They say that Cleopatra  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"They say that Cleopatra (excuse an instance from Roman history) was fond of sticking gold pins into her slave-girls' breasts and derived gratification from their screams and writhings'"[1] is a passage from Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky .

In 2011, a conversation of Wikipedia tried to provide the answer as to what the inspiration of Dostoyevsky may have been.[2]

Dostoevsky's thoughts on Cleopatra were influenced by Pushkin who wrote several bits of prose and poetry about her including "Egyptian Nights" and "We Were Spending the Evening at Princess D's Dacha which depict Cleopatra as languid immoral and bored. Pushkin in turn used Aurelius Victor as a source, who was writing about 400 years after Cleopatra, and wrote little but did write that Cleopatra would prostitute herself but then kill her clients. Pushkin's works were extremely influential on romanticism and helped define Cleopatra's character for much of the literature that followed. meltBanana 13:47, 14 January 2011 (UTC)
The pins in the breast kind of sadism isn't in Pushkin's works though and I expect Dostoevsky simply made that up. It should be noted that it isn't Dostoevsky that is claiming that but the Underground Man and repeating such misogynistic, sadistic rumour probably is meant to inform us a little of his supposed psychological make-up. meltBanana 13:47, 14 January 2011 (UTC)
The pins in the breast story is probably supposed to be a half remembered bit of scandal the Underground Man ascribes to Cleopatra after reading it in Charles Fourier's 1816 work "Le nouveau monde amoureux" where he writes about a supposed princess of Moscow, Mme Strogonoff who sublimated her unrecognised lesbian urges for her maid by sticking pins in her maid's breasts. Or maybe Dostoevsky new the story from a more immediate Russian source. meltBanana 14:07, 14 January 2011 (UTC)--[3]

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "They say that Cleopatra" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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