Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cleopatra - Up Close & Personal

"I thought Mark Anthony was Jennifer Lopez's husband!"

Sheila here.
That's a quote from my friend Jill's nine-year-old daughter, when she visited the Cleopatra exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

I, too, learned some things I didn't know when my husband Ric and and I checked out the new exhibit about one of the world's most powerful women. Our city is one of only five in North America to get it, and it's definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.

Cleopatra ruled Egypt more than 2,000 years ago. That I knew. But I didn't know how much drama was involved in the life of the woman who's been the subject of books, movies, and countless works of art.

Franck Goddio, director of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, discovered Cleopatra's royal palace and two ancient cities off the coast of Egypt. Many of the artifacts on display here in Cincinnati were under water for thousands of years. The exhibit has an underwater feel. The visitor can watch the recovery of those priceless artifacts on flat screen TV's nestled among the busts, jewels, pottery, and more.

Some of the centerpieces are so large, it's a wonder the archaeologists could move them. Other precious pieces are so small (a golden hoop, tiny coins), it's a wonder they could find them. The artifacts include 16-foot-tall statues of a Ptolemaic king and queen, dated between 332 and 30 B.C., which once stood outside of a Temple at Heracleion, where Cleopatra was crowned queen. You can also get a close look at coins, jewelry and a bronze helmet that's 2,500 years old. Even a sheet of papyrus, adorned with Cleopatra's own handwriting, survived earthquakes and tsunamis for entire eras under water.

An audio guide is included with the price of admission, and as you wander through the exhibit you hear the voice of Cleopatra herself. The unseen actress who portrays the queen leads the tour, offering insights into her life: "I charmed Caesar with my intimate knowledge of politics and philosophy. Caesar was mesmerized by the wealth of Egypt, and soon he was mesmerized by me."

I've never watched the entire blockbuster movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, but I knew the basics of the story, that Cleopatra first fell for Caesar, then enticed his right hand man, Mark Antony. Things I didn't know: Cleopatra's family was Greek. She married her own brother, and much later, her young son (who was fathered by Caesar). I learned why she is looked upon so unfavorably by history. The Romans launched a smear campaign after Cleopatra's death, and ordered that every image of her be destroyed. I also didn't know she had four children, and some of them didn't survive custody in Roman hands after her death. It's a powerful, romantic, tragic story.

At the end of our journey through the eight-room exhibit, we learned Frank Goddio is now leading the search for the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony at an ancient temple site about 30 miles west of Alexandria. He believes he's on the verge of finding the elusive queen.

It's a fascinating journey you don't want to miss!

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