Cleopatra

Taking another small breather from Egyptology, I have to dedicate a post for one of the greatest actress, and as Yahoo News put it “one of old Hollywood’s last larger-than-life legends“, Elizabeth Taylor who passed away on 23/03/2011.

Elizabeth Taylor appeared in many good films such as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “A Place in the Sun”, “Ivanhoe” and even an Agatha Christie thriller “The Mirror Crack’d” (though this is not the best version of the book). But there is one film where she will be remembered the most, “Cleopatra”. The lovely, beautiful and graceful Elizabeth Taylor portrayed one of the most unusual women in all of history, the queen of Egypt from the first century B.C. Cleopatra VII (c. 69 – 12/08/30 B.C.). Cleopatra was considered a beauty of the time who succeeded in capturing the hearts of two of the most hardest and powerful men of her time, Julius Gaius Caesar and Marcus Antonius. Or as we know them in the film – Rex Harrison and Richard Burton.

One of the most famous scenes in the film is the first meeting between Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. At the time Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy XIII, were not exactly on good terms. Well… actually, Cleopatra wanted her brother/husband dead so she could become sole ruler and Ptolemy just wanted to get rid of his meddlesome sister/wife once and for all so that he could rule Egypt in peace. (lovely family). Anyway, they both turned to the mighty Roman empire via Julius Caesar, who had his own plans for Egypt. Because Cleopatra was banned from coming into the palace where Caesar was, she devised a plan which intended to get her to Caesar and to entice him at the same time to be on her side of the conflict. Her guard smuggled her into the palace by rolling her up in a carpet. Ceasar/Harrison kept pointing his big sword at the carpet before finally allowing it to unroll thus reveling a beautifully tidy Cleopatra, slightly sweaty, who then got up behaving as though this occured eveyday and absolutely dazzled the hard warrior! (I don’t know about you, but after being carried around in a carpet I would have been disoriented and my hair would have looked like a mess. But then, we can’t all be like Cleo/Lizzy!). There is such a legend that Cleopatra met Caesar though I don’t know when that legend was born but in modern times it has become so famous that it is used often in the media. Xena used this trick when she pretended to be Cleopatra (this was after Cleopatra was murdered by a viper) to find her way into Mark Antony’s tent (Xena: Warrior Princess, season 5 episode 18; ‘Cleopatra and Antony’). It was also used in the HBO series of Rome when Cleopatra met Caesar (season 1, episode 8; ‘Caesarian’).

In short, Elizabeth Taylor gave a brilliant performance and was the first actress ever to receive one million dollars! She deserved it too.

Xena Warrior Princess (Lucy Lawless) possing as Cleopatra (2000)

Lyndsey Marshal as Cleopatra in 'Rome' (2005)

statue of the real Cleopatra (c. 69 - 30 B.C.)

 

Elizabeth Taylor in her most famous role - Cleopatra (1963)

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Sir William Mathew Flinders Petrie

Taking a small break from Ancient Egypt, I have come to the decision that saying a few words on some of the Egyptologists who contributed so much to our knowledge on the Ancient Egyptians and their lives, is absolutely necessary.

When one is studying Egyptology, one name keeps coming up, the name of the man known as the ‘father of Egyptian Araeology’: Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (mentioned in the previous post). I couldn’t continue using his name in my blog without saying a few words about the man himself. Aside lending my college the use of his name, the Petrie Institute of the University College of London where both I and my cousin attended, he was also a remarkable man. Mad, but remarkable.

There are many stories on Petrie and his eccentricities, such as forcing all his students to run up and down the stairs every morning to get the ‘juices’ flowing, but he truly was one of the most remarkable men of his time. He succeeded in processing a large amount of data without the use of a computer! (There were no computers at the time, but in my opinion even if there were he still wouldn’t have used them). He loved digging not only in Egypt but also in Palestine (Israel today) which he loved so much that he wished to be buried on Mt. Zion. It wasn’t unusual for an Egyptologist to be interested in Palestine, for both areas are connected throughout history (even today). What makes Petrie stand out even more amongst the Egyptology community is the fact that he is buried without his head!

I heard this story many times and yet I am still amazed by it. Around the beginning of the 20th century there was a keen interest in the checking of brains. What makes a genius…well…a genius? So, Petrie, who loved science and the study of the human race, decided to donate his head to the Royal College of Surgeons of London and upon his death his body was buried in the Protestant Cemetary on Mt. Zion and his head was sent back to London. But there was one small problem that caused a delay in the delivery, World War II! Petrie died in 1942 and the post was a little slow, his head was lost! Eventually, to everyone’s relief, his head was found in a warehouse sometime after the end of the war and was sent back to London where, apparently, it can still be found today. What a rush!

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie

Predynastic Egypt – c. 5500 B.C. – c. 3000 B.C.

In 1894 Flinders Petrie discovered an ancient settlement in Naqada, a town found on the west bank of the Nile. With the information Petrie dug up he was able to put a timeline on the Egyptian civilization during the Predynastic period. It is mostly from this site and the tombs found on this site that we know a little of the people living in Egypt during the sixth and the third millenium B.C. (Here is the age-old question, Petrie claimed that this civilization had no connection to the later Egyptians and were in fact invaders with a foreign culture, why would he think that?) The claim is that Petrie didn’t recognise the funerary evidence as similar to the funerary evidence that was being found from later periods, and that, for Petrie, meant invaders and intruders. For the next fifty years more and more evidence was being excavated of a prehistoric Egypt that built a clearer picture for us of what Egypt might have looked like in those early times when writing was not even a vague concept in the horizon. As the time drew nearer to the unification(?) of Upper and Lower Egypt by king Menes (Narmer) the different elements that were found began to look more and more similar to the cultural elements found in the Old Kingdom. So, it would seem that Petrie was wrong and that a connection (a cultural connection) was found linking the Prehistoric invaders and the Pharaonic Egyptians.

The interesting thought that comes to mind was why did Petrie think that the Naqada people were the invaders? The answer was that the unusual contents of the graves he found were so different from the later Egyptians that it was obvious that they were not the same people. Does that mean that the later Egyptians in Petrie’s mind were the original Egyptians? Why was it unthinkable to believe that the Pharaonic Egyptians might have hailed from the Naqada people? Evidence found in later digs have confirmed a direct link between the two (though, at the time Petrie laughed at the idea), does that mean that the Pharaonic Egyptians were the descendants of the invaders? If so, where are the ‘original’ people…? For that matter, where are the Pharaonic Egyptians?