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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Was Cleopatra's Suicide by Lethal Drug?

Death of Cleopatra by Jean Andre Rixens, 1874

One of ancient history's most famous legends may due for revision. A new study contends Cleopatra died of swallowing a lethal drug cocktail and not from the bite of an Egyptian cobra snake called an asp. According to Christoph Schäfer, historian and professor at the University of Trier in Germany: “There was no cobra in Cleopatra's death.”

Author of a best-selling book in Germany, Cleopatra, Schäfer searched historic writings for evidence to disprove the 2,000-year-old asp legend. 
"The Roman historian Cassius Dio, writing about 200 years after Cleopatra's demise, stated that she died a quiet and pain-free death, which is not compatible with a cobra bite,” he told Discovery News. “Indeed, the snake's venom would have caused a painful and disfiguring death.”
According to German toxicologist Dietrich Mebs, a poison specialist taking part in the study, symptoms occurring after an asp bite are very unpleasant, and include vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory failure. "Death may occur within 45 minutes, but it may also be longer with painful edema at the bite site," he said. "At the end, the dead body does not look very nice with vomit, diarrhea, a swollen bite site."
Ancient texts also record that Cleopatra's two handmaidens died with her -- something very unlikely if she had died of a snake bite, said Schäfer.

The Queen of the Nile committed suicide in August 30 B.C. at the age of 39, following the example of her lover, the Roman leader Marc Antony, who killed himself after losing the Battle of Actium.

Click here for the complete Discovery News article.
(Post first appeared on my Ancient Tides blog.)

2 comments:

jude cowell said...

A fascinating post, thanks! And it's funny (or synchronistic) but i just posted on Cleopatra's natal chart a few hours ago...

Jude

Gregory LeFever said...

Thanks for visiting, Jude! I'll try to sort through your many fine blogs to see where you posted the chart. Should be interesting.