Cleopatra – the very name brings forth reveries of beauty, sensuality, and extravagance, all set amidst the political furor of the ancient world. But does historicity really comply with these popular notions about the famous female Egyptian pharaoh, who had her roots in a Greek dynasty? Well, the answer to that is more complex, especially considering the various parameters of history, including cultural inclinations, political propaganda and downright misinterpretations. But one thing is for certain – the femme fatale aura of Cleopatra had more to do with her incredible influence on two of the most powerful men during the contemporary era, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius), as opposed to her actual physical beauty. At least that is what the extant pieces of evidence of her portraits in coin specimens suggest. Taking all these factors into account, reconstruction specialist/artist M.A. Ludwig has made recreations of the renowned visage of Cleopatra VII Philopator, the last active pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt.
Now if you look at the videos, we can see that these reconstructions are based on an actual bust (except the last video). This sculpture in question here is thought to be of Cleopatra VII and is currently displayed at the Altes Museum in Berlin. And please note that the following recreations are just ‘educated’ hypotheses at the end of the day (like most historical reconstructions), with no definite evidence that establishes their complete accuracy when it comes to actual historicity.
Now while the animation will undoubtedly confuse many a reader and history enthusiast, actual written records of Cleopatra vary in their tone from a profusion of appreciation (like Cassius Dio’s account) to practical assessments (like Plutarch’s account). Pertaining to the latter, Plutarch wrote a century before Dio and thus should be considered more credible with his documentation being closer to the actual lifetime of Cleopatra. This is what the ancient biographer had to say about the female pharaoh –
Her beauty was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her.
And even beyond ancient accounts, there are extant pieces of evidence of Cleopatra portraiture to consider. To that end, around ten ancient coinage specimens showcase the female pharaoh in a rather modest light. Oscillating between what can be considered ‘average’ looking to representing downright masculine features with the hooked nose, Cleopatra’s renowned comeliness seems to be oddly missing from these portraits. Now since we are talking about history, some of the masculine-looking depictions were possibly part of political machinations that intentionally equated Cleopatra’s power to her male Ptolemaic ancestors, thus legitimizing her rule. In any case, this brings us to the second animation presenting the facial reconstruction of the female pharaoh –
So the question naturally arises – in spite of no convincing evidence, how come Cleopatra is popularly considered as an enchanting empress who was divinely beautiful? Well a part of her enduring aura possibly (and rather ironically) had to do with her enemies, namely Octavian (later Augustus Caesar). In that regard, many of her Roman opponents portrayed her as the seductress who persuaded Marc Antony to ‘betray’ his homeland.
Furthermore, many of the ancient writers genuinely admired (or grudgingly hailed) her wit, intelligence and ‘irresistible charm’ (as mentioned by Plutarch) – qualities that were instrumental in convincing and influencing two of the most powerful men of the era, who were womanizers by their own right. To that end, professor Kevin Butcher from the University of Warwick, who is an expert on Greek and Roman coinage, wrote (in History Extra) –
The modern negative reaction to the face of Cleopatra tells us more about our love of stories than anything about this most famous of Egyptian queens, who ruled from 51 to 30 BC. For us, the reality of her coin portraits clashes with the much greater myth of Cleopatra, a myth so grand that it has practically consumed the person behind it.
And finally, we present the last timelapse animation that showcases a side-profile of Cleopatra’s face (based on another bust), which is similar to her portraits on the coins –
Videos Source: JudeMaris (YouTube)
Article Source: Heritage Daily
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