Plutarch's Prejudice

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra
Theda Bara as Cleopatra and Fritz Leiber as Caesar in the lost film Cleopatra (1917). Source, public domain at Wikimedia.
Theda Bara as Cleopatra and Fritz Leiber as Caesar
 in the lost film 
Cleopatra (1917)..Public  domain.

Plutarch (46 anno domini - 119 anno domini) was a Greek man who lived seventy-three years in the Roman Empire. He was, by every standard in his time and in ours here in the twenty-first century, a highly educated person. A highest formally educated person nowadays is not especially noteworthy because of the millions of others equally educated.

In Plutarch's time, his high education made him, practically, a veritable miracle inasmuch as there were so few persons who could read or write. In has been estimated that up until the nineteenth century, over ninety percent of persons in the world could not read or write. In that percent was included every king and queen, probably.

In his life, Plutarch was Biographer, Historian, Orator, Philosopher, Psychoanalyst, Psychologist,
Physician, Poet. In his time, Plutarch was truly a giant in superior education capacity and qualities.

And yet, sadly, so sadly, he was slave to a prejudice, common to a most ignorant and unwashed barbarian in any Civilization anywhere, and at any time in History, namely, the treatment of women as inferior to men.

The Olympic Games began in Ancient highly civilized Greek approximately twenty-five hundred years ago; women were not allowed to participate or to watch. In the Roman Empire in Plutarch's day, by law, women were regarded as inferior to men.

However, Roman Empire Civilization being the highest, every man and woman was permitted to discretely disobey that law, unless legally openly challenged by somebody.

There is evidence that Plutarch could have easily known of the women in the Empire who demonstrated they were, at the very least, equal to the most powerful men in the Empire.

And yet, his twenty-eight lengthy biographies published, are about men only.

And yet, there were women, who, despite it being blatantly and insultingly condescendingly, a man's world, distinguished themselves as equal, at least, to the greatest of men.

Livia Drusilla, (59 b.c.- 29 a.d.), was the wife of Octavius Caesar, the first and greatest Emperor of the Empire. They were married for fifty-one years. She was so admired for her involvement in partnership with her husband in the Politics of the Empire, that after her death, she was proclaimed a goddess, and worshipped throughout the Empire.

Fulvia, (52 b.c. - 40 b.c.) was the only women soldier to lead troops that occupied the City of Rome, against Octavius Caesar, before he became Emperor. She was, probably, the last woman leader to have her face on a Roman coin.

Amanirenas, (40 b.c. - 10 b.c.) queen of the Kushites in Nubia in North Africa, south of and contiguous with Egypt. The only opponent of Rome who defeated Roman soldiers in more than one battle, and whose armies eventually brought Rome to its knees. Rome sued for peace.

Amanirenas demanded and received from Octavius Caesar the promise that Rome would not ever try again to conquer Nubia. Rome kept that promise. Nubia was the first and only country to remain independent throughout the time of the Roman Empire.

Julia Agrippina, (15 a.d. - 59 a.d.), wife of Emperor Claudius. She brought into the marriage a son, Nero. She murdered her Emperor husband in order to make her son Emperor. When Nero became Emperor, he had his mother, Agrippina, murdered. When the assassins arrived, she asked them to focus their stabbings on her womb that had created a thing as depraved as her son, Emperor Nero.

Boudica, (30 a.d. - 61 a.d.) Queen of Celts in England. She led her army to a few victories against the Romans, before she was defeated. She killed herself, rather than being taken prisoner.

Cleopatra, (70 b.c.- 31 b.c.) Queen of Egypt. She became queen in 53 b.c., and ruled Egypt for 22 years. For 22 years she kept Egypt an independent country in the Roman Empire. In all those years, her Political maneuverings avoided war with Rome. Eventually, by circumstances beyond her control, she had to go to war with Rome, for the first time. She lost. She killed herself, rather than being taken prisoner.

She was the only female Plutarch included in his biographies, albeit within a biography of a male, who was the principle topic of the biography.

Plutarch's prejudice against women was at its most shameful in his writing about Cleopatra, the magnificent Macedonian Queen of Egypt.

She was the last, the fourteenth, of the Macedonian Ptolemy family dynasty that had ruled Egypt for about 293 years after Macedonian Alexander the Great bequeathed Egypt to his General, Ptolemy.

On her death, Egypt ceased forever being an independent country within the Roman Empire. Egypt became merely another Province, governed by a Rome-appointed Governor.

Throughout her reign, Cleopatra claimed to be an incarnation of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

Mark Antony, a renowned Roman General, claimed to be descended from the Roman demi-god, Hercules. Antony, with Cleopatra's consent, became joint ruler of Egypt alongside her. They never were married. They had two children.

Antony was the supreme commander in his last battle against Roman legions led by Octavius Caesar. He was defeated. He fled back to Cleopatra in Egypt. He killed himself. According to Plutarch, Antony's defeat was signaled by the demi-god Hercules being heard overhead by Antony's soldiers in Egypt:

"The selfsame night within little of midnight, when all the city was quiet, full of fear and sorrow, thinking what would be the issue and end of this war; it is said that suddenly they heard a marvelous sweet harmony of sundry sorts of instruments of music, with the cry of a multitude of people, as they had been dancing. And it seemed that this dance went through the city unto the gate that opened to the enemies. Now, such as in reason sought the depth of the interpretation of this wonder, thought that it was the god unto whom Antonius bare singular devotion to, that did forsake him."

Plutarch accepted, without hesitation, that the god of Antony was physically present in revealing his participation in Antony's ending destiny.

And yet when Cleopatra's goddess, Isis, later on shewed her presence at Cleopatra's death, Plutarch is silent 'in reason to seek the depth of the interpretation of the wonder of the evidence.'

Plutarch observes about the manner of Cleopatra's death, "Few can tell the truth." And, about the tomb which was alleged to contain the body of the deceased queen, he observes, "There were seen certain fresh steps or tracks on the tomb side toward the sea, and specially by the door's side."

Within reason, why not interpret those inexplicable "fresh steps" as the intervention of the goddess Isis, to continue the excellence of Queen Cleopatra's life through all eternity? Cleopatra as Queen, had identified completely with Isis. She dressed as Isis. She was the only Ptolemy who cared to learn to speak Egyptian in order to speak to and with Isis in her own tongue.

While Plutarch does not hesitate to take the leap in interpretation in the man's case, he chooses to be silent in the woman's.

That was over two-thousand years ago. Plutarch's embarrassing prejudice is alive and well in present-day U.S.A. in that in its 247 years of existence, there isn't a woman among the 46 democratically elected U.S.A. Presidents! 

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