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The Defeat of Death

A Reading of Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s "Cleopatra</I>

Afroditi-Maria Panaghis

The monograph reads Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s historical romance Cleopatra (1889) with the aim to delineate the last decade of the Victorian period, shed light on the attempt to forge identity, and demonstrate the author’s preoccupation with the concept of coincidentia oppositorum as the basic principle of life, death, and regeneration. Through the mythic figure of Cleopatra, the simulacrum of the goddess Isis, the writer underscores that death can be defeated and immortality attained. By simulating ancient Egypt, submerging in the unconscious, withdrawing from the ephemeral world and espousing the spiritual, he came to terms with his fear of mortality, rejuvenated his self, and redeemed his soul. In perusing the three papyri, discovered in the hero’s sarcophagus, the reader traces the progress from the Ptolemaic degenerate court to that of Isis.

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Chapter Five: The Fall of Harmachis

Extract

Chapter Five The Fall of Harmachis THIS chapter depicts the further degradation of Harmachis and emphasizes the distance between him and the goddess as a result of his sin. The hero remembers that one day Cleopatra left the council which was in session and went to see him, took the “diadem” from her brow and set it on his head, on his shoulders she put her royal mantle, and in his hand the scepter, and bowed before him. This is the second time Cleopatra crowns him king mainly, to prove her authority, underline his subjection to her, but also to ridicule him; actually this time proves more painful than the first when she crowned him with the “chaplet of roses” as king of love because it occurs after his failure to carry out his mission. He rises, throws away the trinkets and in anger accuses her of mocking him. Astonished by his reaction she remonstrates: “how knowest thou that I mock thee? How knowest thou that thou shalt not be Pharaoh in fact and deed?” Harmachis exclaims that this could never happen if she does not marry him before Egypt and she answers “perchance, love, it is in my mind to wed thee.” She explains that he is still imprisoned for his own safety because if freed he would be “shamed and slain—ay, murdered secretly,” and she promises to allow him to reappear soon in court as her astrologer (141). When she leaves to return to her court Harmachis...

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