Mention Egypt to someone, and you can almost bet your afterlife that Cleopatra will spring into their brain faster than the Egyptian embalmer's hook can rip out the contents of a soon-to-be-mummy's skull.
Um, ouch? Thank goodness people were dead when they did this.
Cleopatra is legendary. She married two leaders of Rome, never let anyone boss her around, and ran a country, all without coffee! Maybe it was the wine. They certainly had plenty of that in ancient Egypt, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't Apothic Dark. Beverage jokes aside, Cleopatra was not only the queen of Egypt (despite not being Egyptian herself), but the queen of badassery in a time when most women in the world were considered little more than baby-making property. There's just no walking around the cactus on that one.
Most of us know that Cleopatra, as powerful as she was, began to develop an unquenchable thirst for more that what she already had. If you ask me, I would have been content to just lay back on my throne and manage Egypt like a good little queen, thanking the universe for my good fortune just to be a queen. Not our Cleopatra though. Her ultimate goal was to unite the known world under one banner. Judging by how well Egypt fared during her reign, this might not have been an entirely bad idea.
Cleopatra wanted to rule the world, which was mostly run by Rome at the time, and she attempted to make that wish come true. But the Romans weren't having it. They were running the show, and were eager to keep running it until the end of time, or at least until togas fell out of fashion. They wanted to be the only lions in their den of power. When that formidable lioness Cleopatra and her Roman husband Marc Antony expressed their desire to take what Rome had conquered, the Romans did the only thing that any other country under threat would do.
They declared war on Egypt, and they won.
Cleopatra's army, led by Marc Antony, fought hard in the Battle of Actium. But Rome was an expert on war strategies, as well as fighting hard for what they wanted, or didn't want in this case. They won the Battle of Actium, forcing Antony's legions back to Egypt, where they promptly deserted him. It's no wonder that the poor man took his own life. Exiled from his former home, forsaken by his own countrymen...all he had left was Cleopatra, Egypt, a few kids, and a short sword that must have really hurt when he stabbed himself in the gut with it. This was a man who was once part of the Second Triumvirate, meaning that he had been one-third the master of Rome and the provinces it ruled. This was a huge blow to a man of his standing, and Cleopatra's. Their doom was sealed when they made Rome their enemy. That was their fatal mistake, the one that cost them their very privileged lives.
Oops. The lesson we can learn here is: value what you have, because if you try to take more than your share, you might end up with little or nothing, like this unfortunate man in rags:
Nothing is exactly what Cleopatra ended up with. Rome conquered her, took all her possessions by right of conquest, and basically reduced her status to little more than a slave. However, rather than submit to Roman rule, she chose to end her life with the help of a venomous reptile. If you want to know the difference between poisonous and venomous, click here. Movies and artwork have often portrayed her final moments as something beautiful and peaceful, but what actually happens to the human body once that venom enters the bloodstream?
Aside from feeling like two very large sharp needles had entered her skin, poor Cleopatra probably felt miserable. Life as she knew it was over, and now she had actually submitted to being bitten by an Egyptian cobra, also known as an asp, a snake that most people went out of their way to avoid. She was, however, not uninformed about what would happen to her, as she had experimented with the effects of various poisons on condemned individuals, and had learned that the bite of the asp was the least painful way to go. But how painless was it?
What Happened Afterward
After the initial bite by an almost-ten-foot-long reptile with a bad attitude, Cleopatra likely experienced horrible abdominal pains, alongside the pain and swelling at the bite site. ('Bite site'------I like that.) Vomiting would have soon followed, something we'd never picture a queen doing...it's like imagining them doing a fart. Not very regal. What causes the upchucking of the last royal meal is the presence of neurotoxins (poisons that cause damage to the nervous system) in snake venom. I can just imagine Cleopatra's maidservants Charmian and Iras holding out golden bowls for her to puke into, while trying not to think about the same thing happening to them when it was their turn to get bitten, as they chose to die with their queen to keep serving her in the afterlife. You just can't buy loyalty like that.
Along with filling golden vessels with royal spew, Cleopatra would have also had just as much trouble at the business end of her digestive track, in the form of diarrhea. Um, yuck. With no indoor plumbing in those days, combined with the fact that she was walled up inside a building and surrounded by vessels o' vomit, the smell must have been beyond bad. I suppose the trouble she would have had breathing (thanks again, neurotoxins!) would have been more welcome than you'd imagine. At this point, I think I would have just skipped the whole suicide-by-snakebite thingy by now if I had been one of her maidservants, because it only got more miserable from there.
We know the queen was feeling blue, but her skin slowly started matching her mood by turning funky colors from the necrosis, or cell death, setting in. I can only imagine the mental distress this would have caused her, because she was really proud of that skin, bathing it in milk regularly to keep it softer than swan feathers. It must have been in a state of near-perfection, until the discoloration began when the area around the bite site (and maybe her limbs) slowly began to lose life, normal coloration, and feeling of sensation. Tip: If you don't want to see an extreme case of necrosis, don't click here, but this is what it looks like.
I know this is bad, but it soon became even worse for the poor queen. Internal bleeding caused by the hemotoxins in the venom caused Cleopatra's insides to slowly liquify, the bloody contents to ooze out of her mucous membranes like her nose and eyes. Rather than watching her suffer all these agonies, her servants should have put her out of her misery with a quick slash to the throat, don't you think? As her muscle fibers melted away, the release of too much potassium into her bloodstream could have easily given her a heart attack. To say nothing of how painful this must have been.
The Darkness Approaches...
Before Cleopatra's painted eyelid's closed for the last time, it was highly likely that those beautiful eyes could no longer see, as one of the effects of neurotoxin is blindness. There she was, probably laying on a chilly stone slab waiting for death, when the world around her began to fade away. The faces of her devoted servants were probably the last things she ever saw as they no doubt mopped her perspiring forehead that was also plagued by headache. It was down to time now. Waiting was the only thing any one of them could do.
For all this suffering, Cleopatra's official cause of death could have been anything from a heart attack, to respiratory failure, to organ failure, or a combination of many things brought on by the toxicity of the venom. Death could have occurred almost immediately, but most people die in about 30 minutes. Even that short amount of time must have seemed like an eternity with the psychological and physiological trauma she went through.She may or may not have experienced all of the above symptoms I mentioned, but it is true that it is highly likely. Anyone who has survived a snakebite can tell you that even with treatment in the modern age, the experience is anything but elegant and peaceful. When it's my turn to leave this world, I hope it will be a lot less traumatic than Cleopatra's demise. Hopefully, yours will be too.
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