who is the most glamorous woman you know? There were the long string of screen stars of the first half of the 20th century. Some of us were alive then to remember the best of them. But these were just screen beauties. There was Jackie Bouvier Kennedy/Jackie Onassis of course. Now she was a glamorous one. Having been married to the President of the United States, when he died she is supposed to have asked a friend “who can I marry now after being married to the President”? Of course she married the next most powerful man in the world, the super rich Mr. Onassis. Good enough, but not quite that good.
In our own post-war austerity Britain there was Lady Docker, a former showgirl who was married to the Chairman of Daimler. They rode about in a gold plated Daimler with 7000 individual gold stars. Another car, the Golden Zebra, a coupe, had in addition to the gold plating, ivory dashboard and zebra upholstery. But in the end the show girl in her came through and she went into decline.
In our own times we have seen “celebrities” with their own version of glamour, alighting from their limousines without any knickers on.
But for true glamour that even Marie Antoinette could not aspire to, we have to go back 20 centuries, to Cleopatra VII, yes our Cleopatra of the famous asp! Now the Queen of Egypt, the Queen of the Nile could really put a show on.
I have to step back for a little history lesson. Cleopatra was married to Julius Caesar, the most powerful man on earth at that time. When Caesar was murdered, war broke out between his killers and Mark Anthony. It is in this war that Anthony thought Cleopatra had aided Brutus and Cassius, the killers of Caesar. So he summoned Cleopatra to him to ask for an explanation and punish her. Mark Anthony was then resting after a victorious war at Tarsus. Tarsus itself was an important city with a 6000 year history, a focal point of the ancient trading world. In the middle of it was the Lake Rhegma which had been enlarged and deepened by its citizens. Into this lake the river emptied itself before flowing on to the sea. Around the lake stood docks, warehouses and arsenals with a flourishing town round it. Imagine the picture. Into this lake Cleopatra appears coming in from the sea in all her glory, on a golden barge. Cleopatra is expected. The whole town gathers. Mark Anthony is seated on his throne in the marble main street surrounded by the towns people. Suddenly this grand vision comes into sight and the people rush to get a closer view. Mark Anthony is left alone on his throne. This is how Plutarch describes the incident:
“She received several letters, both from Antony and from his friends, to summon her, but she took no account of these orders; and at last, as if in mockery of them, she came sailing up the river Cydnus, in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like sea nymphs and graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes. The perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either bank, part running out of the city to see the sight. The market-place was quite emptied, and Antony at last was left alone sitting upon the tribunal; while the word went through all the multitude, that Venus was come to feast with Bacchus, for the common good of Asia.
Read Plutarch’s whole account here: http://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/AntCleo.html
It is a lesson in ultimate glamour. Remember Cleopatra was a proud queen, once married to the great Caesar. Liz Taylor and the string of stars who recreated her for the silver screen could never do justice to that original queen.
Shakespeare puts it this way:
The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne, Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold; Purple the sails, and so perfumed that The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver, Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made The water which they beat to follow faster, As amorous of their strokes. For her own person, It beggar’d all description: she did lie In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold of tissue, O’erpicturing that Venus where we see The fancy outwork nature: on each side her Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, With divers-colour’d fans, whose wind did seem To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool, And what they undid did.
what can a mere mortal man do in the face of such glamour? The man who set out to punish the Queen of Egypt is seduced by her and ends up marrying her. Uncanny resemblance to Jackie O if I may take the liberty. She too, after the death of her Caesar married a powerful Mediterranean with a barge. The whole story is very exciting and worth reading about. Cleopatra had many many adventures before this episode and after. For instance she had been married to a Ptolemy her brother; she was the last Pharaoh of Egypt; when Caesar was killed in Rome she had to flee back to Egypt with their son Caesarion. After the above incident of the barge Mark Anthony was defeated in battle. Cleopatra faced the ignominious fate of being paraded through the streets of Rome as a prisoner. That was why she took the asp I mean the cobra to her bosom; for tradition has it that it was an Egyptian Cobra that she took to her bosom to kill herself. The whole thing has overtones of the Romeo and Juliet tragedy. Mark Anthony, prematurely hearing Cleopatra had killed herself, stabbed himself. He finally died in her arms and then she not wanting to face ignominy and disgrace took her own life I think rather than in grief for the loss of her husband. Cleopatra was made of sterner stuff than that.
We live in a very mundane world despite our ipads, compared to the world of Egypt 20 centuries ago.
It is past 3am and I must to bed go! Adieu!