Blonde Egyptians Have More Fun

Few historical figures remain as consistently popular as Cleopatra, the last autonomous monarch (i.e., pharaoh) of Egypt. There was even something about her on my McDonald’s tray this week. She was actually the seventh queen to bear that name, which apparently means “father’s glory.” Modern popular culture has come to view Cleopatra as a great beauty, with the most common picture in people’s minds today probably being Elizabeth Taylor’s 1963 portrayal.

Images of the queen from her own lifetime, however, show her looking nothing like that.

I get the impression that the makers of that movie wanted the character to look like a native Egyptian, which she really wasn’t. Well, she was in that she was born in Egypt, but she was not related to the pharaohs of old. She was, in fact, a descendant of Alexander the Great’s general Ptolemy, who took over Egypt after Alexander’s death. Like the traditional pharaohs, however, she was the product of an incredible amount of inbreeding. Also, Plutarch wrote of her as not so much beautiful in looks as in her voice and manner.

One rumor I’ve seen on the Internet is that Cleopatra was actually a blonde. I don’t know how much actual evidence there is for this, though. According to this page, her ancestor Ptolemy Philadelphus was described as having a fair complexion and light hair, so it’s certainly a possibility. Greeks are also often thought of as having dark skin and hair, but this apparently wasn’t the case with the Macedonians of the time.

After her country was conquered by the Romans, Cleopatra is said to have committed suicide using a snake. Now THAT’S hardcore!

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3 Responses to Blonde Egyptians Have More Fun

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Cleopatra was only about 1/8th native Egyptian from what I’ve read. Of course, everyone was sleeping with everybody else around the time of the late Greeks/early Romans, so who knows how many Egyptians were actually still full-blooded North Africans? I’ve also read that in their myths and legendary history, the Egyptians considered themselves a different race from both the Nubians/Ethiopians and the other Middle Easterners. In fact, I think the name “Semite” comes from an Egyptian word. Also, Greeks in those days were a lot more likely to be blond/e and light-skinned. It wasn’t until they intermarried with the darker Slavs and tribes east of Western Turkey/Asia Minor that they got the dark hair and olive skin they’re so known for today. Besides, supposedly the island Greeks are darker-skinned than the mainland Greeks–which makes sense if you consider the Minoans and the Myceneans were different tribes/races.

    • Nathan says:

      Wikipedia says that “Semitic” derives from the Greek form of Shem, Noah’s son who fathered the Hebrews and their neighbors (but not the Canaanites). A book I read recently, however, suggests that Shem’s name might derive from the Egyptian word for the number eight. The city that the Greeks called Hermopolis was known to the ancient Egyptians as Khmun, or “Eight-Town,” after the Ogdoad. That doesn’t look much like “Shem,” but the Coptic version of the name was Shmounein, and it’s possible the Hebrews pronounced it in a similar manner. Honestly, some of the book’s linguistic connections seem to me to be reaching a bit, but as I don’t know Egyptian or Hebrew (ancient or modern), I can’t say for sure. Regardless, the Hebrews regarded the Egyptians as descendants of Ham, not Shem, although this could have been a political thing.

      And here I thought the Greeks got olive skin from eating a lot of olives! :P

  2. Pingback: Who Has Seen the Wind? | VoVatia

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