Was Cleopatra actually ugly? The answer is not easy one. Have you heard the phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” Well, in today’s society, it has changed to, “Beauty is in the eye of whole society as a who perceives as beautiful.” It seems that society decides who is beautiful and who is not beautiful. Society holds high expectations for men and women to be called beautiful or handsome.
Why did some people think that Cleopatra is beautiful?
- Cleopatra, unlike women of her time, studied math, philosophy, astronomy and even the strategies of warfare. She spoke at least 12 languages, despite being remembered largely for her beauty today. She managed to rule Egypt at the age of seventeen.
- She, though ethnically Macedonian, is only self-identified as Egyptian. She took great efforts in her youth to study and understand Egyptian culture. She was the only one who actually learnt the Egyptian language when no one in her family took the effort to do so, in the 300 years that they ruled the country. Though she was not Egyptian by birth, her study of Egyptian gods, culture and ethnic sensibilities made her the most empathizing of queens. The way she worked on her image by projecting herself as a goddess and her son Caesarion, as a young god, helped her gain credibility with Egyptians who really did love the queen that brought them prosperity and safety.
- Cleopatra made sure that the women in her kingdom had rights. Unlike so many other great kingdoms of the time, she ensured that the collection of taxes and its redistribution into the economy was well thought out, if not fair and transparent, and she promoted trade and learning.
- She has shown unparalleled prowess as a strategist, thinker and political tactician. Her image building for herself, her positioning of her son Caesarion as a powerful future ruler, her ability to foresee the outcome of wars, even the one where Antony (and herself) lost, as well as her battle strategies of trying to get the stronger opponents on their weakest ground, all prove her brain strength.
- She was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean. Cleopatra did like to dress well in expensive muslin, do her hair in pretty exotic braids and spend a lot of time on grooming and hygiene, but so what, she was definitely not the fluff brain that did only that!
- Cleopatra was physically beautiful by the standard of her time. She captivated and seduced two of the most powerful men of her time – Julius Caesar and Mark Antony!
According to the ancient historian Plutarch, writing in the first century CE, Cleopatra’s beauty “was not of that incomparable kind which instantly captivates the beholder. But the charm of her presence was irresistible, and there was an attraction in her person and her talk, together with a peculiar force of character which pervaded her every word and action, that laid all who associated with her under her spell.”
“It was a delight merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another, so that in her interviews with barbarians she seldom required an interpreter, but conversed with them quite unaided, whether they were Ethiopians, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes, or Parthians.
- Cleopatra implemented several great public welfare schemes during her time and gave Alexandria its world renowned splendor.
Why did some people question that was Cleopatra actually ugly?
- Though history that has been colored by Roman sympathizers and misogynists has taken great pleasure in portraying Cleopatra to be a sexpot, almost all historians unanimously concur that this was most certainly not the case. In fact, though Cleopatra was married twice before her liaisons with the Romans, she seems to have slept with only two men in total. Both her relationships, with Julius Caesar, as well as Mark Antony, also appear to have been started on a note of strategy rather than real lust or passion. Whether one or both affairs progressed into affection and passion (at least the one with Antony seems to have grown into something more genuine) is still a debate. For a great queen to have been deemed a slut by anyone and everyone did not sit well with several historians though and many have worked hard to separate this myth from fact with real documented as well as archaeological evidence.
- In a life that spanned less than four decades, Cleopatra murdered many of her family members, as was the norm of the time. Sounds brutal when you know that she did it for her own safety and right over the throne, but many historians agree that contrary to popular belief, she only resorted to murder when it proved to be absolutely necessary. Many documentaries paint the Egyptian queen to be a cold-hearted killer, especially after the remains of her murdered half-sister, Arsinoe were found during archaeological investigations. Yet, many historians concur that considering her family’s tradition for the same, her siblings would just as easily have killed her, if she hadn’t gotten to them first. Of course, the dead would disagree, but it would seem to be the norm of the times to kill for power and for the lust of a throne.
According to the standard of today’s societies that worships flesh over brain, Cleopatra may not be best kind of beauty. But, in reality, Cleopatra was an influential leader who has the positive and negative side. She is a human being. I mean she is, in my eyes, a stunningly beautiful human being.
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