Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Mystique of Cleopatra

Egyptian culture has always been of great interest to me. Ever since I was little, I've been fascinated by Egyptian myths, death rituals,  and style. Today I was lucky enough to see the Cleopatra exhibit at The Milwaukee Public Museum. On display were Cleopatra related artifacts from a recent underwater discovery. After several natural disasters, her palace was covered with water and just waiting to be discovered. I got to see statues, vases, jewelry, and even a sample of Cleopatra's handwriting! I also learned a lot about who Cleopatra was as a person. In fact, I learned so much that this turned into a really long blog post. So, go get some tea or coffee and settle in for some reading!

Cleopatra was actually part Greek and spoke Greek in addition to Egyptian. She was the only ruler in her family (Ptolemaic) to speak both of these languages. She was highly intelligent and well educated in many subjects. Cleopatra was very interested in politics and watched her father's actions closely. Her father (Ptolemy Auletes) made the unusual move of leaving the throne to both Cleopatra and her brother. After Ptolemy's death, Cleopatra became Queen and her brother became King. Ptolemy probably recognized that as a very smart and older child, it would be helpful to have Cleopatra in a powerful role. She was 17 when she took the throne and her brother was 12. To have them both take the throne, they needed to be married. I know this is gross by today's standards, but it was pretty common for Egyptian royalty then. It kept the power in the family, and was basically a political union.

Both Cleopatra and her brother wanted full power. Her brother and his advisers wanted Cleopatra out of the way so much, that they planned to overthrow her. This lead to some fighting between Cleopatra's army and her brother's. Julius Caesar happened to be in Egypt fighting his own war at this time. As the story goes, Cleopatra was smuggled to Caesar in a rug and rolled out to form an alliance with him. Surprise!

Caesar instantly found Cleopatra charming and they became a couple. Once Cleopatra combined forces with Caesar, there was no way her brother could take over. She was now clearly the sole ruler of Egypt.

Cleopatra and Caesar had a son named Caesarion. This name translates to "Little Caesar", which makes me think of the pizza place! Cleopatra always dreamed Caesarion would be the ruler of a united Rome and Egypt. This was not meant to be, as Caesar wouldn't admit Caesarion was his son! When Caesar died, he did not pass the power to Caesarion, but instead to his power hungry grand-nephew Octavius (later called Augustus). For those who are wondering, Cleopatra was 21 when she met Caesar, and he was 52. Octavius was 19 when he received Caesar's powerful role.

Cleopatra decided to marry her three year old son Caesarion, so he would technically be the co-ruler of Egypt. She had already had her brother assassinated by this point, and needed a co-ruler. (I told you these were mostly political unions.) Marrying your brother is gross, but marrying your three year old son is just... huh?

Don't feel too bad for Cleopatra with her weird marriages, because she did eventually find real love with Mark Antony. These two were incredibly close. They talked about politics and traded advice and ideas. They had a very great respect for one another. 

Cleopatra and Anthony even had their own private club, called "the inimitable livers". They would put on cloaks to hide their identities and go party around Egypt.

This part is going to sound a bit like a soap opera, or an episode of Maury, but try to follow... Antony and Cleopatra really hit it off. After meeting and having a great relationship, Antony was forced into a political marriage with Octavius' sister Octavia. (You remember Octavius, Caesar's power hungry grand-nephew.) Antony and Octavius were fighting over control of Rome, and this marriage was part of a political pact. Antony of course wasn't really into Octavia and after several years returned to Cleopatra. Surprise! In the time he was away, Cleopatra had given birth to their twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. Antony and Cleopatra got married at this point and had another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Antony also declared Caesarion the son of Caesar. For some time, they had a happy and powerful existence as a family.

Sadly, things didn't stay happy forever. Octavius, who never liked Cleopatra, wanted both her and Antony dead. He wanted more power. While Cleopatra and her children were separate from Antony, a rumor spread that she had committed suicide. Antony believed the rumor and actually did commit suicide. It was all very Romeo and Juliet. His body was brought to Cleopatra, who tried to revive him. Sadly, she couldn't.

With Antony dead, Octavius set his sights on taking Cleopatra's kingdom and humiliating her. He planned to parade her through the streets in chains to show that he had overpowered her kingdom. Then he planned to kill her. Hearing that Octavius was coming, Cleopatra burned her most precious belongings so he couldn't take them. Once captured, Cleopatra's faithful servants managed to smuggle a poisonous asp snake to her. She actually did commit suicide at this point - by snake bite! She thought this was far more preferable than the embarrassment she would have to face alive.

