14 February 2007

Cleopatra's Beauty c51BC-2007AD

Not such a pretty faceThe reputation of Egypt's Queen Cleopatra VII for beauty - a reputation burnished down the ages by such great writers as Lucan, Shakespeare and the authors of short-lived sci-fi show Cleopatra 2525 - has died, choked on a single Roman coin.

Born in about 51BC, following Cleopatra's accession to the throne of Egypt at the age of eighteen, Cleopatra's reputation for beauty was rapidly spread about the whole of the known world, chiefly by drunken sailors for most of whom the last sight of a female was "that dolphin off the coast of Asia Minor that was giving me the eye last week". The fame of her alleged beauty grew even greater in 48BC, following the Queen's usurpation by her co-ruler and brother Ptolemy XIII and her subsequent exile.

By the time of Ptolemy's defeat by Julius Caesar later in 48BC, Cleopatra's beauty was known even in Rome itself. Keen to capitalise on the situation, the Queen decided to woo the Roman leader by having herself delivered to him in the Palace at Alexandria rolled up inside a Persian carpet ... which it now seems she probably didn't remove before wooing him. Caesar himself being (a) a man, (b) very important and (c) a man - as well as being no great catch in the love stakes given that he was getting on a bit, frequently suffered fits and possessed a head of hair so sparse that even Donald Trump's barber would have been at a loss to deal with it - insisted that it be put about that he had been making love to the most beautiful woman in the world and thus a legend was born.

The Queen's allure gained even more lustre following Caesar's death, when she successfully wooed his closest follower, Mark Antony, with a combination of her charm, wit and - it would now seem - some very carefully arranged lighting. The passionate nature of their relationship, in which they came close to ruling much of the known world, became a byword among the ancients, much as the relationship of David and Victoria Beckham is today. The romance of the relationship's ending, with each killing themselves at the thought of the other's loss, inspired generations. 1600 years later William Shakespeare himself recorded the Queen's extraordinary loveliness in his Antony and Cleopatra, although his judgment in this regard may well be brought into question by the fact he did insist she be played by a young boy. Soon she was being played by the greatest beauties of every age from Elizabeth Taylor to ... er ... Judi Dench.

Having survived more than 2,000 years, Cleopatra's Beauty breathed its last on Valentine's Day 2007, when the unearthing of a coin bearing the heads of both Anthony and Cleopatra by Newcastle University revealed that the two of them were so ugly that, inasmuch as they may have spent long nights of passion together, each probably insisted the other wear a bag over their head throughout.

Cleopatra's Beauty will be buried at the Nicky-Hambleton Jones Church of the Botox-Frozen Forehead. It is survived by Cleo Lane, Cleo Rocos, the Renault Clio and a production of Anthony and Cleopatra starring Bernard Manning as the Queen of Egypt.


Gorilla Bananas said...

I thought her beauty was a myth. Didn't she have a big nose? What Caesar found attractive was her sense of humour and practical jokes. I think she got a eunuch to dress up as his mother.

The As A Dodo Team said...

Exactly, hence the obituary! Probably the best source is Plutarch who says ... "For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased...". So she may not have been a looker (nor were Antony or Julius) but she was certainly extremely attractive in the wider sense ... which seems to have given rise to her, now sadly deceased, reputation for beauty.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

This story has SO cheered me up! She was just an old hag like the rest of us! Perhaps MA went for her intellect? [Nooo!- a lifetime's experience tells me!]

john miller said...

In fact I think it was Muckalides who first pointed out in 2BC that she was, in fact, a double bagger.