We do not know this woman’s real name, as ‘Cleopatra’ is assumed to be a pseudonym for a woman alchemist and philosopher who authored a number of alchemical texts.
She lived in Egypt and is associated with the same school of alchemy as Maria Prophetissima. Like Maria, Cleopatra’s work was concerned mostly with transforming substances through the processes of distillation and sublimation.
Three texts on alchemy are attributed to Cleopatra:
- Εκ των Κλεοπατρας περι μετρων και σταθμων. (On Weights and Measures)
- Κλεοπατρης χρυσοποια (Chrysopeoeia of Cleopatra)
- Διαλογος φιλοσοφων και κλεοπατρας (A Dialogue of Cleopatra and the Philosophers)
The most famous of these texts is the Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra which is a sheet of papyrus illustrated with symbols for gold making, assumed to be drawn by Cleopatra herself.
The drawings include an ouroboros (a snake eating itself), an ancient symbol which represents eternity. The text describes the ouroboros as follows:
“One is the Serpent which has its poison according to two compositions, and One is All and through it is All, and by it is All, and if you have not All, All is Nothing.”
There is also a diagram of a dibikos, (an alchemical tool for distillation) and several images of stars and crescents.
Not to be confused with Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Egypt.
Hypatia’s Heritage. A History of Women in Science from Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century – Margaret Alic
Women in Science: Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century – Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie