Not just another pretty face…

Although Shakespeare wrote ‘age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety’, Cleopatra was definitely no Elizabeth Taylor. Most people familiar with ancient Egypt will already know this from the many coins that depict Cleopatra, but it’s popped up all over the news because of a specific coin in Newcastle being researched in preparation for the opening of a Great North Museum. On one side is the Mark Antony’s head, and the other the less than lovely visage of the sharp-faced Cleopatra VII.

In my opinion though, I’ve always thought her rather more impressive because she achieved her legendary status in spite of her looks rather than because of them. Ancient sources all agree in their estimation of her intelligence and political acumen. The sixteenth ruler in Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty, which originally came from Macedonia with Alexander the Great, Cleopatra was the first amongst them to actually bother seriously learning Egyptian! Now that I can respect.

Plutarch describes all of this in his ‘The Life of Antony’. Here’s a selection translated by John Dryden:
‘For her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something bewitching. It was a pleasure 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 there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter; to most of them she spoke herself, as to the Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes, Parthians, and many others, whose language she had learnt; which was all the more surprising because most of the kings, her predecessors, scarcely gave themselves the trouble to acquire the Egyptian tongue, and several of them quite abandoned the Macedonian. ‘

It’s all happening in Saqqara

There have been some nice recent discoveries at Saqqara, near the site of the Step Pyramid. A Japanese expedition from Waseda University have found some beautiful Middle Kingdom coffins (there’s a nice photo of one of them here). And Dutch Egyptologists from Leiden University found the tomb of an official from the reign of Akhenaten, one of the most fascinating Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. They have written a little about the discovery in their interesting dig diary and hopefully will update it with more soon.

Gurna update

If you found the post below on Gurna interesting, there are some notable new articles about the situation. ‘Egypt Today’ notes the benefits and problems of the relocation scheme, with the prospect of the re-discovery of ancient tombs, but also the inadequate housing situation for former residents, some of whom are temporarily homeless.

Also from ‘Egypt Today’, a beautifully poignant article about the culture and history that will be lost in Gurna and a rather more triumphant report by the Egyptian government about President Mubarak inaugurating the new town, supposedly being greeted by ‘by cheering crowds grateful for being offered the chance to lead a new life at a new place that addresses all their needs.’….

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Tourism Minister has stated that touts are a bigger threat than bombs to Egyptian tourism.