Hollywood’s Depiction of Cleopatra

The Ptolemaic dynasty in ancient Egypt was filled with murder, mystery, incest, and betrayal. One of the most famous members of the Ptolemaic dynasty was Cleopatra. Cleopatra’s life was filled with all of the elements of a great tragedy, complete with marriages to her brothers, elaborate parties and feasts, famous affairs with powerful leaders, and a mysterious, horrifying end. The legendary beauty of Cleopatra combined with her melodramatic life story would naturally be recreated in many Hollywood productions. However, the most notable production was the 1963 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard burton, and Rex Harrison. Cleopatra ended up being one of the most expensive movies ever made and almost caused 20th Century Fox to go bankrupt. However, it was the highest-grossing movie of 1963. The question is, did Hollywood accurately portray the life of Cleopatra?

The Whole Beauty Thing

Cleopatra is often depicted as a stunning beauty, which Elizabeth Taylor certainly embodied in the film. In fact, Elizabeth Taylor had over 65 costume changes in the movie to help keep up appearances. However, nobody really knows if the original Cleopatra was as beautiful as the legends depict her. Some ancient depictions of Cleopatra display her with larger, more masculine features and a hooked nose. Nobody really knows how accurately these renditions reflect her features, so perhaps the beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

Her Intellect

Hollywood tends to downplay Cleopatra’s intellect in favor of her beauty. Born into royalty, Cleopatra was exceptionally well educated. She was believed to have spoken as many as twelve languages, and she was highly knowledgeable in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. According to 9th century poet Al Masoudi, Cleopatra wrote many books about science, including some medical books. Cleopatra was in fact a highly educated ruler who used her intellect to help protect the people of Egypt.

A Working Queen

Although Cleopatra enjoyed elaborate feasts and drinking, she was also a working queen. Charming, cunning, and intelligent, Cleopatra was a master negotiator. Her alliance with Julius Caesar helped her regain control of Egypt after her brother stripped her of her power. Also, when Cleopatra and Mark Antony later went to war with Octavian, they each commanded their ships against the Roman navy. Cleopatra herself led dozens of Egyptian warships with Mark Antony, although they would ultimately experience defeat.

The Truth Behind Cat Eye Makeup

Like many people in ancient Egypt, Cleopatra wore heavily painted eye makeup, but the makeup actually served more than cosmetic purposes. Bacterial eye infections commonly occurred along the Nile River, and both men and women wore green eye paint and lined their eyes with black kohl. Egyptian people believed that the chemicals in eye makeup helped to stimulate the body’s immunity against eye infections.

Cleopatra’s Tragic End

Octavian finally defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s army at the Battle of Actium on the Mediterranean Sea, and the couple fled the scene separately. According to legend, Mark Antony thought that Cleopatra was dead, and he took his own life by stabbing himself to death. In the ultimate act of distress, Cleopatra then tied an asp, a highly venomous snake, to her arm. The asp then repeatedly struck her, resulting in a slow and painful death. However, the true details of their deaths are unknown.

At Ancient Gold Coins, we include a variety of ancient Egyptian coins spanning the highly dramatic times of Cleopatra Ptolemaic dynasty. Not only do we include a collection of old Egyptian coins, but we also have ancient Greek coins, ancient Persian coins, and ancient Roman coins. Take a peek into the tumultuous history of ancient times with our ancient gold coins.

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