A remedy fit for the great queen of Egypt, writes Marysia Kratimenos
Cleopatra. The name conjures up images of untold wealth, exotic mystery and beauty. Elizabeth Taylor and her deep love-hate relationship with Richard Burton set against the excesses of Hollywood. Passion, intrigue and power, mixed with deceit and corruption. But who was the real Cleopatra? What is the truth behind the last pharaoh of Egypt?
Cleopatra has gained immortality, not least of all by the method of her death from the venom of a cobra, the sacred sign of Egyptian royalty. The snake traditionally symbolises wisdom and healing, a connection with other worlds and the power over sexuality and death. Cleopatra was the incarnation of the female royal cobra, as her life so clearly shows.
The golden age of Egypt was long dead at her birth in 69 BC. The marvels of the pyramids and Karnak temples remained as shadowy reminders of the glorious past. The Egyptian dynasties had been replaced by Macedonian Greeks.
Cleopatra VII was the third child of Ptomely Auletes, having two older sisters, Cleopatra VI and Berenice IV and three younger siblings, Arsinoe IV and the princes Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV. Cleopatra VI did not survive infancy, and her father later executed Berenice for treason.
Ptolemy Auletes was a weak man, who lacked the fire and wisdom of his lineage. Over the preceding two centuries Egypt had lost vast amounts of land to the rising Roman Empire, which was poised to take over as the ancient superpower. Greek tradition had diluted the Egyptian culture and tradition, and the country was set to fall into Roman hands. Ptolemy Auletes felt this was inevitable and created a pact with the Romans, paying them tribute.
On his death, he left his remaining children in the care of Pompey, the Roman leader, and willed Egypt to Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII. In accordance with Egyptian law Cleopatra was expected to have a consort to reign, and so the 18 year-old was married to her 12 year-old brother. Incestuous marriages were common practice in Ancient Egypt.
However, Cleopatra was determined to reign alone and although she went through with the political marriage, she soon began to omit Ptolemy’s name from official documents. Unlike her father, she had immense strength of character, and was motivated by duty to her country. She devoted her energy to bringing back the glory of Egypt. Of all the snake remedies, Naja has the strongest sense of duty. Rajan Sankaran, the celebrated Indian homeopath, describes the Naja character as having “ a certain quality of nobility about them, of morality, of responsibility”; qualities Cleopatra had in abundance.
Cleopatra was very well educated and highly intelligent, the match of any man intellectually. She spoke nine languages but not Latin, perhaps showing her contempt for the Romans. Unlike her predecessors she immersed herself in the ways of Ancient Egypt, learning their language and their heritage. She celebrated their religion, and was a devotee of the cult of Isis, the goddess of healing. The snake remedies are excellent linguists, and extremely quick witted and intelligent.
She had no intention of being a vassal of the Roman Empire. She wanted to restore Egypt to a great empire. Many did not share her ambitions and backed the malleable youth, Ptolemy XIII. A power struggle ensued, with Cleopatra being forced into exile. She rallied Arab troops, determined to regain her birthright.
In the meantime her guardian, Pompey had been murdered and Julius Caesar was the rising star in the Roman Empire. He arrived in Alexandria in 48 BC with vast numbers of legionaries, to restore peace in the East. Cleopatra realised that Julius Caesar could help her reclaim the throne. She showed great courage by having herself smuggled in a carpet, through enemy lines, to the palace in Alexandria where he was staying. By the next day they were lovers, and her reign was assured.
Roman propaganda depicts Cleopatra as a harlot, but there is no evidence to support this slur on her morality. If anything she was a serial monogamist. The cobra bonds with her mate and they remain together. Cleopatra certainly used her charm and sexuality to further her ambitions, as any self-respecting snake remedy would!
Her brother was incensed by her actions, and provoked riots, which led to the burning of part of the great library of Alexandria. Caesar and Cleopatra maintained control of the lighthouse of Pharos, and thus the all-important harbour. Ptolemy XIII died trying to escape.
