What Cleopatra might have looked like

Cleopatra: Hot or not?

I like to try to imagine what the characters in my book (the ancient ones, that is) looked like. This is, for obvious reasons, a futile task, but that has never held me back.

So I’ve already weighed in on what Hannibal, and Carthaginians in general, looked like (ie: hunky but not like Denzel); and what his Numidian cavalry looked like (ie, a bit like Zidane).

Cleopatra’s look, of course, is perhaps the most fascinating mystery in history because of her legendary sex appeal. Plutarch tells us, however, that it was not her looks per se that made Caesar and Antony fall for her, but her voice, her many languages, her wit and panache, her ability to read the psyche of a man she was seducing, and so forth.

In any case, researchers at Cambridge (the British one) have tried to reconstruct her face, and this is it.

It’s plausible, because she was said to have a dark complexion and a longish, hooked nose, which she inherited from her father, Auletes.

Let it be remembered, though, that there was not a single drop of Egyptian blood in her veins. She was pure Macedonian-Greek, descended from a relative of Alexander the Great. One of Alexander’s generals, Ptolemy, founded her dynasty, and all his heirs, including Cleo’s brothers, were named Ptolemy. (Auletes, the piper, was a nickname.)

Let it also be said that she was the product of incest. The Macedonians adopted the Egyptian custom of marrying a brother and sister as co-rulers. (These then took the additional name of Philadelphus, or sibling-lover). Several Ptolemies before Cleopatra’s generation were horrendously fat and possibly otherwise genetically compromised. Cleo, however, got lucky. And although her child with Caesar was murdered, her children with Antony were allowed to live on in obscure parts of the Roman empire, breeding merrily with outsiders.

4 thoughts on “What Cleopatra might have looked like

  1. I always had the notion that Cleopatra looked like Elizabeth Taylor (the Elizabeth Taylor of 1963, that is).

    Come to think of it, Cleopatra, in the picture you show, does bear a vestigial resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor (or is it my imagination?).

  2. We have a guy in our Group who spends a good part of his time evaluating computer monitors by way of looking at face renderings. These are never hot – just plain creepy. As soon as you figure out what she looked like while whipping a slave, someone else will wonder what she looked like sitting by the Nile, apres swim. Are those hair extenstions? What about Brad?

    I noted on Wikipedia for Dec. 18:
    “218 BC – The Carthaginian forces of Hannibal defeated the Roman Republic at the Battle of the Trebia, the first major battle of the Second Punic War, along the Trebbia River in present-day Italy.”
    You probably knew that.

  3. Yes, Mr Crotchety. In fact, I wonder whether I am drawn to ancient characters precisely because no photos of them exist. My imagination has always filled in the details better than any facsimile of real life.
    The Trebia: Yes, that was the first of three great battles, and many minor ones. As it happens, I am analyzing those three victories by Hannibal in the same chapter that Cleo appears. You see, I have convinced myself that she used similar mind games in her victories (over Caesar and Antony) to Hannibal’s at the Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae. Hush, hush for now….

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