C is for Cleopatra (No, not that one!)

Published April 3, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I’m not going to be talking about Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt and lover of both Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius.  There are probably lots of other people talking about her today, and she’s not exactly hurting for attention anyway.

No, I’m going to be talking about her namesake, Cleopatra, the wife of Meleager.  Why do I call her the namesake?  Well, because the name Cleopatra may well have been invented for the tale of Meleager in the Iliad.

And why do I say that?  Well, first and foremost, I read it in a book.  (I think it was in The Greeks and Greek Love by James Davidson.)  Not, of course, that the book said the name absolutely was invented for the Iliad, just that it seemed probable.  We can never know for sure if that was the source of the name.  (Unless some Linear B tablets show up with the name Cleopatra on them.  Then we can be quite sure it wasn’t.)

More importantly, of course–and again, this is mostly out of that one book (though I also have an article on the subject that I got from JSTOR, but I haven’t read it yet)–the name Cleopatra is the mirror image of the name Patroclos.  “Cleo” and “clos” both coming from “kleos” for “glory,” and “patra” and “Patro” both coming from “pater” for “father.”  (I have more to say on the subject of the meaning of the name, but you’ll have to wait until the 18th…)

Those who read my myth re-telling of the Calydonian Boar Hunt last week already know the story of Cleopatra.  She convinces her husband, Meleager, to leave off sulking in order to go fight off the enemies who swarm through the city just outside their home.  Just like Patroclos tries to convince Achilles to leave off sulking and fight off the enemies swarming through their camp.  The difference being that Cleopatra, as a woman in a misogynistic society, can’t go out and fight in his place, while Patroclos can–and does–go out and fight in Achilles’ place.

There are more similarities than that, though.  Both Meleager and Achilles are associated with women who refuse to accept the Hellenic ideal of the female role:  Meleager’s primary association is with the huntress Atalanta, and Achilles has a very late (too late, in fact!) passion for the Amazon Queen Penthesileia.  In both cases, their passion is usually thought of (today, anyway) as being both unrequited and unfulfilled.  (Actually, in ancient times, Meleager fared better with Atalanta than most people are now aware of.  In fact, in some versions, he’s the father of her child.)

And, of course, there’s the fact that Patroclos is always described as the person that Achilles loves the most–whether you think they were lovers or friends, the language on this point is the same–and one expects that a man would love his wife, so there’s that in common, too.

There are differences, too, naturally.  Meleager, responding to Cleopatra’s urging, saved his city, but never collected the rewards offered to him by others.  Achilles, on the other hand, was not the one to save the Achaian camp, and did collect the offered rewards…some of them, anyway.  (Didn’t live long enough to get the cities and wife Agamemnon was offering, but he got Briseis back, and I think he got the gold, too.)


Y’know, when I planned to make today about Cleopatra, I think I had more in mind to say that was actually about her.  This has mostly been about Patroclos…  (Then again, with me, many things are.)

I ought to try and fix that, but…I have to read four more articles and about a dozen interview transcripts so I can write a fifteen page paper by Thursday.  So I probably should stop wasting my time blogging and get back to work…


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