Kleopatra: Classroom Guide

This book represents a paradigm shift in thinking about women in history.”
—Dr. Mary Bess Dunn, Professor of Education, Tennessee State University

“Kleopatra finally gets her due as the brilliant, many-faceted woman she was.”
—Susan Ford Wiltshire, Professor of Classics, Vanderbilt University, and author of Athena’s Disguises


Here is one model on how Kleopatra was used in a course titled WOMEN OF POWER:

Karen Essex’s Kleopatra served as the centerpiece text for my freshman writing course, “Women of Power.” I wanted to provide a forum for discussion about the lives of women within the context of history, politics, religion, society, education, the arts, culture, and self-realization, but not in comparison to men. We, as a class, defined power or empowerment as the qualities of intelligence, ingenuity, courage, determination, intuition, righteousness, and intention.

Kleopatra, the woman, as she is portrayed in Essex’s novel exemplifies these qualities within this context, making this the essential text for the course. Unlike the Hollywood version of this story, in which “womanly seduction” is the underpinning of Kleopatra’s acquired power, students, instead, discovered a woman whose great intellect, personal integrity, and loyalty to her country, determined her power.

Kleopatra became the primary source for researching information about the queen and her time in history. Student presentations included topics such as food and travel of the time period, clothing, hygiene, body adornment, politics, education, hieroglyphics, mythology, and religion.

While providing a wealth of historical information about a particular woman under challenging circumstances during a grand time in history, I believe Essex’s Kleopatra provides a model of empowerment as it applies to all women, in any situation, during every time.

Cynn Chadwick, MFA
Lecturer, Literature and Language
University of North Carolina at Asheville


Please click here to read letters Karen has received from students about Kleopatra.