"But hers was a restless mind. She never shook off an exchange with her father from years before. Martinez has been browsing through his library in 1990, looking for something to read.
She picked up Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, which her father dismissed. Cleopatra was a mere political schemer, he said, not even deserving of a historical footnote.
"Why do you speak of the queen like this?" she recalls. "How do you know? What are your sources?"
Martinez vowed to find out for herself, a daunting task in a small Caribbean island in a pre-Internet world. " I read everything, Plato, Socrates, especially the Romans," she says, adding that she came to understand the axiom that history is written by the winners. "Of course, the Romans hated the Egyptians. They attacked her beauty — she was plain, but it does not matter. Then I looked for Egyptian sources, and they described a different person. They said she was the greatest of her dynasty. She ruled the most important country in the world. She was the most important woman on earth. She was a queen when she was 18 years old. I concluded that Cleopatra was a special woman. She spoke nine languages, wrote about the law and medicine. Every day I got more and more interested in this woman."
But, being who she was, Martinez could not stop there. She devoured the Cleopatra story, trying to read past historical bias and understand the young queen as a woman and a mother. With this perspective, Cleopatra’s political maneuverings and personal choices came into sharper relief. Even the oft-told story of how Cleopatra first presented herself to Julius Caesar, rolled up in a rug, is viewed by Martinez as nothing less than a stroke of military and strategic genius.
"Cleopatra was on the run, hiding in the desert and learned Caesar was in Alexandria," she said. "She needed to meet him, but how? She came up with a plan, arranging for a rug to be presented as a gift from her. Now, this was a Roman general. The most protected man. If she were caught, she would be dead in an instant. It was incredible. Imagine [sneaking] into Barack Obama’s office. I became an admirer of hers."