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I have written in these pages about my life as the devoted servant of Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra ruled Egypt for twenty years and was the last of the Ptolmey dynasty. She dreamed of bringing back the old glory of Egypt, but at her death left Egypt as just another province of the vast Roman Empire. Even though she failed, she will always be remembered and honored for her force of character, courage and glamour. It is my wish that she be remembered as the most important woman in all time.
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I was traded two years back from Syria. True, I am homesick at times, but there is nothing I can do for I have no parents and no relatives. My mistress, Queen Cleopatra, is my caretaker now. I accompany her everywhere and she trusts me. Cleopatra named me Nefa which means beautiful. I’ve forgotten what my original name was. I found this pile of papyrus that the scribes have no use for. I shall write my thoughts in these until I use up all the paper.
Without her wig and makeup Cleopatra looks quite plain. She has short, light brown hair and light skin that is slightly tanned. The only good features about her looks are her big hazel-green eyes. But with her wig, makeup and clothes she looks glamorous. Her favorite wig is the long braided one with all those pretty barrettes. I also love her fine, pleated linen dresses, which were sometimes dyed. My net of cheap, colorful beads that I like to wear is nothing compared to her turquoise and gold collars and earrings. Cleopatra wears as much jewelry as possible before leaving her chamber. She looks like how I imagined a queen. Also she can speak many languages including the native Egyptian language. The people of Egypt love her for this. With me she speaks Arabic.
Early in the morning I slipped on my plain linen dress. As I began grounding the minerals for Cleopatra’s eye paint I overheard this conversation with Cleopatra and her advisor.
“By the way your brother, Ptolemy XIII, is treating you I’m afraid you will lose your position as queen sooner or later.”
“Nonsense! He’s my younger brother.”
“Yes, but your friendly attitude towards the Romans is making him unhappy. He is planning to dethrone you.”
“That is what I don’t like about you advisors, you worry too much!”
But I could tell Cleopatra believed him.
Just when Cleopatra pulled open the curtain I returned to the paint and added some copper to make it green. With a metal applicator I painted her eyes.
Right now I’m brushing through Cleopatra’s heavy wig. It has fringes, three layers, and a few curls. I only have a simple, one layer wig with long dark hair. I also have very little henna to color my hair and a very small wooden comb. I always wear my wig, except on very hot days. My natural hair is straight around my shoulder level and a very deep brown color. Without my wig I look plain.
While combing this wig I’m careful not to straighten the curls. I finally finished this job. I’m going to put this in her wig cabinet.
Cleopatra is furious. Her brother is a scoundrel! He drove her out of the throne and would for sure take her life if he could.
“I’m ruined! I’m ruined!” she kept on crying as she was picking out jewelry to go with her green-gold dress. To comfort her I patted her shoulder or brought her little fig cakes that were colored and shaped – her favorite. That wasn’t any help. I tried giving her tea that the priest said could calm her. She didn’t want it. There was nothing left to do, but continue working.
“We have to go in hiding,” she told us.
While I waited for Cleopatra to finish her bath I set up her bed. I listened as the bath servants pour water and scented oil on her body. I dream of luxuries like this. Then for a while I dreamed how it would be like to be her. I imagined the riches, the fortune, everything you could possibly want! Then I remembered all those things that Cleopatra has to worry about. Being the queen is the best, but hardest job you could ever get. I thought about all this while her pet dog, Ankhu jumped onto her bed.
Cleopatra is still sleeping. It’s about eight in the morning. I just set up the rouge, eye paint, and made and set up the lip paint using iron on Cleopatra’s cosmetics table. Then I hung her red, pleated, linen dress in front of her. Finally she has woken up and is getting ready to take her bath. In the meantime, I’ll pin her wig’s curls in place and get the scented fat ready.
When Cleopatra woke up she had that troubled look. This constant hiding from Ptolmy’s men is not fun. I can see the queen has a lot on her plate, so I’ll try as much as I can to not to disturb her or create even very little problems, such as spilling the wine on the floor, or telling her that her garden is doing poorly.
Her advisor was here. I tried not to listen, but here it is:
“I told you! Look what just happened. You are no longer the Queen of Egypt!” Cleopatra began to moan.
“No need to moan. If you follow my advice you will be queen again.”
“Alright, General Julius Caesar is going to visit Alexandria. Invite him to the palace. And when the civil war ends, he will make you queen again.”
I almost dropped a delicate glass and electrum belt. I was shocked. Going to Julius Caesar, the Roman General! Was he out of his mind?
“Yes, the Roman general. I’ve been your advisor for years. You should trust me.”
I couldn’t believe my ears when she agreed! I don’t care if he’s been her advisor for years, Cleopatra needs a new advisor.
Caesar will come next week. He has been invited to the palace. At first I didn’t understand any of this. Why was Julius Caesar coming? Why would he help her? Now it’s all clear. Pompey, also a Roman general, and Caeser’s enemy was hiding in Egypt. Caeser was just pursuing him. He is a powerful man. If my mistress meets with him maybe he could understand her unfair situation. I wonder what will happen. Will victory be ours? Or will Cleopatra keep moaning for the rest of her life?
