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)

The Mummy Returns – The Scorpion King

The Scorpion King, AKA The Rock, was a character that gave Rick and Evy O’Connell another run for their money. His part in the film was strange, if not ambiguous, of the king who fought over three thousand years ago in the hopes of conquering the known world. He was given command of the legions of Anubis, after a promise he made to him which he sealed by eating a scorpion (hence the name?), he won the wars and was then taken in a sand storm away to a secret place (frankly, he got the bad end of the deal. I mean after conquering the known world he disappears in a puff of sand! What was the point of fighting yet not benefiting from the fruits of his tiresome labours?!). This place, known as Ahm Shere, contains an oasis that in the centre there is a pyramid with a great diamond decorating its peak (and a shit load of tiny skeleton pygmies I mean, why?). To get back to the point, Rick and Evy have to deal now with the original mummy and with another monster – thing (The Rock is scary enough but with the body of a scorpion?).

The Scorpion King

Yes, if you were wondering, even the weird character of the Scorpion King has a historical counterpart. Well, actually, he has two historical counterparts. The first king of this name is also very obscure, nothing is known of him except he might have existed in the 33rd century B.C. He might have been the first true king of Upper Egypt. The second king of this name is slightly better known because of the famous Scorpion Macehead. The Scorpion Macehead was found in the late 1890s in Hierakonpolis. Some Egyptologists believe that the macehead shows the first signs of the unification of Egypt, others identify king Scorpion with Nermer (the king who most Egyptologists belive unified Egypt in the 31st century B.C.), though it is most likely that Namrer was king Scorpion’s successor who completed the latter’s conquest of Egypt. What we know for now is that one of these kings was responsible for the unification of Egypt and both left items attributing this fact (Narmer’s Palette).

Narmer's Palette depicting the unification of Egypt (c. 31st century B.C.)

The Scorpion Macehead depicting king Scorpion performing a ceremony with the picture of a scorpion above his head (hence the name) (c. 31st century).

‘The Mummy Returns’ – Nefertiri

There was a historical figure named Nefertiri. Though it is unknown who her parent were, but she is one of the most famous queens of Egypt. Her image appears on many monuments throughout Egypt, many are found alongside her husband Ramesses II. Nefertiri is also famously known from the film ”The Ten Commandments’ as the love interest of the royal Prince Moses. In the film, she is depicted as the prize to the man who will inherit Seti I’s throne, she hates Ramses and hopes that it will be Moses who will become the new pharaoh of Egypt. She continues to love Moses even after she discovers his Hebrew background and tries to hide it by murdering the maidservant who knew the secret. Of course in the end, Moses returns to his Hebrew roots and Ramses becomes the next pharaoh of Egypt, inheriting the throne and winning the prize.  It is unknown how much the couple loved one another but it is clear from the many monuments that they were fond of each other and she was after all one of his high royal wives.

Nefertari and Isis from her tomb (19th Dynasty)

 

Rachel Weisz as Nefertari in “The Mummy Returns” (2001)

Anne Baxter as Nefertiri in “The Ten Commandments” (1956)

In the ‘Mummy Returns’, Nefertiri is shown as the daughter of Seti I, which historically is untrue, and that she was the rival of Anuck-su-namon, who, as mentioned in previous post, was born at least fifty years previous to these events. Regarding the fight scene between Nefetiri and Anuk-su-namun I have not found anything that indicates that women in Ancient Egypt knew how to fight in hand-to-hand combat, much less women who belonged to the royal family, though women in Ancient Egypt had more freedom than their european counterparts. They could own property, they could stand in a court of law in their own rights and they could inherit.

Nefertiri and Anuk-Su-Namon in their fight scene

‘The Mummy’ – Imhotep and Anuck-Su-Namun

Though the film itself is fictional, many names of characters used in the film and its sequels are from real life people from the history of Ancient Egypt. For instance Imhotep was the name of a very famous Ancient Egyptian, who lived during the 3rd dynasty (the Old Kingdom c. 27th century B.C.). He is acknowledged as the first architect because he designed and built Djoser’s famous Step Pyramid at Saqqara. He was also renown for his medical abilities. Evidence of this was found on the bodies of people who worked under Imhotep. It is clear from some of their bones that they underwent some sort of surgery, they were even some who were found with precise, and intentional, holes in their heads. This was clearly an ancient form of head surgery.

