Who Was Cleopatra and Was She Arab? Here's All You Need to Know About the Egyptian Monarch
Cleopatra VII was the of Ptolemaic rulers that reigned over Egypt | Image source: Twitter
History buffs are finally getting their revenge on the world, even as social media continues to fight over the origin of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra and Israeli actress Gal Gadot's legitimacy in playing her onscreen.
Historical-themed films were always a big hit with film watchers and producers alike. And just when history was starting to drag a bit, feminist thought and women filmmakers getting their long-overdue space in Hollywood have given rise to the retelling of historic events from a feminist perspective, giving filmmakers a chance to venture once again into previously chartered territories using a new lens.
But films are more than just themes and metaphors. They are as much flesh, bones, and the people involved in the making of the film, especially actors as they end up becoming the faces our memories associate with those characters and stories.
Take the case of Cleopatra, for instance. As soon as Gadot, who became famous for her role titular role of Wonder Woman, announced the news of her next project, social media erupted with accusations of appropriation and cultural misrepresentation. Many said that it was unfair of Gadot to play the Egyptian Queen, given the rocky history between Jews and Arabs.
But was Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt?
Who was Cleopatra?
Cleopatra VII took the throne of Egypt in 51 BC after the death of her father Ptolemy XII and ruled till 30 BC. Due to the rules of ascension allowing only male heirs to take the throne, she ruled as co-regent first with her father, then with her two younger brothers, and at last with her son. She was known to be clever and vivacious as well as beautiful. Egypt was ruled by such Hellenistic Greek monarchies, the last of them being the Ptolemaic dynasty after which the Roman Empire took over the throne of Egypt. Unlike other Ptolemaic Pharaos who did not speak the local language of Egypt or even stayed there, (they resided in the Greek city of Alexandria), Cleopatra became the first Ptolemaic ruler to learn the Egyptian dialect. In all three of her co-regencies, Cleopatra proved to be the dominant force. Her romantic relations with Roman emperor Julius Ceasar and Mark Antony as well as her exotic charm and alleged "powers of seduction" have earned her a popular placeholder in literature and pop-culture.
Was Cleopatra Arab?
Cleopatra was a descendent of the Ptolemaic dynasty, founded by Ptolemy I Soter who was a general in the army of Alexander the Great. Daughter of Ptolemy XII, Cleopatra was one of the last of a long line of Hellenistic Greek rulers following the death of the Macedonian King Alexander the Great. Macedonian Greeks of Macedon are one of the ancient tribes of Greece. It is, therefore, clear that Cleopatra was not Arab but of Macedonian Greek descent. That does not, however, make her any less Egyptian. Historians and Egyptologists agree that Cleopatra played an important role in the history of Egypt and how it shaped out even after her death
Have there been other films on Cleopatra?
Yes, in fact, several. The last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Cleopatra is one of the most famous figures of the ancient world, having been immortalized in Medieval and Renaissance literature, as well as being depicted in various coinage, sculptures, busts and paintings. Shakespeare has immortalised her love-affair with Mark Antony in his play Antony and Cleopatra, and in modern times, she has appeared in fine arts, burlesques, Hollywood films, and brand imagery, turning into a pop culture icon of Egyptomania, or the renewed interest of Europeans in ancient Egypt during the nineteenth century. Films like Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), A Queen for Caesar (1962), Cleopatra (1963) and Antony and Cleopatra (1972) have previously tried to analyse the film from a variety of angles. This time, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins has teamed up once again with Gadot for a retelling of the popular story of Cleopatra's conquests.
Would this one manage to strip the exotic tale of the male gaze and show Cleopatra in a previously unseen light? Only time can tell.