Since Cleopatra was dead, Octavius couldn't lead her through the streets as an ex-leader. He resorted to having her twins walk the streets carrying a tiny Cleopatra statue. This was pretty lame, but I guess it was the closest he could get to having Cleopatra paraded down the streets. The twins were then sent to live with Octavius' sister Octavia. You remember her, the woman Antony left for Cleopatra. She was now the guardian of Antony and Cleopatra's kids! As for Caesarion, he was left as the rightful ruler of Egypt at age 17. Being "married" to his mother left him as King. He was in power for only 18 days, after which Octavian had him killed.

After Cleopatra's death, Octavian tried to rid the world of her memory. He defaced her statues, and tried to rewrite history. He wanted to erase her completely. As was said at the end of the museum exhibit, everyone is still talking about Cleopatra, but who talks much about Octavian?

To be fair, he is mentioned now and again as "Augustus Caesar" but he isn't discussed to the degree Cleopatra is. People have been fascinated by Cleopatra for the last 2,000 years! Many actresses have portrayed her, ever since movies were made. You can really see the style of the times reflected in their costumes and makeup. From the thin eyebrows of the 1930's to the extreme eyeshadow Elizabeth Taylor is sporting in the 1960's, you can almost guess when each film was made. Check this out:

If you'd like to try your hand at looking like Cleopatra (or whatever your vision of her is) this video will be of help to you. I seriously scoured YouTube for Cleopatra makeup tutorials. There were many strange options. Some of the videos showed the cat eye actually tilting down from the corner of the eye! Not to mention all the neon green/blue eyeshadow... So, here's one that I thought fit the bill for a classy Cleopatra. It's called "The Egyptian Queen" look:

The girl in this video found inspiration in a magazine called Asiana Wedding.  I probably don't have access to this magazine, but there are lots of inspirational pictures online. Ladies: if you're looking for dramatic eye makeup ideas, look for Arabic and Indian eye makeup tutorials on YouTube. They're some of the best!

No one is really sure what Cleopatra looked like, although she was said to be very beautiful. Even her enemies had to grudgingly admit her beauty. There are some coins with her face stamped on them, but I learned today that the coins were stamped with a face that was supposed to symbolize her family. So the coins weren't meant to resemble her exactly. The main clues to how she looked are some tiny statues that remain. A huge search is on for Cleopatra's tomb, and archeologists think they're close to finding it. If her tomb is found, much more will be revealed about this mysterious queen!


  1. Wouldn't it be weird if one day we found out Cleopatra was actually a homely fat woman who drank heavily?
    Oh wait, I am thinking of Liz Taylor.

  2. Dude! I can't argue about the drinking, but Elizabeth was anything but homely! Actually, we know that Cleopatra liked drinking too. I'm going to assume she was pretty from the descriptions I've read, and because I want to think of her that way. We may never know for sure...

  3. Cleopatra stories never seem to get old. The best depiction of her I've ever seen was in the HBO series Rome.

  4. That's pretty cool. Back in high school (way back when) the Boston Museum of Science hosted the touring King Tut exhibit and it was fascinating. I've always enjoyed things Egyptian too although mainly the iconography, I've never gone too far into history.

    Kinda creep and cool to see a 2000+ year old mummy for reals.

  5. there is a persistent rumor that angelina jolie is developing a project where she would play cleopatra. what would you think of that?

  6. Haha. I took your advice and got a cup of coffee before I settled in for a read. I have quite a few books on Ancient Egypt in my ever-growing "to read" pile. I'm particularly interested in their mythology, and pantheon of gods and goddesses. I've also got a couple of books on the role of the cat in Egypt, which is also fascinating because the Egyptians recognized that cats protected their food stores from rats, and killed poisonous snakes, as well as being a cuddly family pet. I don't think it's any coincidence that the bubonic plague coincides with the slaughter of cats when they became associated with the devil and witchcraft instead.

    As Jessica said, there's some really interesting material on Cleopatra in the 'Rome' series. I've only seen the first series so far, which gets up to the point of the birth of Cleopatra's son with Caesar. I'm looking forward to the second season now. Hopefully, they will deal with the rest of the Cleopatra story because Octavian will take over after Julius Caesar's death. If you haven't seen 'Rome', the girl with the short hair at the end of the clip is their Cleopatra.

    The makeup in the tutorial is beautiful!