Julius Caeser is the King’s guest. And the King would not allow my mistress anywhere near the palace. Still Cleopatra met Caeser secretly. I cannot even mention how … she had herself rolled in a carpet to be displayed to Caeser. How humiliating!
Caesar came to our palace today. Just an ordinary man in rich clothes! Cleopatra welcomed him and at first giggling girls in all kinds of costumes surrounded him. Then my mistress led him to the hall. The girls followed like a herd of elephants. I followed along slowly behind the girls. When they reached the hall Cleopatra closed the door, not letting any of the girls, except me in.
“Caesar, I have invited you to this palace to complete a quest for me.”
“I am a general and am very good with quests. I shall take yours with ease.”
He looked fascinated with the queen. She did look gorgeous in her pleated linen with streaks of pure silk.
“Very well then, I ask you to be my protector. And also I want you to know that I’m also against my brother.”
“I take this quest with ease, like I said. I also promise that after I win the war you shall be queen again.”
Cleopatra smiled. “Thanks very much. How can I ever repay you?”
Then she invited him to her chamber. There they spent hours without talking. I knew what they were doing in there, but I won’t write it down because I respect my mistress. Soon Caesar will set out for war.
It’s been six months since Caesar has been out to war. Still no news, except that Caesar is winning. But Ptolmy XIII has not lost yet.
Victory! Hooray! I am so glad; we shall now throw a banquet! Ptolemy XIII is dead. And for a silly reason too. Not because Caesar and his army killed him. Because he drowned! He drowned in the Nile because he happened to be wearing a heavy gold breastplate, which made him sink to the bottom of the Nile. The banquet I was talking about is going to be his funeral. The priest says we should at least pretend to be sad. I don’t think Osiris would even let Ptolemy XIII into the afterlife.
I have to help out with the funeral. I have to put food for the afterlife in his tomb, carry his belongings into his tomb, and write down the spells the priest says. Those spells will be recited by his family, which there is very little of. All his siblings, except Cleopatra and his younger brother Ptolemy XIV are dead. He also has one or two wives and no children. Those spells will also be put in his wrappings when he’s mummified. Tomorrow will be the funeral. This is the ceremony where we mourn and recite the spells. We have hired the mourners. So right now they are mummifying him. I really don’t want to watch because I heard that they remove all the organs, except the heart to be weighed by Anubis. Caesar has returned. They continue to spend hours in the chamber.
Today was the mourning ceremony. Cleopatra and Ptolemy’s wives mourned along with the hired mourners. They all cried and threw dust on themselves. Ptolemy XIV recited the spells. We also recited the spells from the Book of the Dead. It has 190 chapters and is the height of a full grown man! It takes three to ten men just to open it and to read it the priest has to stand on the roof of the palace!
Today is the Opening the Mouth Ceremony. This is one of the most important ceremonies. Without the ritual the mummy can’t eat, drink, or move in the afterlife. As if he deserves to be able to at all! The family recites the spells, as the priest opens the mouth of the person and sprinkles water into it. At least today she doesn’t have to mourn all day. Tomorrow we will watch them place the coffin into Ptolemy’s tomb.
Success! Cleopatra is queen again and everything is back to normal. It is sad to know that Caesar will leave very soon. But Cleopatra will visit Rome. Cleopatra is pregnant! Now she will always be reminded of Caesar when Caesarion -that’s his name- is born. She declares that he is Caesar’s son. I personally think the son belongs to both of them since they spent hours in the chamber. Also there will be a wedding with Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIV. Apparently, she has to share to throne with him. I hope he doesn’t have a nasty attitude like Ptolemy XIII.
There was a banquet. The cooks prepared mutton and sweets. Cleopatra could only eat a small piece of mutton, wine, and some fig cakes because of the baby. I noticed all this because my job was to carry around the water to rinse their fingers. I even got to try some mutton and a small honey cake Cleopatra gave to me. After the feast and toasts there was a dance performance. I expected men and women to dance together, but Egyptian dance is completely different. There are all these interesting acrobatic movements. They did somersaults, back bends, high kicks, and all other king of jumpy movements. People used clappers for the beats. There were also musicians in the back who played flutes, drums, and harps. I couldn’t decide if I liked the performance or not. It was too jumpy and loud for my liking, but it was entertaining. After that began the storytelling and poetry. It was translated in Egyptian and Arabic. Every single story and poem was very boring. After an hour or two of this, the ceremony was over. At the actual ceremony only the queen, Ptolmey and the priest were allowed in the room.
