Monday, August 12, 2013

O Eastern Star!

A momentous day today, a couple of millennia ago - an event that if nothing else has provided fuel for myth, legend, and a string of movies that have provided some truly over the top moments.

Yes, August 12 marks the death of Cleopatra VII Philopater, the last ruler of what we now think of as ancient Egypt.  In 30 BC, the last of the Ptolemies breathed her last; whether or not an asp was truly involved is dubious, but it makes for a great tale.

Theda Bara's Cleopatra is lost; Claudette Colbert's is an Art Deco fever-dream; Elizabeth Taylor's is a hot mess.  By contrast, Lady Olivier does her best to leaven cinematic excess with a measure of Shavian, if not quite Shakespearean, grace, and her costumes, the occasional howler aside, actually look more than a shade pharaonic.

The actual Cleo was a Macedonian Greek who by all accounts was a little more generous on the nose side than any of her screen impersonators (possibly excepting Miss Bara); still she must have had something Leigh-ische to entrance two of the most powerful men of her time.  It didn't quite work out as she hoped, but 20 centuries later we're still talking about her, no?


  1. Indeed, a fascinating character. You are spot on with the nose comment. In the library at (in?) Alexandria, there is a coin from her reign, displaying a none too flattering profile. I understood from the card that it was an exceptionally rare piece.

    Contemporary comments talk of how 'everyone fell in love' with her, which our 20c western perspective translates into her being a great beauty. I prefer to think (given what we know of her profile), that is was her charm that won the day...

  2. I see we've both gone for a Cleopatra theme today.

    However, as usual, you've taken the high road.

    1. Geez, ya make me seem so prim 'n' proper... It's not often that nattering on about Theda Bara qualifies as "the high road"...

    2. Ah but it was meant as a compliment.

      You add a soupçon of style to everything you do.