Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- What a thrilling spectacle, one that never leaves my imagination, I am talking of course about the image of Cleopatra, the great ancient Egyptian Queen, and one of the most celebrated Queens of Egypt in all of history.
There is the scene of a giant guard carrying a rolled up carpet on his shoulder, he places this carpet down in front of Julius Caesar, and the carpet is unrolled to reveal Queen Cleopatra in all her beauty and charm, allowing her to capture the heart of the most powerful man in the world at that time. This scene was memorably portrayed by beautiful Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Taylor in her eternal film “Cleopatra.”
However following this gripping encounter, Julius Caesar was later assassinated in Rome after fathering a son with Cleopatra named Caesarion. The great Roman General Mark Antony then came to Egypt with his heart full of desire to take vengeance against the beautiful queen…however he too fell in love with her following their first meeting, thereby beginning one of the most famous love stories in the history of mankind. This story caused a lot of writers and historians to ask “Did the beautiful Queen Cleopatra truly fall in love with Mark Antony after having been in love with Julius Caesar? Or did she love neither of them? Did the beautiful Queen plan to hold the two most powerful men on earth captive to her love, and thereby rule the entire world from Egypt?”
Just a few days ago I stood examining the cartouche [oblong enclosure surrounding hieroglyphics of royal name] of Queen Cleopatra’s name in the middle of Sphinx Road which connects the Temple of Luxor and Temple of Karnak and where around 1,350 statues of ram-headed sphinxes line both sides of the road to form a religious avenue. The priests would carry a statue of the Egyptian God Amun, who the temple of Karnak was dedicated to, upon their shoulders up this avenue in order to visit his consort the Goddess Mut at the Temple of Luxor.
During the excavations to reveal this avenue, we discovered the cartouche of the beautiful Queen…and no sooner had I read Cleopatra’s name than I conjured up an image of her sailing down the Nile with Roman General Mark Antony on the royal ship to visit the monuments of her ancestors on the banks of the eternal river Nile. Perhaps this was in order to introduce the Roman General to the history and achievements of the ancient Egyptians, in order to humble his Roman arrogance which could not perceive any greatness that was not Roman.
This royal tour undertaken by the Egyptian Queen and the Roman General would certainly have included a visit to the magnificent Temple of Karnak, and the tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. There can be no doubt that Queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony stood in front of the Temple of Luxor, in the middle of the Sphinx Road, and that the Queen ordered that the ram-headed sphinxes by restored. Priests, architects, and artisans, executed the Queen’s order and restored the ram-headed sphinxes to their original glory, and they inscribed her name on one of the bases of the ram-head sphinxes in memory of her visit, and her royal decree ordering the restoration of this beautiful monument.
In spite of everything that Cleopatra achieved, some people still question her legendary beauty and grace. The head of the Greco-Roman department at the British Museum argued that she believes that Cleopatra was ugly, and that she had a big nose and a chubby face. She believes this from the image of the Queen found on coins dating to Cleopatra’s reign. Could the Queen who captured the hearts of the two most powerful men in the ancient world have actually been ugly? Or could this be nothing more than female jealousy?