  7. Jessica ~ I know! I'm sure people will continue talking about her into the future. I wonder why people find Cleopatra so captivating. I'd guess it's in part because ancient Egyptian culture is so interesting, female rulers are unusual, and her life was filled with glamor and drama. Can you imagine Cleopatra's life as a reality show today? :) I've never seen "Rome", because I don't have cable. Maybe I could rent some DVD sets of it. I've only heard good things about the series!

    Dex ~ I bet the Tut exhibit was amazing. It's so lucky that the burial of at least one Pharaoh remained intact. I remember seeing mummies and sarcophagi as a kid when visiting museums. Our art museum has a beautiful sarcophagus. I would stare at it and think about what was inside. I think sarcophagi are wonderfully detailed tributes to a life. As for looking at actual mummies, I get creeped out.

    I like Egyptian iconography too! There are so many symbols in their art. It's a cool experience to look at their writing. There were a few samples at the Cleopatra exhibit. I always thought the little snake was a cool symbol. Maybe because it's the letter 'J' and I used to use that when drawing my name in hieroglyphics as a kid. :) I had to look up their alphabet again, because it's just too fun! This site has an "Egyptian typewriter" where you can type anything and see it in ancient Egyptian letters:


    Pensive ~ I was wondering why Angelina's picture kept coming up while I searched for Cleopatra images! That explains that. Hmm... What do I think of her in the role? Well, I think her personality could be a good fit from what I've learned about Cleopatra. Angelina brings a strong and powerful presence to her roles. She can be very sexual and I can picture her using her sexuality to gain more power, as Cleopatra did at times. Angelina is also very beautiful and exotic. I'm not really sure what her ethnicity is, so she could be a fit in that way too.

    I hadn't been aware of my thoughts on Cleopatra's appearance until searching for images of her. I realized that I always pictured her looking like Alicia Keys. Alicia is very beautiful and exotic. This is before I learned that Cleopatra was part Greek. So... now I'm picturing her as one of the Kardashians. :)

    So, if Angelina is Cleopatra... Billy Bob Thorton could play Caesar (fits with the age difference) and Brad Pitt could play Mark Anthony. I guess that makes Jennifer Aniston Octavia. Which would leave Jennifer with Brad and Angie's kids! Wow, it's bending my mind to make a modern comparison...

  8. Little Gothic Horrors ~ I put that part about the coffee in for you, because I know you sometimes go get a cup ready for my long posts. :) You could probably use a whole pot of coffee for this one! It's funny, because once I finished writing this I thought of yet another thing to add! Enough was enough so I cut myself off. Oh well, I'll share it now. I remembered that the Monster High people came out with a doll that looks like Cleopatra! Have you ever seen Cleo de Nile? She's supposed to be the daughter of the mummy.

    Cuteness: http://www.fanpop.com/spots/monster-high/images/21608283/title/cleo-de-nile-with-snake-photo

    Cats did play a really important role for Egyptians. There were a lot of neat Egyptian cat themed items for sale in the museum's gift shop! I didn't know about the cat slaughter/plague connection. That makes complete sense. That's terrible that all those cats were killed. I swear, some of the harmful superstitions through history...

    Oh, I was wondering about the short haired girl in the video. She really surprised me, because that's not at all how I think of Cleopatra. I suppose she was wearing wigs over short hair or a shaved head. Does the Cleopatra in the "Rome" series usually wear a wig?

    I thought the girl in the video did an amazing job with her makeup! It really was hard to find a tutorial where the makeup didn't look tacky or poorly done. I actually saw a related video for men who want to try an Egyptian eye look. That would probably be interesting to watch too!

  9. Just being me ... you know?
    A smartass and Evel !

  10. Max ~ Yeah, I assumed there was a little smart-assery going on! I took the bait and basically spazzed out for a minute. :) A lot of people think Elizabeth Taylor was the most beautiful woman of her time, although you are completely within your rights to feel otherwise. I was just googling "the most beautiful woman of today", and the results were all over the map. Beauty is so subjective. I don't know why, but this topic of "beauty being in the eye of the beholder" keeps reappearing in my discussions this week. It seems that everyone likes a different look!

  11. I finished my cup of coffee and enjoyed the story of Cleopatra. You were very detailed and I liked that.

  12. Adsila ~ Cool! I'm glad you enjoyed this one. :) There was a lot of info here, between Cleopatra's story and the videos. I have to wonder if you guys finished your cups of coffee by the time you were done with this post!

    Sometimes I get really into a topic. Actually, if I'm interested in something I get really really interested in it and want to do some research. One thing just led to another with this one! I had to cut myself off from adding more.

    I hope you guys had a fun trip! I'll have to check in and see what you've posted.

