When “Cleopatra: The Exhibition” came to a museum near us recently, I had to go! Who could pass up an opportunity to see recovered artifacts from her long lost city of Alexandria, destroyed by earthquake and tsunami…to gaze on items she might have touched, worn, enjoyed? Perhaps even to gaze upon her face…although we’ll never truly know what she looked like. For me, Elizabeth Taylor is the ultimate depiction of Cleopatra. If I were ever transported to the palace in Alexandria, 2000 years ago, I’d be very surprised to find that the fabled Queen was not in fact Ms. Taylor’s twin!
I have to say right up front that Cleopatra is too modern for me. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I’m just as fascinated by her as the rest of the world has been for 2000 years, but when I sit down to write fiction, her era doesn’t call to my Muse. It’s too Greco-Roman, not enough Egyptian. Last queen of Egypt, she came to power after the country had already enjoyed over 3000 years of civilization and was rapidly becoming just another Roman territory. She did her best to maintain Egypt’s independence and safeguard her people but ultimately Rome won out.
It’s the earlier times I like to set my paranormal stories in, when the old gods ruled, not the Romanized homogenized versions - Isis for example, who appears in my PRIESTESS OF THE NILE, set in 1550 BC. She had become very popular with the entire Roman civilization by Cleopatra’s time, taking over aspects of other goddesses such as Aphrodite (and their temples, followers and treasuries) but lost her uniquely Egyptian identity.
But getting back to the exhibit, there were gold coins, statues large and small, jewelry, weapons, household objects…
My favorite items from the exhibit were a fabulous pair of earrings (no surprise there since I’m addicted to long, intricate earrings myself), an elaborate headdress/crown that she might have worn during a ceremony, or perhaps to greet her Roman guests…and a tiny little mirror – we’d call it a pocket mirror nowadays but I don’t imagine Cleopatra’s dresses had pockets. Perhaps she kept it in a pouch on her belt… Imprinted with the three Graces on the back, the mirror was just the perfect size for doing that one last, quick check of her malachite and kohl-rimmed eyes, her red ocher rouged cheeks and berry glossed lips before sweeping out to stun Marc Antony with her beauty. “Like eyepaint is my desire. When I see you, it makes my eyes sparkle” goes a line from a very old Egyptian love poem. Somehow I’m sure Cleopatra was mistress of all those arts!
Toward the very end of the exhibit there was a statue of a woman the archaeologists speculate might have been her…a strong face, not especially beautiful (but I’m rapidly coming to believe the essence of Cleopatra’s beauty was her – the personality, wit and humor). As Cassius Dio, a Roman writer and historian who lived 150-235AD, tells us, "For she was a woman of surpassing beauty, and at that time, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was most striking; she also possessed a most charming voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone….”
But we’ll never know that for ourselves. The statue’s eyes gazed serenely above our heads, a woman lost in her thoughts, keeping her secrets as she has for the last 2000 years.
If you could meet one famous woman from history, would it be Cleopatra? Or is there someone else you’re fascinated by? I’ll give away one copy of PRIESTESS OF THE NILE to a randomly selected commenter!
(You can read more about my fascination with Ancient Egypt and other topics on my blog at http://veronicascott.wordpress.com/ or you can find me on twitter @vscotttheauthor ~ Many thanks to Patricia for having me as her guest today!)