Arsinoe, her younger sister, had herself proclaimed queen by the Macedonian mob, a betrayal that led to her being paraded through the streets of Rome as a slave, before her execution in front of Cleopatra. Unlike many snakes, the cobra is not naturally aggressive, and will raise its hood as a warning before striking. She only attacks when provoked to the extreme.
The romantic snake
Caesar and Cleopatra were well matched. Both great intellectuals and radical thinkers. Their love was genuine, although originally motivated by mutual political ambitions. Naja is very romantic in nature. They spent two months cruising down the Nile, as Cleopatra showed off the wonders of her kingdom. Despite being married off again, this time to her youngest brother, Ptolemy XIV, Cleopatra bore Julius a son, Caesarion (Ptolemy Caesar) and it is believed that they married during their trip on the Nile. Ptolemy XIV later died and Cleopatra was blamed. There is little evidence to support this claim of fratricide, but her reputation was tarnished again by the implication. Naja has deep feelings of resentment and impulses to harm those who have inflicted the suffering.
Jealousy and suspicion
When Julius returned to Rome, Cleopatra joined him and soon became an object of hatred. The deeply conservative Romans were offended by her extravagant ways and her bigamous marriage to Caesar. She proclaimed herself the New Isis, according to Egyptian culture, and had gold statues of herself and Caesar erected in the temple of Venus. Caesarian was openly proclaimed as Caesar’s only son and heir.
Jealousy is a theme of all the snake remedies; they can be very jealous and suspicious people or evoke that emotion in others as Cleopatra undoubtedly did. There were vast differences at that time between Egyptian and Roman culture. Women had far more rights in Egypt as compared to the typical Roman matron. They were free to chose husbands and own property. As a queen and the incarnation of a god, Cleopatra was used to supreme power, fabulous wealth and luxury. In her own country, she was Isis, Venus, Aphrodite, every feminine goddess; a concept that was incomprehensible to the Roman populace. Her behaviour and bearing must have infuriated them.
Julius Caesar was assassinated by senators in 44 BC, and Rome descended into chaos. Cleopatra only just managed to escape to Alexandria with her life; such was the hatred of the Roman people.
On her return, she found her country in equal chaos. The “bread basket of the Mediterranean” was threatened with famine due to failure of the Nile floods. As pharaoh-goddess, Cleopatra was directly responsible for the fertility of her nation. It was her duty to intervene between the gods and the people. Only when she performed the correct religious rituals, would prosperity be restored. The energy of the snake as intermediary between the heavens and earth is demonstrated by this action.
The Naja venom
Rome declared a triumvirate with Mark Anthony, Lepidus and Octavian (later the Emperor Augustus Caesar) sharing power. Julius Caesar was deified in 42 BC but his will left no provision for Cleopatra and his heir.
Cleopatra was initially occupied with averting famine, but soon realised she was alone again and unprotected against the might of Rome. Octavian reigned in the Western Empire and Mark Antony the East. Being a snake, her choice was clear, as was her approach! She was in need of the strongest ally, preferably one she could manipulate using her sensual charm.
Her seduction of Mark Anthony is legendary – the ornate ship bearing her dressed as Aphrodite, goddess of love. It was an ostentatious and possibly vulgar act, but clearly demonstrated her understanding of the uncouth, womanising and heavy drinking Mark Anthony, a devotee of Dionysis / Bacchus. Subtlety would have been wasted on him. Cleopatra needed him, and he needed her wealth. Her behaviour shows her deep comprehension of human nature, which she exploited with characteristic flair. Together they had three children. Mark Anthony married her following his divorce, and legitimised all the children.
Octavian declared war on Anthony and Cleopatra, which culminated in the famous battle at Actium, off the Greek coast. Anthony was unable to engage in a land battle, which he favoured and realising the supremacy of the Roman fleet, fled to Alexandria, with Cleopatra.
Mark Anthony chose to remain at their landing point, which is still known as Cleopatra’s beach. Both knew that defeat was inevitable, as Octavian was close behind. Anthony lapsed into a deep depression and committed suicide, dying in Cleopatra’s arms.
Cleopatra’s priority was her children. She had them sent away, hoping to ensure their safety. Unfortunately, her trust was betrayed and Caesarion was murdered. Octavian spared her children by Mark Anthony, bringing them up in his own family.
