By Doreen Hopwood
Deep within black granite halls,
the Goddess hears Her priestess
utter the summoning call,
unchanged for aeons, ancient and timeless,
'Isis unveiled! Isis unveiled!'
The Temple doors are flung wide,
indignant words interrupt the holy chant
as the venerable hierophant is pushed aside,
and almost drops her sacred lotus plant.
Cleopatra has arrived!
Isis views the mortal before Her,
a sardonic smile forming on Her lips.
Unbidden, amusement begins to stir
as this woman, hands on hips,
'I am Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile!
You may begin the weighing of my heart.'
'Really?' Isis demurs, trying to hide Her smile.
Our little virago is off to a bad start.
Isis folds Her winged arms.
'Did I give you leave to speak?'
Cleopatra snaps back 'I am a Queen!'
Isis laughs aloud 'You are a Greek!
And, I have to say, a Greek who seems
to lust after Roman men!'
Cleopatra is momentarily struck dumb,
in fact, she appears slightly stunned
but quickly retorts 'I have not come
here to be insulted! Surely you planned
for my royal arrival?
She splutters on, dropping her royal flail,
knocking her golden uraeus awry,
as her carefully coiffed wig fails
to stay in place, and falls over her eyes.
'This is intolerable!' she fumes.
Isis waits for Cleopatra to compose herself.
The shock of Death never comes sweetly,
especially when She comes by stealth
and catches Her victim completely
She pets the baby on Her knee,
crooning to Him in an ancient tongue,
turning Him round for Cleopatra to see,
His face shining in this far flung
hall of silent mystery.
The Goddess casually shifts Horus
to Her other knee, 'My son.' She indicates
to the child. 'Motherhood! 'Twas ever thus!
And what news of your children?' Isis waits
as Cleopatra formulates her reply.
A torrent of disingenuous words pours forth;
'I knelt before your altar, rent
my royal gown in grief, (it was worth
a fortune), begging that holy guardians be sent
to lead my babes to safety!'
She allows a large tear to fall
from her immaculately kohled eye,
'Surely you would grant me such a small
request,' she pauses to release a tragic sigh,
'and heed my plea for mercy?'
'So tell me,' Isis muses,
'when was this Temple appeal,
this complaint of Roman abuses?
I recall no special offerings, no squeal
from Royal quarters,
no call for the Gods to end your sufferings.
Quite the opposite, in fact!
I beheld the people making offerings
to you! Such a lack of tact,
pretending to them you were Me!
A bit presumptuous, don't you think?
To assume you have the powers
of a Goddess? Cleopatra blinks
in surprise, and then glowers
irreverently at Isis.
Hungry Horus pulls at His Mother's breast
as Isis taps Her foot impatiently,
waiting as the sumptuously dressed
Cleopatra continues her patently
untrue tale of religious piety.
'I built many temples', she pouts,
and dedicated others in your holy name.
I threw lesser goddesses out,
I always thought it such a shame
their temples were grander than yours.'
'Small is beautiful.' murmurs Isis,
My sister Hathor was outraged!
Your building programmes caused a crisis!
My sisters don't like to be upstaged,
especially by a Greek!'
'My royal ancestors built splendid temples!'
Cleopatra becomes increasingly petulant.
'Philae, Edfu,and Dendera are fine examples!
And what about Kom Ombo and Esna?' she rants,
barely noticing that Isis is convulsed by mirth.
'Don't make me laugh! That bunch of charmers?
You come from a clan of yellow haired
Macedonian sheep farmers,
a family of usurpers, brains impaired
by incest, intrigue and murder!'
The Queen of the Nile is incredulous!
'That's rich!' she rages 'considering you married
your brother, green faced Osiris!
My royal ancestors simply carried
on your ancient Pharonic traditions!'
Isis narrows Her eyes, and fingers
the thunderbolt hidden behind Her back,
considering that if Cleopatra lingers
much longer, She will be forced to smack
her one, just as Pharaoh smites his enemies!
She mentally corrects Herself, smote
his enemies, because this impudent female
is a Pharaoh who has been smited, or, note
to Self, smitten by Roman males,
resulting in end of glorious Egyptian empire!
'So, Cleopatra the Seventh, erstwhile
Pharaoh, Lady of the Two Lands,
Protector of the Black Lands of the Nile,
etc., etc., what is it that you so arrogantly demand
of Me, here in My Celestial Halls?'
'I seek my royal father in the Afterlife.
I sprang from the womb
of his Great Royal Wife.
I shall join them both and mourn
the loss of Mark Anthony, my beloved.
The fatted calf will be slain,
chaos defeated, order restored.
Together as a family we will reign.
I shall have peace and happiness forever more.
So it is written!
I have instructed my priestesses
to keep vigils and chant hymns
for me every day. Nothing impresses
the peasants more than the din
of rituals loudly and regularly performed.
