Who was Cleopatra VII, Spartacus, and Hypatia? - A Masterclass Guide with Adam Murphy
Good news! To learn about history, you don’t just need to read big ole dusty history books. You can, first off, read a fantastic history blog – more good news, you are already doing that! Go you!
Nextly, you can play history video games and board games, watch historic TV shows and films, and read history-themed comic books and graphic novels too! Who knew, right? Playing board games like History Heroes, watching TV shows like Horrible Histories, films like Valiant, and reading comics like CorpseTalk, will all teach you loads and loads of stuff about history.
And, as luck would have it, we had the opportunity recently to interview the co-creator of CorpseTalk, Adam Murphy. Adam has kindly agreed to teach us all about some fantastically fascinating historical figures; Cleopatra VII, Spartacus, and Hypatia. Not heard of all those dudes and dudettes before? Or just want to learn more about them? Then you’ll definitely want to check out this historical masterclass!
Hi Adam, first off, could you tell our readers a little more about CorpseTalk?
CorpseTalk is a collection of comic-book chat show interviews with famous and amazing people from history. Except, since our guests are all dead, we’re interviewing their reanimated zombie corpses! I act as the interviewer (as well as researching, writing, and drawing the comic). My talented co-creator (and wife) Lisa is the colourist on the project, as well as having come up with the brilliant premise that makes the whole thing work. We’d been doing it for over 10 years now, racking up over 100 interviews. CorpseTalk is initially published in The Phoenix, a weekly kids’ comics magazine, before being collected as books (6 and counting!).
We’d love to learn more about some of the fascinating long-dead historical celebrities you’ve interviewed. What was it like chatting with Cleopatra in CorpseTalk: Queens and Kings? Was she as glamourous as one would expect?
Well, she does seem to have been a bit of an expert at the use of weaponized glamour, sailing down the Nile in a massive, golden barge, wafting incense and dressed as the goddess Isis, all to impress the Roman general Mark Anthony (who then fell madly in love with her). But one thing the sources all talk about is how much of her personal charisma came not from her looks but from her intelligence – she spoke 9 languages, had advanced training in science and philosophy, and was clearly a formidable person.
What was the most astounding thing that Cleopatra did?
I think just the fact that she managed to rule Egypt, keeping it relatively strong and independent, for as long as she did. Rome had already gobbled up all the other kingdoms around the Mediterranean, but if she and Anthony had managed to win at the Battle of Actium, Egypt might have re-emerged as a viable power. Of course, that’s not how it went, but even the fact that she got that far is pretty impressive.
And what one thing did you learn about her that would surprise our readers?
She wasn’t actually Egyptian at all. She came from a family of Macedonian Greeks who’d helped conquer the known world under Alexander the Great 3 centuries earlier and had taken over Egypt and set themselves up as pharaohs.
So even though they’d adopted some of the Egyptian traditions, to endear themselves to the locals, they still thought of themselves as basically Greek. Apparently, Cleopatra was the first of them to ever even learn to speak Egyptian!
We noticed that you were lucky enough to interview Spartacus in CorpseTalk: Rebels, who was he again?
Spartacus was a Roman slave, likely from Thrace (an area split between the modern countries of Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria). He was being trained to kill or be killed as a gladiator, but he, along with the other inmates of the gladiator school, rebelled and fought their way out using kitchen tools.
How did his slave rebellion go?
Initially, pretty well. Spartacus seems to have been an impressive general, since they defeated multiple Roman armies sent against them, swelling their ranks by freeing slaves wherever they went. Spartacus seems to have been keen on crossing the Alps, possibly trying to get back to his home province in Thrace, but he was overruled.
The rebels made a deal with some pirates to ferry them out of Italy, but surprise surprise, the pirates double-crossed them, took their gold, and then just sailed off, leaving them trapped. The rebel army was eventually ground down and wiped out by the legions.
What happened to Spartacus in the end?
No-one knows. He was most likely killed in the final battle, but his body was never found. Maybe he was about to give himself up, but then the whole army started standing up saying “I am Spartacus”. I mean none of the Roman sources mention it, but it’s still possible...
Hypatia is someone many of us won’t have heard of, and yet we really should have done. Can you tell us a little about her?
Yeah, she’s great! We actually spend a lot of time trying to get a good balance of well-known people from history, as well as lesser-known but equally awesome historical personages. She was a philosopher-mathematician from Egypt, but right at the end of the Roman empire.
So what kind of awesome stuff did she do?
Well, she was a teacher specializing in Neoplatonic philosophy, astronomy, and mathematics. Her father had founded a school of philosophy that was burned to the ground, which may explain her particular interest in preserving the knowledge of earlier times, although during this period most scholars focussed on preserving and commenting on earlier works, rather than trying to come up with new ideas.
And, she was murdered, right? What was all that about?
It seems like she got swept up into a conflict between the Roman governor of Alexandria (a friend who she often advised) and the city’s new bishop (who was already not well disposed towards female pagan philosophers). The bishop started a rumour that she was conspiring against him, which set off an angry mob who dragged her out of her carriage and stoned her to death. Yikes!
What next for Corpse Talk Adam? Our readers would love to know!
It’s been developed as a wonderful series on Youtube Originals, with my character voiced by Joe Sugg. Hearing someone else voicing “me” is very strange, but also rather lovely as he’s done such a great voice of bringing the show to life.
Copious high-fives and fist-bumps to Adam for answering all our questions so awesomely!
You can say hello to Adam on Twitter by clicking here.
To find out more about CorpseTalk, head on over to Adam and Lisa's website with a quick click right here.