Cleopatra was taken prisoner when Octavian stormed the city, and fearing the same fate as her sister Arsinoe, also took her own life. The choice of the cobra ensured a rapid death, as the venom paralyses the nervous system, leading to paralysis of the muscles of respiration. Cleopatra died as she lived, as a royal female cobra, the uraeus, the symbol of Egypt. Her servants chose to die with her, showing their faith and admiration of her.
Although sworn enemies, Octavian held her in high regard. When he took the name Augustus and was to be honored by having a calendar month named after him, he chose the eighth month, the month of Cleopatra’s death, rather than his birth month.
Egypt fell into the hands of Rome, and Alexandria fell into the sea, burying its secrets. The legend of Cleopatra lives on. Naja has truly attained immortality and her name will never be obliterated.
Naja – remedy profile
Cobra venom is used homeopathically to treat a variety of complaints. As it is a profoundly powerful remedy and reserved for serious health complaints, it is not suitable for self-prescribing and should be left to the professional homeopath to use judiciously.
Cobra venom is neuro-toxic, in other words poisonous to the nervous system. The bite mark becomes red, swollen and there is some tissue damage and infection, though not as severe as with the vipers or sea snakes. The earliest symptom is drooping of the eyelids, giddiness and weakness, followed by generalised muscle paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and breathing, vomiting and foaming round the mouth. There is some damage to the blood clotting mechanism, leading to a bleeding tendency, but this is less dramatic than with the viper family. Death results from paralysis of the muscles of respiration and heart failure. If death has not occurred within two hours, it is likely that the person will recover. Treatment is with anti-venom, which must be specific to the snake species. Resistance can build up to snake bites; those handling snakes often give themselves tiny injections of the venom to protect themselves against accidental bites. In ancient times snake charmers allowed themselves to be bitten to gain immunity – a risky business!
In view of the paralysing effects of the venom, one enterprising doctor started using tiny injections of cobra venom for polio, with excellent results. It is unlikely he realised he was applying the homeopathic principle of like cures like! The discovery of the polio vaccine put paid to this fascinating method of treatment. Homeopaths are still using the venom, but in potentised doses.
The snake remedies share certain common characteristics. They all dislike extremes of temperature, and are very sensitive to changes in weather and the seasons. Naja can be terrified of rain.
Their symptoms recur at regular intervals. They feel better from movement and free flow of bodily fluids, and are worse following inactivity (including sleep). Symptoms flare up when the menstrual periods are stopped, either with the pill, pregnancy or the menopause.
Snakes shed their skin, and “snake people” often suffer with flaking skin. They are prone to nasty septic lesions, and have a tendency to bruising and bleeding. The skin often becomes discoloured, bluish or reddish-purple with infections.
A dislike of constriction, means snakes can only be safely held around the neck.
Those requiring snake remedies are often intolerant of tight clothing, particularly around the neck. There is often a tendency to sore throats, and it is easier to eat rather than drink.
Snakes do not have eyelids, and hypnotise their prey, and so the eyes of the patients have a mesmeric quality. They are prone to nasty eye infections.
The gentle snake
Naja is one of the gentle snakes and can be easily confused with Pulsatilla. There are marked mood swings, especially pre menstrually. They are romantic in nature, very devoted to the family and duty. When provoked, and they are very sensitive emotionally, they flare up after issuing warnings and then “go for the jugular”. Their rebukes are sarcastic and biting. They are prone to go off in a sulk in mild cases, but can become suicidally depressed. Naja can be used for the treatment of many psychological conditions including depression, manic depression and severe mood swings.
On a physical level, the main focus is on the heart. Naja is used for many serious heart diseases, including valve problems and heart failure, obviously alongside orthodox medical treatments. There is often a hacking cough associated with the heart problem. It is very useful for paralysing diseases, such as polio. In the past it was used in diptheria epidemics, with wonderful results.
Naja is one of the lesser known remedies, and used in the appropriate cases has a profound curative effect.
Marysia Kratimenos MBBS FRCS (Ed) MFHom is an associate specialist at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital.