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Learning about the past: Cleopatra 101

Cleopatra, the Beauty Queen.


Cleopatra the Beauty Queen?

Welcome back to learning about the past! We hope you enjoyed the last post on Pyramids but if any of you missed it, no worries. You can find it here. This time, we would be examining the oh so famous female Pharaoh Cleopatra.

Cleopatra VII Philopator ruled from 51 BC to 69 BC, which is around 18 years of ruling. And since then, over the next two thousand years and counting, she has been renowned for her outstanding physical beauty, inspiring tons of works of art that depict her as an alluring seductress. She even has many beauty salons named after her and women trying to dress and look like her today! Her beauty was probably inferred from her famous two time seductions of the most powerful Roman leaders, Julius Ceaser and Mark Antony. But how sure are we that it was just beauty that made powerful men weak to their knees?

A quote from a Greek historian Plutarch reads so, “her beauty… was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her”. There is no art that would help be reliable in determining her beauty but all we have are various images of her surviving on ancient coinage. In these images, she appears to be depicted as anywhere from average-looking to hook-nosed and manly!













But than again, coins were a form of propaganda in the ancient world and she could’ve been made to look manlier on coins so as to legitimize her as a powerful female ruler. It is also important to keep in mind that the perception of beauty has changed from that of the ancient world to what it is now. So, what may have indeed been beautiful then (Cleopatra), may not be found to be beautiful now. For example, ancient Greek depictions of the beautiful love goddess Aphrodite invariably show a full-bodied woman with a prominent nose. A woman today would probably be advised to lose weight and get a nose job!

We feel that we should move beyond beauty and inspect if there was anything more to her that made her tempt powerful men easily. Plutarch, the Greek historian also states that conversations with Cleopatra "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." He wrote that "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 it’s clear to us from this statement that the main reason for Cleopatra’s two time alluring had little to do with beauty and more to do with intellect, character and maybe her even the tone of her voice.

Therefore, what we can take away from this is that even the most renowned beauty in human history was beautiful in character more so than in appearance. We could learn an important lesson here for our modern fixation on the purely physical aspect of beauty. So that's it to Cleopatra 101 and do stay tune for our last reveal soon. See ya then!!

Signing off,

history heroes



Picture of coin: