Cleopatra’s Education: How She Became One of the Most Learned Women in History

Cleopatra was the last queen of the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt from 323 BC to 30 BC. She was a descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian Greek general and companion of Alexander the Great. She was born in 70 or 69 BC in Alexandria, the capital of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. She was the daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes and presumably Cleopatra VI Tryphaena, who may have been her mother or her sister. 

Cleopatra's education was influenced by the Greek culture and traditions of her dynasty, as well as by the Egyptian environment and history of her kingdom. She received a comprehensive and rigorous education that prepared her for her role as a ruler and a diplomat.

Cleopatra's education in Greek language and literature

Cleopatra's education included learning the Greek language, which was the official language of her dynasty and the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world at that time. She studied the works of Greek poets, historians, philosophers, and orators, such as Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, and others. She also learned how to write and speak eloquently and persuasively in Greek, which helped her communicate with her subjects and allies. 

Cleopatra's education in Greek language and literature also enabled her to appreciate and emulate the Greek models of leadership and governance, such as Alexander the Great, whose conquests had established her dynasty in Egypt. She also admired the Greek goddesses Athena and Aphrodite, who represented wisdom and beauty respectively. She often portrayed herself as a descendant of both goddesses on her coins and monuments. 

Cleopatra's education in other languages

Cleopatra's education was not limited to Greek. She also learned several other languages that were spoken in her kingdom and in the neighboring regions. According to Plutarch, a Greek biographer who wrote about her life, she was fluent in at least nine languages besides Greek: Egyptian, Ethiopian, Trogodyte (a language spoken by nomads in North Africa), Hebrew (or Aramaic), Arabic, Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic), Median (an Iranian language), Parthian (another Iranian language), and Latin. 

Cleopatra's education in other languages was remarkable for several reasons. First, she was the only Ptolemaic ruler to learn and use the Egyptian language, which was spoken by most of her subjects. She also adopted some Egyptian customs and religious practices, such as worshipping Isis, the Egyptian goddess of fertility and magic. She even claimed to be the reincarnation of Isis on some occasions. By doing so, she tried to win the loyalty and support of the native Egyptians, who had often rebelled against her predecessors. 

Second, Cleopatra's education in other languages allowed her to communicate directly with foreign rulers and ambassadors without relying on interpreters. This gave her an advantage in diplomatic negotiations and alliances. For example, she was able to speak with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, two powerful Roman generals who became her lovers and allies, in their native Latin. She also impressed them with her knowledge of their culture and history. 

Cleopatra's education in mathematics and science

Cleopatra's education also covered mathematics and science, which were important fields of study for the Greeks. She learned arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, geography, medicine, botany, zoology,

and other disciplines from tutors who were experts in their fields. Some of these tutors may have been associated with the famous Library of Alexandria or the Museum (a research institution) that were located in her city. 

Cleopatra's education in mathematics and science helped her to manage her kingdom efficiently and effectively. She used mathematics to calculate taxes, revenues, expenses, and debts. She used astronomy to determine the dates of religious festivals and political events. She used geography to plan military campaigns and trade routes. She used medicine to treat illnesses and injuries among herself and her family. She used botany and zoology to collect exotic plants and animals for her gardens and menageries. 

Who taught Cleopatra?

Cleopatra was taught by various tutors and scholars throughout her life. According to some sources, her childhood tutor was Philostratus, who taught her Greek language and culture.  She also studied at the Musaeum in Alexandria, a prestigious institution that included the famous Library of Alexandria and offered courses in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, literature, and other disciplines. 

Cleopatra also learned from her own experience and curiosity. She traveled to different parts of her kingdom and beyond, where she encountered different cultures and languages. She also read extensively from the books and scrolls available in the Library of Alexandria and other sources. She was interested in various subjects, such as history, religion, politics, art, and science.