  13. I actually was Cleopatra in a past life, so yeah...Cleopatra looked a lot like a Jack-O-Lantern!

    Right, how to make a halloween costume out of cleopatra..good idea for a costume. Thanks for the make-up tip videos. I'm a make-up blog follower (just in case I need to master the arts of make-up)

    How fun, you and your Mum get to go to all these places..I'm so boring...but I'm working on my Cleopatra costume ;=)

  14. Matt-o-Lantern ~ Oooh, so Cleopatra looked like a jack-o-lantern! Thanks for solving the age old mystery. ;)

    If you're into makeup tutorials, let me pass along a few of my favorite YouTube makeup artists:

    Miss Chievous:




    I liked Petrilude's idea of designing looks for each of the Seven Deadly Sins. I've been watching a few of those looks today. Both he and Miss Chievous do fantastic Halloween tutorials too.

    These videos are so addictive! I like watching them, even if I never try the looks. I'm going out tonight, so I'm actually looking for a good makeup tutorial now...

    Yeah, I'm lucky that Milwaukee has so much to offer and that my Mom has pretty much my same interests. True ~ If you can't go see Cleopatra, why not be Cleopatra? :)

  15. Boy, those Monster High dolls are a cute idea! I would have gone crazy if I'd got a doll like that when I was little. It would have been a dream come true... not that I can't have one now, of course!!! ;) Cleo is fabulous! In a way, her face is less "cute", but more beautiful than the other dolls in the series, which is appropriate for Cleopatra. I've only just realized that there's a cartoon:


  16. Little Gothic Horrors ~ I know! I would have been crazier for the Monster High dolls than I was for Barbie dolls. True, you can still get some of these as an adult. I have the vampire one sitting on a bookshelf. The dolls have a bunch of joints in their arms and legs, so they're really posable.

    That cartoon was so cute! It would appear that Cleo isn't the nicest character... I'd never watched the cartoon before, either. I wonder if it's on TV, or just online?

  17. Amazingly deep and detailed post! I remember my mom actually dressed up as Cleopatra one year for Halloween when I was about 5.

  18. Oh wow, I would love to go to that exhibit! I'm sure it was amazing.
    I've been interested in ancient Egypt since I was a child as well. My parents had a book from the King Tut exhibit that traveled the country in the late 70's and I would sit and study that book over and over again. It was totally one of the things that shaped my aesthetic leanings. :) Thanks for coming to visit my blog and thanks for the imput on the swatches. ;)

  19. Halloween Man ~ Hey! It's good to see you back. :) Thanks for your comments. This post ended up being more detailed than I'd planned for it to be. Sometimes I can get so caught up in learning history that it's hard to stop. The characters are all so entertaining. I'm sure an entire blog could be dedicated to either Ancient Egyptian or Roman history.

    Cleopatra does sound like a fun costume choice. I've never dressed as her, but there's enough inspiration online to help if I ever want to!

    Lady Bethezda ~ It was an awesome exhibit! Maybe it will end up traveling to a city near you? I think only a few U.S. cities were getting this, and I can't remember which ones offhand... Something I really liked, but forgot to mention was the free audio guide we each got. We got to hear Cleopatra (or a woman with an Egyptian accent, anyway) tell her story throughout the show. So, we had a personal way of hearing where the various artifacts were kept in her palace. It was a neat touch!

    I've been hearing about the 1970's Tut exhibit lately, from a few people who actually attended it. I'm sure that show was amazing! It's interesting how some of the images we see as kids go on to influence our art/personal style. Sometimes I think it's very subconscious. I can see from your pictures that you're not afraid of a little dramatic eyeliner. So, I thought you might be interested in this post for that reason, if no other! :)

    As far as the swatches go, they really are helpful. I've been paging through the eye shadow on that site today, and saw some colors I might buy. I found one called "Sphinx" which I really like. The name is kind of a funny coincidence, considering what we were just talking about!

  20. Hey, Justine's Halloween. Would you mind re-joining www.funwithhorror.com via google friend connect? I exported to Wordpress and we lost all of our followers in the process. Thank you!!

  21. Horror Fan ~ I just followed you. You have a wordpress blog? The following process was just like blogspot's for me. Maybe I've just never seen the google friend connect option on a wordpress blog. Anyway, we're good to go!

  22. Hi Justine!
    I hope that you will participate is being tagged :) I had fun doing it!
    Read about it on my blog: http://2ndstreetcemetary.blogspot.com/2012/02/this-is-fun-one.html