Cleopatra’s Education

When the Greeks ruled Egypt in the first century B.C., they stressed education for both royal boys and girls. Cleopatra and her sisters received the same education as their brothers in case one of the girls would rule Egypt. Living in the city of Alexandria, home of a great library, Cleopatra had access to the best teachers and great works of literature.

First, young Cleopatra chanted the Greek alphabet. When she successfully learned the alphabet, she traced its letters on a wooden tablet. Teachers then gave her difficult words to read aloud so she would learn syllables. Like children today, Cleopatra knew Aesop’s fables well. Sometimes teachers in the first century B.C. assigned a tale to their students and asked them to retell it aloud. Public speaking skills were highly regarded at the time, and historians have remarked on Cleopatra’s ability to speak well in front of others.

As Cleopatra grew up, she decided that she would also learn to speak and read Egyptian. Amazingly, there is no record of previous Greek rulers of Egypt learning the language of the people they governed. This was probably because Egyptian writing was so complex. Cleopatra, however, did not want to rely on others to interpret what the Egyptians were saying.

Historians state that Cleopatra learned languages easily; one says that she could speak nine of them. Ancient historian Plutarch said that “It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another.” By receiving a good education, Cleopatra communicated easily with other rulers when she became queen of Egypt.