Thanks to William Shakespeare for the title of today’s post.
Last week I was in Philadelphia, and had a chance to see the Cleopatra exhibit at the Franklin Institute. There has been a lot of publicity about it, and, being the big history nerd that I am, I of course went.
I was underwhelmed, I must say.
The exhibit is actually subtitled “The Search for the last Queen of Egypt”, and that is part of the exhibit – an archaeologist thinks that he may have located where Cleopatra’s burial spot may be. The first part of the exhibit contains some new artifacts that were recently found during an excavation of Alexandria harbor. Some of the pieces were quite amazing, especially if you consider that they’ve been underwater for nigh on 1500 years. O, that we all should look so good after 1500 years.
However, I found that there was not much in the way of new information in the exhibit, which was disappointing. I did learn something new, which can actually make the whole experience a win (if you can take something new away, it’s all good, right?). I learned that it was traditional for pharaohs to marry their siblings. So in point of fact, Cleopatra’s husband was her younger brother Ptolemy XIII (go here or here for additional information). This would solidify a family’s claim to the throne. Yes, I’m wondering the same thing you are: what kind of relationship were these? Was it a “full” marriage (so to speak)? Based on what I tell, the answer to that is uncertain. In some cases, maybe yes, but in others, maybe no. Keep in mind that the pharaohs tended to have multiple spouses – Ramses II apparently had over a dozen wives (who’s got that kind of time? Plus he’s got to run a country?!). At any rate, it is certainly an interesting topic (ok, everyone get their minds out of the gutter!!).
These colossi were my particular favorites:They are 16 feet tall, and are of a pharaoh and his queen from the Temple of Amon in Heracleion, where all pharaohs, including Cleopatra were crowned. When a pharaoh is crowned, they became immortal, one of the gods. (The audio portion of the exhibit was from the point of view of Cleopatra, and the narrative mentioned this a couple of times.)
So, what is so fascinating about Cleopatra? She is certainly not the first Egyptian Queen to rule as Pharaoh, although she was the first of the Ptolemy family (who were Macedonian, and descended from Alexander) to speak Egyptian. What is it about this woman that inspires not just museum exhibits, but books, plays, movies and television shows?