Cleopatra Died From Poison
She used hemlock, not snake's venom, says historian
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2010 2:39 PM CDT
In this 1963 film still image originally released by 20th Century Fox, actress Elizabeth Taylor portrays Cleopatra.   (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, file)
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(Newser) – Cleopatra committed suicide using poison, not by allowing herself to be bit by an asp, says a German scholar. He deduced that the widely known story of Cleopatra killing herself by allowing an Egyptian cobra to bite her was false, despite having made it into Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. "It is certain that there was no cobra," historian Christop Schaefer tells CNN.

Schaefer sees several reasons why a death by snakebite is unlikely—for one, Cleopatra wanted to die, and an asp's venom may not be fatal. Cleopatra knew about poisons, and the Roman historian Cassius Dio wrote that she died a "quiet and pain-free death." The asp's poison would have been agonizing, and Schaefer postulates Cleopatra used hemlock, mixed with wolfsbane and opium. "Opium is quiet and with it, one can really fall into a deadly sleep," he said.