This is what they shall sing!'
Cleopatra arranges herself into a pose
of adoring worship and flings
out her arms to imitate those
of a priestess in prayer.
'Wear black! Wear black!'
she intones, 'Oh daughters of Isis,
the scatterers of Osiris are back!
Bring out your sistrums, bring out your drums!
The mourning times are come!
Lost to Egypt, lost to love,
lost to her children, left above.
Cleopatra, betrayed by Rome,
stripped of her power,
armies scattered, lovers dead,
the waters of the Nile
Her people wail in grief and sorrow
for all of Egypt's lost tomorrows!'
Cleopatra lowers her arms triumphantly.
'Don't you think I have a wonderful voice!
And,' she adds pompously,
'I was always the Court's poet of choice,
naturally, of course!'
Isis is singularly unimpressed.
Horus is so shocked He shape shifts
into His hawk form, and perches, claws pressed
into His Mother's shoulder, as She lifts
Herself from Her seat.
'It is obvious your powers of reason are failing!
'Sex and politics don't mix,
A bitter lesson, Cleopatra, for you are sailing
with the Ferryman on the River Styx!
Egyptian Afterlife is not for Greeks!'
Cleopatra is bemused. 'My father awaits
me, the Gods of Egypt await me!
My royal remains lie in state
in my splendid tomb for all to see!
I am no plaything for your amusement!'
Isis smiles grimly. 'There are no remains
in your tomb. Caesar's nephew sent
his executioner to ensure you were slain
as he cowered in his tent
washing his hands of you.
Your magnificent collar of lapis lazuli
hides the livid marks of the strangling cord,
your body, weighted in chains, lies
deep in the ocean, your servants put to the sword.
Not my plaything, but Rome's, it would appear.'
Cleopatra opens her mouth, but remains mute.
She touches the jewelled collar, and feels fear,
a strange and alien emotion that takes root
in her soul, and sits there, cool and clear.
'But I met a glorious death!
I welcomed the kiss of the asp.
My servants tended me as I drew my final breath,
I saw no Roman! I did not gasp
for air in my last seconds on Earth!
I slipped peacefully into the next life!'
'You haven't been here five minutes,' Isis snorts,
'yet it's obvious you're brainwashed and deluded!
Don't you realize how power and vanity distort
reality? You have no idea why you have been excluded
from the richest prize of all?'
'Have I been excluded?' Cleopatra queries.
'For here I am in the presence of a great Goddess!'
She jumps in fright as Horus screeches
furiously at the insult, tearing His Mother's dress
with His lethal talons.
'My son is also a great God of the Underworld!
Should you have been granted entrance,
He is the One who would have told
the Gods about your correct performance
of the necessary spells.
But, alas He will not be ushering
you into Their presence, nor into the arms
of your parents, time is running
out, oh Queen, your fabled charms
are useless now!
So come, Daughter of Greece,
you must prepare to meet Persephone,
Queen of Hades. May you find peace
in Her presence, your mortal catastrophes
forgotten as you drink from the River of Lethe.'
Cleopatra bridles, eyes flashing,
'Is that not you, Goddess of Ten Thousand Names?'
She gesticulates wildly, bracelets clashing.
Are you not one and the same?
Isis, Demeter, Hecate, Hathor, Persephone?
Isis stands impassively before the Queen,
winged arms folded across Her breast.
She knew Cleopatra would make a scene,
spoiled and decadent like the rest
of her dysfunctional dynasty.
Isis sighs. She knows the truth.
Cleopatra's destiny is to wander time and space,
to pass through the roof
of the sky and dwell forever in a place
Charon will not ferry her to Hades.
She has not been buried with proper ceremony,
and cannot mingle with the other shades
drifting through the court of Persephone,
hidden from the light.
Happy is the Egyptian who is pure in heart!
He knows the amulets to wear,
the spells he must recite at the start
of his journey. He knows where
he is going!
Not so the Greeks who stole Egypt.
The Ptolemies who stood dumb
when refused exit from their crypt,
and denied permission to come
before the Gods of the Nile.
They could not speak the tongue
of their subjects, could not recite
the spells, or turn
the pages of the book that might
have been their salvation.
Isis knows Cleopatra could converse
with the peasants, she made the effort,
she took the time to traverse
the land, even in the arms of her Roman consort,
She eased their burden of taxes,
made sure they had food to eat,
introduced better practices,
increased the army, renewed the fleet,
and thought she could best Rome.
For this mistake, this arrogance,
she will follow her ancestors
into the lonely, never ending dance
of lost souls, banished behind the stars
in the vast, unknown depths of Nowhere.
Deep within the Temple halls,
among the tall columns of pale
starlight and black granite walls,
hidden behind Her veil,
Isis weeps for Cleopatra.
©2008, Doreen Hopwood