Queen of Kings, The Lady of the Two Lands, The Goddess who Loves her Father, Isis
To J. W. Worthy, Professor
Having not entirely forgot our Dustbowl professor, whom we envisage as living among peoples and on a landscape not so different from our own Egyptians in pre-Ptolemaic times, we briefly deferred further correspondence, lest we give offense. You will scarcely find a royal house more tolerant of your pristine views and simple ways than is ours, dear Professor. You probably know that our first royal ceremony and public appearance takes place after the death of Ptolemy Auletes, our revered father. We, hitherto sovereign together with that divine man, must now, at seventeen years of age, assume sole rule over our Egyptian subjects. The first Ptolemy to speak their language, we become on this occasion also the first to journey up to the legendary city of Thebes, there on the first day of spring to preside over the installation of the holy bull Buchis of Hermonthis, the living soul of Amon-Ra. So you see, dear Professor, we are not unacquainted with primitive folk and their ways.
The governance which you describe, egalitarian, democratic, wherein the chief is primus inter pares, first among equals, is of course well attested. As one people acquires the means to subjugate its neighbors, egalitarianism is replaced by the law of war: the conqueror rules without restraint. The law of war is the first rule of governance. If the conqueror rules well, he surrounds himself by officers who accumulate, over the centuries, some experience. For the second rule of governance is the law of inheritance. Woman, always booty in war, understands this rule well. The Hebrew Levirate is one of numerous legal systems providing for woman's rights through her children, i.e., through inheritance. To use a personal example, we are ourselves conquered by the murderous Octavian--who changed his name to that of the month in which he slew us--but in the person of Cleopatra Selene and her son Ptolemy we continue to reign over Mauretania and the fertile slopes of the Atlas.
But let us return to our topic. The choice as to who shall govern a people need not concern us here, it being of course a divine choice. Do not quibble with us, dear Professor. Does not your god declare that he knows when each sparrow falls? Surely he therefore knows who shall govern the fate of his people. We happen to regard divination by lot as a primitive decision making process--but well attested, of course--and what else do you imagine choice by popular election to be? We feel that an appeal to the goddess Tyche by this particular means is a dangerous practice, in that it tempts the ambitious constantly to test the shifting, often turbulent winds of popular madness.--But perhaps 'tis we who quibble now. Just as corrupt Hitlers may be elected, arrogant Octavians may claim divinity. Let us therefore proceed to the main issue. In governance, as in all else, we come ultimately to the question of trust. Our people trust their divine monarch.
We recall again our trip up the Nile to Thebes, our loveliest journey by boat. Nothing is more important for the boatsman than his lines, which assure control of the sail, security of anchorage, and his bond to dry land. Like the political theorist, therefore, he must give serious attention to tying a good knot. We rely on your experience in this analogy, dear Professor: So long as horses and cattle were part of your life in the Dustbowl, you knew that a knot must hold firm, but permit quick and facile loosening; that some knots are tied to slip, others to permit adjustment. But all knots share one characteristic: the "bitter end," as the boatsmen call it, the inevitable end of the line lying loose on deck or dangling from the knot. It must be secured. In governance, the bitter end is ultimate responsibility: where does it lie? how to vest it? who then guards the guards? Above all else, good faith must be maintained.
Our people trust their divine ruler who in her eternal wisdom appoints those who appoint the appointees who at last fulfill the public trust. For it is in these myriad officials, of course, that governance actually consists. The monarch does not rule, she appoints. We all trust in the land, in the seasons, in the rise and fall of the Nile. This is not to say that we are never disappointed. But still we trust in our gods, for they constantly watch over us. Are you aware, dear Professor, that worshippers of Cleopatra plated her effigy with gold as late as a half millennium after her reign? Would you think servants of the reigning Queen likely to deceive her, at whose altar morning and evening they worship?
Your government, dear Professor, was founded upon distrust, and necessarily so, rightly so. Had not the people risen up against their divinely appointed monarch? Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, even Ben Franklin plainly expressed their distrust of government and boasted of the "checks and balances" in your Constitution. But with all that, you were left with the bitter end. Where, exactly, did final responsibility lie? The first duty of every elected official was to delegate responsibility. The first task of every appointee was to satisfy his immediate superior, and to enhance his own stature among his colleagues. That is collective governance. One of your great thinkers, Gustave le Bon, observed that a committee composed of the highest intellects always had the collective intelligence of an imbecile. That was because any council by its very structure looked inward to the careers of its constituents, none of whom was motivated to fix on the distant goal. The highest accomplishment of a government so constituted was ever to promulgate popular rules and regulations. As a consequence, the affected populace, just like the governing officials themselves, quickly learned to "game the system," as you say. Eventually the unintended effects of their presumably perfect rules and regulations was always disaster. Yet the elected and appointed officials could always say they had done all they could. Did their measures not enjoy popular approval? How could they be responsible if things went awry?
Trust, my dear Professor, no governance is possible except it be founded on trust.
With our most cordial blessing,
|as to our signature, please see below|
Please return to:Professor Worthy's Page, Home
or see the correspondence with
The following letter was received by the Classics List on September 25th, 2000:
Subj: Fwd: Cleopatra's signature
From: email@example.com (Sally Winchester)
I thought others on the list might be interested in the post and am
posting it in the hopes that some are.
>Some more life was just thrown into our list by H. Melaerts. Perhaps
>I should explain a bit more about Pëter van Minnen's recent find.
>P.Bingen 45, now housed in the Egyptian Museum, Berlin, is edited as
>a synchoresis, a private contract. In fact it is a royal ordinance to
>give extensive tax and customs exemptions to a wealthy landowner in
>Egypt, no doubt a Roman. Both the fisc (dioikesis) and "the private
>account of ourselves and the children" are involved. The author
>therefore cannot be anyone else but the reigning sovereign. As the
>text is dated in year 19 = 4 (33 B.C.) this must be the famous
>Cleopatra VII herself. The last line of the text is a subscription in
>a different hand, stipulating "genesthoi" i.e. "so be it". This must
>be the original signature of the queen. Given the date of the text,
>only a couple of years before the battle of Actium, the priviliged
>person, perhaps called Publius Cassius (?), was no doubt a major
>supporter of Mark Antony in the civil war against Octavian.
>This is an extraordinarily important historical document. A revised
>edition by Peter van Minnen is now in press in Ancient Society 30
>(2000). Van Minnen is at this moment a Dutch Academy Research Fellow
>in Religious Studies at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands)
>and Visiting Assistant Professor in Ancient History at the University
>of Leuven (Belgium).
>Feel free to post this message to other list servs.
The entire papyrus fragment has been posted on the web at
----------------------- Headers --------------------------------