Statue of the architect/physician Imhotep who would later be worshipped as a god

Arnold Vosloo as the High Priest Imhotep in 'The Mummy' (1999)

 

Imhotep is the only human (aside pharaohs) who became a god after his death and is known as the god of medicine and patron of scribes. He was worshipped as a god until the Coptic Christians wiped out the last of the Ancient Egyptian beliefs. He was even worshipped by the Greeks and the Romans.

In the film of course, the character of Imhotep is quite different from the real historical figure, though they do have some things in common. Both were commoners and both were priests and in a way, they both continued to exist long after they died.

The next historical figure is that of Imhotep’s lover, the mistress of Seti I, Anck-su-namun. Anck-su-namun, or Ankhesenamun as the historical figure is more known, was quite famous. She was one of Akhenaten’s daughters (by Nefertiti?)and she was married to the child-king Tutankhaten, or more famously known as Tutankhamun (late 18th dynasty, New Kingdom, c 16th century B.C.). When he died at the age of nineteen it is thought that Ankhesenamun married Ay, the pharaoh who inherited the throne (though he was a very old man when he became pharaoh). She disappears from history shortly after, and though we do not know where she was buried, she did leave us some evidence of her existence. First it is known that after the death of Tutankhamun she was in contact with the Hittites (an empire that rivaled Egypt in those days) and that a Hittite prince was on his way to marry her when he was killed in an ambush (by Ay?). Second, on the walls of Ay’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings (WV 23 ) it has been discovered that the images of his wife Tey were painted on top of what could only be the images of Ankhesenamun. It is also highly likely that Ay was buried in the tomb that was originally intended for Tutankhamun.

Patricia Velasquez as Anucksunamun in 'The Mummy' (1999)

Ankhesenamun giving flowers to her husband Tutankhamun

 

First, the character of Anck-su-namon is in the wrong dynasty (Seti I was the second king of the 19th Dynasty, whilst Anukesenamun was from the 18th dynasty), and though she is the mistress of Seti I, she is not so high up in the royal familyhierachy as her historical counterpart. Also, pharaohs had many wives and concubines, like many other cultures, including the Chinese, they believed the more women the merrier.

‘The Mummy’

Mummies entered the world of Hollywood in 1932, following the famous film named simply ‘The Mummy’ (starring Boris Karloff). Following the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter, the world became fascinated not only from the vast treasures found in the tomb, but also by the mummy’s curse. Though the idea of the mummy’s curse was already known from the eighteenth century on, Howard Carter and his team became the icon of this curse.

Boris Karloff as The Mummy (1932)

Poster of the film

                                                                                                                                                                                         

Such curses were found in tombs (an attempt to ward off potential grave robbers) and though mummies could contain diseases, the mummy curse as is shown in the film never existed. For the Ancient Egyptians the idea of defiling a tomb, and worse!, the removal or destruction, of the mummy, could affect its owner’s condition in the Afterlife.

Howard Carter and the famous sarcophagus of Tutankhamun

Lord Carnavon and his daughter Evelyn, with Howard Carter standing in the background

                                                                                      

Getting back to the film (‘The Mummy’ 1932), it tells of Imhotep who comes back to life because an Egyptologist decided to read a spell from the Scroll of Thoth. The mummy then spends the remainder of the film seeking a way to bring his dead lover back to life. A more recent, and perhaps better known to us younger people, is ‘The Mummy’ from 1999. This film, though fun and amusing to watch (at least I loved watching it), certainly has no historical truth in mind. My favorite part is when they explain the mummy’s curse, here known as the Hom Dai, if the mummy was ever brought back to life it will bring with it the ten plagues of Egypt. How is this possible when these events took place at least fifty years before the plagues of Egypt were sent unto Ramses II (or his son Merenptah) from the God of the Hebrews?

Another interesting fact is turning the Book of the Dead into something it’s not, a book of spells that can bring back the dead. the ‘Bood of the Dead’ is simply a guide to the Underworld, it can only help the dead reach their desired destination. Though there are many spells written in the Book, none of them could even remotely help a dead guy come back to life, much less bring back his extremely dead girlfriend.