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!