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CLEOPATRA CUMMING ATCHA: MYTHBUSTING THE 'SEXY CLEO'

Today it’s a short one brought to you thanks to my seething rage at watching a Facebook ‘history’ clip (serves me right for ever considering I’d get quality content from Zuckerberg xxx) where they talk about Cleopatra’s reputation as Cleo the golden mouthed – thanks to her well known sexual prowess.


I could just say this isn’t true, and leave it there. I thought about it. But if there’s ever even a small reason for me to talk about misogynistic history I’ll jump on it. Because actually once you start looking for the ‘Did you Knows’ about Cleo, they all jump out of the wood work. Even well known sex toy brands have used Cleo as part of their advertising campaigns – reusing the old bees in a gourd vibrator rumour.


And can we just pause there for a moment – bees in a gourd?? Like how would that even work? You trap an angry swarm in a hollow vegetable, and hope they bash themselves against the sides enough to make the whole jar shake? And no part of your logical brain suggests holding a load of furious stinging insects up your *vagine* is maybe not the way to go?


I mean clearly it’s all bullshit. But it’s also immensely popular. And when people see the same lies spouted as facts by people who pretend they know what they’re talking about, it’s easy to assume there’s probably some truth in it (fun game for you – apply statement to literally ANYTHing in politics. Climate change, Brexit, immigration, you name it). So is there any truth to these rumours? Surely they must’ve come from somewhere?


Like many bad things in history, it can be traced back to a single white guy with a hero complex and a passion for conquering. This time, he’s called Octavian, but later he’ll rebrand as Augustus.


Bear with me a second, and try to imagine an angry little man, who’s in a place of power, and just wants more and more (I know, this is seeming unbelievably far-fetched, but stay with me). So this man is so desperate to have the world think of him as the number one player, but unfortunately there’s a pretty powerful woman who has her own kingdom, and is supported by his biggest rival. She’s actually proved to be pretty popular with Roman leaders all round, his predecessor was a massive fan, and now Mark Antony (the other potential new leader of Rome) is dating her when he’s supposed to have been married to his sister. Bit of an ego blow. How has this woman been able to control her own kingdom, and convince TWO Roman leaders to also support her? Only one way in Octavian’s mind, she’s clearly an evil seductress. It’s not the fault of the Roman men, they’re still stand up guys, it’s just they couldn’t resist this foreign temptress and all her sexual schemes. What a shitty trope huh? Glad we’re over blaming women and their sexuality to make excuses for men’s actions. Oh wait!


So Octavian/Augustus becomes the first to kick off the Cleopatra Sex-Pest rumour. Thanks to his influence, and the money of his close buddies like Maecenas, Roman poets were describing her as (excuse the language) a drunken “whore” who was fucked by her own slaves (if you want the actual text – look up Propertius 3:11, then check out lines 30-45). Yikes huh?


Unfortunately for Cleo’s reputation however the rest of history would pretty much follow his lead. A combination of powerful men ready to ruin women’s reputation, and Christian ideology promoting women’s chastity found in Cleopatra the best villain since Eve. They jumped onto the idea that this famous queen must’ve used ‘sexual immorality’ to gain power, turning her from an image of female empowerment, to a warning lesson for any woman who might get ideas above her station.


Between the 16th and 17th centuries this reached its peak in a bunch of fake letters probably forged by a guy called Melchior Goldast, which were **supposedly** found inside Cleopatra’s tomb (a tomb which, let’s remember, has literally never been found). These letters were supposedly written from Mark Antony to a Greek physician called Soranus, who did actually exist, but was only born about 100 years after Mark Antony died. In these letters, Antony begs for help in trying to manage Cleopatra’s libido, claiming that she recently went to a brothel and slept with over 100 men in one night, and still wasn’t satisfied. So when you see those reddit posts talking about how it’s a *known fact* that Cleopatra was sexually insatiable – that’s actually where that ‘fact’ came from. Just a 500 year old forgery.



But what about the bee vibrator myth? That’s even more recent, with literally the first mention of it I can find being in a book called ‘The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sexual Practices’ written by a woman called Brenda Love in 1992. Yeah literally just 30 years ago. So why was that rumour started so recently? Surely not still the result of Octavian/Augustus’ slut shaming? No – not really. See that’s where Cleopatra’s reception becomes a bit more murky.


Pre 1960s, it was pretty commonly considered that a woman holding power and being openly sexual made her a bad person. If a woman was powerful, she’d have to pull an Elizabeth 1st and reject all men and her own sexuality. So it was easy to use these sexual rumours to attack Cleopatra and female empowerment, and promote women’s modesty and all in one neat easy package deal. But then came third wave feminism, and with it, the idea that women could own their sexuality, and that a woman’s sex life shouldn’t be used to shame her, or wasn’t actually anyone else’s business but their own. Cleopatra then became a badass Queen, who enjoyed sex, used her body as she wanted, and was an incredible powerful woman.


Now it’s important to say I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with this third wave reclaiming of Cleopatra’s sexual identity. But the thing is that most of this reclaiming is coming from male misogynistic propaganda. And when it’s reshared, it actually adds to the cultural opinion that Cleopatra was well known for her sexual appetite. And yes there’s literally nothing wrong with any woman being clear and honest about sharing her own sexuality – I think we should all be doing more of it! But Cleopatra never shared that. That was a rumour created by men in power and shared around with the sole purpose of humiliating her memory and destroying her reputation. So then recycling these old stories about her seem less about empowerment, and more about continuing a two thousand year tradition of robbing a woman of her dignity.


So yeah. To conclude. Cleopatra never invented a vibrator. She also wasn’t known for her blowjob skills, and she never had sex with 100 men in a single night. She just got on the wrong side of a man with too much power, and the media on his side. Pretty much an age old story that.

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