The baby is born! I saw him, he is so cute! During the month my mistress was pregnant we made a crib and bought plenty of toys for him. His chamber has his crib, a small table, and toys everywhere. There are rattles, these small balls which you could chew on, toy animals with strings attached, and dice with his name carved on it. Cleopatra and I like to spend time with him. We especially like to take him to the roof of the palace, where there is a great view of Alexandria. Also he gets along with Ankhu. He plays all kinds of games with him, like dressing him up. When Caesarion cries, Ankhu licks his hands and face to comfort him, so we don’t have to do it. He is a very interesting child and I enjoy his company.
Right now we are packing for Rome. It should take at least one week to pack Cleopatra’s bags. I quickly got my packing out of the way. I packed a linen dress, my net of beads, my henna, my comb, and my makeup in a papyrus leaf. I’ll be wearing my dress and wig when we go. Now I can help Cleopatra and Caesarion. Caesarion doesn’t have that much to pack; only his toys, this special face paint for babies we made, his clothes and a comb for his little hair. Oodles of slaves will accompany her. Her advisor, chef, and priest will also come. Ptolemy has to stay on in Egypt, so the throne is secure. In a week we will be off for Rome.
Finally, we have arrived in Sicily. The format of the land is just like in Alexandria. Alexandria is set up like a Roman city, with streets laid out in grids, which divides it into districts. Alexandria also has two harbors, temples, cemeteries, public baths, schools, a museum, a library, shops, villas, a theatre, and a hippodrome. Another similarity is that the dead are buried in underground catacombs. However, the people of the two places are different. The men wear togas, which are these robes with kilts. Women wear pleated linen dresses similar to ours and jewelry. Also everyone is fair skinned and have blue, green, or hazel eyes. Their hair is either a golden or dark brown auburn color. I like it here.
We have arrived in Rome finally. And we meet Caesar again. He cradled Caesarion and is honored to have a child named after him. Now they don’t spend time in the chamber as often. Instead they have tea and chat. I spend my days walking Ankhu and spending time in the city. Caesar also took us to the hippodrome. Cleopatra and Caesar sat in special seats where you could get a good view. But it was a horrible sight. A slave’s life is worth nothing! I never want to come back here again.
I pinned the scented fat and lotus blossom to the queen’s wig. Right now I’m helping her pick matching jewelry with her pleated linen dress. She said that those clothes helped her to look in place with the Romans. Today she wears a golden wig she seldom wore in Egypt. I hardly even remember that wig for she wore it once when she was about to become queen. Now we will go on a carriage for a tour of the city. The sight of Rome is so nice. We got to go inside one of its libraries. It is just like the library back home, only it has a larger variety of scrolls. Here they have parchments for the Greek, Latin, Egyptian, hieroglyphic, Arabic, and Sanskrit.
A horrible tragedy has happened today. Cleopatra has shut herself in her chamber for several hours now. She doesn’t eat, sleep, or even let me get her ready. Caesar is dead. He was murdered by the evil Brutus and the others who should all join Ptolemy XIII in the underworld! I’m too exhausted to write anymore. I want to rest and forget all about this.
Cleopatra still won’t leave her chamber. Finally the priest had to break open the door. He asked everyone to leave, so he could be alone with Cleopatra. All I could hear were loud whimpers from Cleopatra. The priest whispered so no one could hear.
When he came out he threw a glance at me. I was grinding some paint for my mistress’s eye color. I think he would have gone, but something made him think again and he turned towards me. I was surprised to see he was smiling.
“I had a vision last night. There will be another Roman general in her life.”
From his bag he pulled out a stone palette and told me, “Grind her make-up on this from now on. Perhaps one of these days that will give you a clue.” He left without saying another word. I looked at the palette but could not understand a thing. All I saw was a picture of an owl engraved on it.
When Cleopatra finally came out of her chamber she looks like a mess! Her wig was unruly, her makeup all smudged with tear washed paint and her clothes were all ruffled. I helped her wash off the makeup. And her wig I have to re-braid. Then I have to rearrange her dress. And on top of that I have to pack our bags. Cleopatra is taking a bath; I better begin with those chores.
There are three reasons why we have to leave Rome: 1) Caesar is dead, so there is no point in staying. 2) We stayed for three years already! 3) There is a civil war brewing and her advisor says she better not take part in it. That’s the main reason why we going. Basically, we are fleeing.
It is a few years since I last wrote in my journal. In the past years my mistress has done a wonderful job ruling Egypt. She tells me of her dream of bringing Egypt back to its golden days. I am sure she will succeed. However the past couple of years have been hard. The Nile has failed us repeatedly and there is famine. The people are miserable, sometimes even angry and my mistress is tired.
We are right now sailing up the Cydnus. She is going to meet Mark Antony, a Roman general and a possible ally in these hard times. As I grind the paint on the palette, I am watching the purple sails fill up. The music of the flutes is ringing in the air and the oarsmen dip the oars in the water following the beat My mistress is reclined beautifully under a gold canopy. Everything is set up to impress Marc Antony. The oars are silver, the stern gold and our leader a goddess.
And it just occurred to me the owl on the palette that I am holding signifies the starting letter ‘M’ of the Roman general’s name.