Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cleopatra, True African Queen

An Egyptian Queen/Pharaoh savvy enough to rule with two of the Roman Empire's legends, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, then escaped a third by clutching an asp to her chest as if it were a string of pearls rather than lose to self-styled first Roman emperor Augustus, still keeps the world enthralled thousands of years later. Cleopatra's ethnic heritage, because she spoke ancient Greek and had a catalogue of political liaisons, enjoyed centuries of debate. New evidence demonstrates her lineage to originate from Africa with much less in the Grecian Caucasian formula. Her sister's remnants have been found and the CSI-like forensic evidence shows interesting results in light of the fact that history believes Cleopatra VII ordered the murder of the sister, Princess Arsinoe. There's a solid gold trivial pursuit question.

Cleopatra, the last of the Hellenistic rulers of Egypt, descended from the first Ptolemy. Cleopatra's mom, Cleopatra V, one of several to get the Tryphaena, and dad, Ptolemy XII Auletes, were brother and sister. Her mom, the first Queen dies under a cloud of mystery supposedly at the hand of Cleo's older party hearty sister Berenice IV who gets executed on orders from the Pharaoh after he concludes his negotiations in Rome. Meanwhile Cleopatra VII grows up and marries one of her brothers, but gives birth to only four children from her famous lovers, a son of Caesar's, then girl and boy twins followed by another boy from Mark Antony. It's all quite murky though the historians debate as the first run at celebrity in the era of antiquity played out.

It seems Cleopatra's younger sister interfered first with Caesar and her sister, receiving an exile one way ticket to Ephesus, Turkey. Then to just dot the i's and cross the sarcophagus for Antony's and Cleopatra's strategic plans, came their supposed orchestration of her murder. Finding her body in 1926, but using the carbon dating tools of today's times builds a new way to look at the Ptolemaic history. But goodness, were the ides of March upon the archeology when they first opened the octagonal shaped tomb, they only took the skull for serious study and then they lost it during the rampaging of World War II. Somehow fitting.

The breakthrough, by an Austrian team, has provided pointers to Cleopatra’s true ethnicity. Scholars have long debated whether she was Greek or Macedonian like her ancestor the original Ptolemy, a Macedonian general who was made ruler of Egypt by Alexander the Great, or whether she was north African.

Evidence obtained by studying the dimensions of Arsinöe’s skull shows she had some of the characteristics of white Europeans, ancient Egyptians and black Africans, ndicating that Cleopatra was probably of mixed race, too. They were daughters of Ptolemy XII by different wives.

In the early 1990s Thür reentered the tomb and found the headless skeleton, which she believed to be of a young woman. Clues, such as the unusual octagonal shape of the tomb, which echoed that of the lighthouse of Alexandria with which Arsinöe was associated, convinced Thür the body was that of Cleopatra’s sister. Her theory was considered credible by many historians, and in an attempt to resolve the issue the Austrian Archeological Institute asked the Medical University of Vienna to appoint a specialist to examine the remains.

Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic anthropologist, reconstructed the missing skull based on measurements taken in the 1920s. Using computer technology it was possible to create a facial impression of what Arsinöe might have looked like.

Neil Oliver on BBC One has a documentary luridly titled: Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer due for airing mext Monday. On 31 March, scientific papers will be presented backing up the analysis and findings at The Medical University of Vienna at the American Association of Anthropologist.

The most iconic image of Cleopatra remains Elizabeth Taylor at her zenith in a film of that name. That film also gives the impression that Cleopatra was fair skinned like the English beauty that played her, only now the evidence shows something else entirely with her African roots an area needing further development in the 2,000 year old story that is Cleopatra. The Bard himself did a playwright treatment of the most famous Queen that stands the test of time in Antony and Cleopatra.

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