The Search for Cleopatra

June 29, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized 

“The July issue of the National Geographic magazine, on newsstands June 28th” National Geographic

 THE JULY 2011 ISSUE OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

THE JULY 2011 ISSUE OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Where, oh where is Cleopatra? She’s everywhere, of course—her name immortalized by slot machines, board games, dry cleaners, exotic dancers, and even a Mediterranean pollution-monitoring project. She is orbiting the sun as the asteroid 216 Kleopatra. Her “bath rituals and decadent lifestyle” are credited with inspiring a perfume. Today the woman who ruled as the last pharaoh of Egypt and who is alleged to have tested toxic potions on prisoners is instead poisoning her subjects as the most popular brand of cigarettes in the Middle East.

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Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation These statue parts—the head of a Roman woman and the body of one of Cleopatra's ancestors—were uncovered during almost 20 years of excavations off the coast of Alexandria, Cleopatra's capital. Much of the city and the area around it sank during centuries of earthquakes, tsunamis, and rising seas.

 In the memorable phrase of critic Harold Bloom, she was the “world’s first celebrity.” If history is a stage, no actress was ever so versatile: royal daughter, royal mother, royal sister from a family that makes the Sopranos look like the Waltons. When not serving as a Rorschach test of male fixations, Cleopatra is an inexhaustible muse. To a recent best-selling biography add—from 1540 to 1905—five ballets, 45 operas, and 77 plays. She starred in at least seven films; an upcoming version will feature Angelina Jolie. 

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Christoph Gerigk, At Altes Museum, Berlin Experts believe that this marble bust with a royal headband may represent Cleopatra and was perhaps made while she was in Rome. Some features, such as the curve of her nose, match her official portraits on coins. Ancient authors say she captivated people with her intelligence, quick wit, and charisma. Two of the world's most powerful men fell for her—Julius Caesar and Roman general Mark Antony. "Marble portrait of Cleopatra VII," CA 50-30 B.C.

 

  Yet if she is everywhere, Cleopatra is also nowhere, obscured in what biographer Michael Grant called the “fog of fiction and vituperation which has surrounded her personality from her own lifetime onwards.” Despite her reputed powers of seduction, there is no reliable depiction of her face. What images do exist are based on unflattering silhouettes on coins. There is an unrevealing 20-foot-tall relief on a temple at Dendera, and museums display a few marble busts, most of which may not even be of Cleopatra.

CLEOPATRA SEARCH

George Steinmetz/National Geographic That's Cleopatra on the left side of a wall at a temple at Dendera—one of the few images that bear her name. She is shown fulfilling her role as pharaoh by making offerings to the gods. The appearance here of her son by Julius Caesar is propaganda aimed at strengthening his position as her heir. He was captured and executed shortly after her demise.

 

“Photos are in the July 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine, on newsstands now.”

National Geographic

 

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