Elite dictators

Elite leaders, pfff. Same as it ever was. See Cleopatra, issue # 3.

Here we see The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, 41 BC, as painted in 1885 by Lawrence Alma-Tadema. An apprehensive and innocent-looking Antony climbs aboard the Egyptian queen’s barque as she passes a sly, knowing glance towards the viewer. But who was Cleopatra, really?


The Augustan court poets fed the tabloid frenzy around her. Porpertius dubbed her a ‘whore queen’. Horace considered her ‘a deranged queen plotting the destruction of the Capitol and the Empire’, her followers ‘a decadent, diseased mob’. A few decades later, Lucan described her as ‘the shame of Egypt, the lecherous demon who was to become the bane of Rome’. In recent years, there have been attempts to ‘rehabilitate’ the queen, as a strong feminist icon. However, let’s not forget the truth.


Cleopatra was, first and foremost, an elite dictator. Then as now, let us look beyond her celebrity, to the serious substance of class-based inequality writ large. To discover more, read the full feature in issue #3 (September 2021) of our magazine.