arts could throw around her. As a woman, she can scarcely be said to claim either our sympathy or our respect; as a sovereign, she neither achieved great exploits nor great con-quests, nor left behind her any magnificent or en-during monuments of her power—but she has left behind her a name, which still acts as a spell upon the fancy. There have been five or six Cleopatras conspicuous in the dynasties of Egypt.

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