In this Extension History elective PD course, Dr. Kathryn Welch takes a 5-hour walk through the life of Cleopatra. Starting at the beginning, you’ll examine Cleopatra on Cleopatra and how she drew from traditions of her time to construct an image of herself and her children. After this, you will look at Cleopatra and her role as a pharaoh followed by her relationships with Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Octavian. Finally, we’ll go consider Cleopatra at the movies!

$360 (+GST)

In this course you will learn

Part 1: Cleopatra on Cleopatra

Relevant Syllabus Content: Constructions of Cleopatra’s Identities and Gender (History Extension: Constructing History – Case Studies)

Let’s start at the very beginning, or so the song goes. We are asked who the historians are, we are asked to explore “Cleopatra and her different identities” according to ancient sources, modern “professional” historians, popular culture across several media and so on. But where are we asked to consider the contribution that Cleopatra made to her own image, whether as ruler or woman? The beginning of the story needs more consideration.

Cleopatra VII drew upon ancient pharaonic and specifically Ptolemaic traditions to construct a series of interconnected images of herself and her children. This legacy is critical in understanding how these images were manipulated to present her as “other” during her lifetime, immediately after her death, and throughout her dynamic interaction with western culture over the centuries. This presentation will offer you a sample and a chance to discuss the ways in which Cleopatra’s decisions still steer the stories that are told about her.

Part 2: Cleopatra’s Role as Pharaoh

Relevant Syllabus Content: Cleopatra: Content Focus: role as Pharaoh

The Extension syllabus assumes that Cleopatra VII was pharaoh. Was she? She was indisputably a reigning queen, but that is not quite the same thing. The first part of this talk will set out the evidence and the context for and against accepting this assumption. The second part will examine what she was able to do as ruler of Egypt and the other Ptolemaic territories with or without being invested as pharaoh. On the way, this presentation will introduce you to recent scholarship that attempts to diminish the impact of centuries of prejudiced readings and to estimate just how well or badly Cleopatra ran her kingdom.

Part 3. Cleopatra’s Men

Relevant Syllabus Content: Cleopatra: Content Focus: the relationship with Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Octavian.

Although Cleopatra is seen as a symbol of unlicensed female sexuality, she appears to have formed personal relationships with only two men, Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius. Anything else was scuttlebutt. In the case of both men, the nature of these relationships was described by those whose competing agendas served to cloud our understanding. In the case of Julius Caesar, Caesar’s supporters (ancient and modern) denied the paternity of their son and made every attempt to minimise the impact of their relationship. Antonius was seen as weaker and less able because he depended so heavily on her support.

This presentation will consider in depth the nature of Cleopatra’s relationships with Caesar and Antonius, the different narratives concerning each and the different impact that they had at the time and in later contexts. Antonius, as the least well understood of the three, will receive the most attention. Far from being simply a “right-hand man” of Caesar or a cat’s paw for Cleopatra, he will be shown to be a very effective administrator and manipulator of images who gambled for high stakes and lost. In considering what Cleopatra wanted from each relationship and what not just Caesar but also Antonius offered her, we can hopefully better understand both her decisions and how they were portrayed later.

Part 4: High Heels and Cross Dressing: Cleopatra goes to the movies

Cleopatra in film forms an essential part of her “modern” identity. While there is an understandable focus on the 1963 Mankiewicz film, it is sometimes useful to glance at examples that set out from the first to be satire.

Building on the work of Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Monica Cyrino, Nicholas Cull and others, this presentation will focus on how movies about Cleopatra comment on contemporary attitudes to women and to the built world and the world of fashion. Of particular interest is the much-overlooked Carry On Cleo, shot one year after the Taylor-Burton version was finally released. The Carry On team hired the sets and costumes from the cash-strapped Mankiewicz team so that they could satirise the earlier extravaganza more effectively. In comic book form (and in later film) the Asterix team did the same thing. Can satirical takes on an already over-the-top interpretation tell us anything about Cleo’s reception, or is it lost in translation?

We highly recommend watching Carry On Cleo and/or Asterix and Cleopatra before the day.


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About dr. kathryn

A/Prof Kathryn Welch is an honorary associate professor from the University of Sydney where she taught Ancient History between 1991 and 2021 with an emphasis on the Roman Republic and the early empire. Before that, she spent six years as an Ancient History teacher at Kogarah High School, but she has never lost her connection with students and teachers as a popular presenter at conferences and professional learning days. Dr Kathryn is also co-director of the Pompeii Cast Project with Dr. Estelle Lazer. Her current research interest is in constructing syllabuses and modes of study in order to test the assumptions embedded in the minds of ancients and in our own time.