The “Real Cleopatra” Unveiled in Arts & Humanities Professor’s Multi-media Presentation

donley-cleopatra-270wWest Campus Professor of Arts and Humanities Jeffery Donley shared a multi-media presentation on the famous Cleopatra VII with more than 200 students on Thursday, October 16, 2014.

“Through primary sources, the monographic tradition of Roman historiography and the science of archaeology, I answered the following questions,” said Jeffery. “Was Cleopatra Egyptian? Was she a self-indulgent temptress who was renowned for her unrivaled physical beauty? Did Cleopatra really have herself rolled up in a carpet to be presented to Julius Caesar? How did Cleopatra get two of the most powerful men in human history to do her bidding? What events led to her suicide? Why is she the most famous woman in history who has inspired countless works of art, literature and Hollywood movies?”

During the lecture, the “real” Cleopatra emerged, stripped from legend, myth and Hollywood fabrication.

faculty-insight-news-id“Hollywood, myth and legend portray Cleopatra as a beautiful woman like the lovely Claudette Corlbert (1934), the stunning Vivian Leigh (1945) and the gorgeous Elizabeth Taylor (1963) who all played her in Hollywood movies. But, the fact is that Cleopatra was a homely looking woman. Her image on coins and her busts are less than attractive,” Jeffery explained.

“Instead, it was Cleopatra’s charming personality, ruthless ambition, mastery of speech, diplomatic skills, belief that she was a re-incarnation of the Egyptian goddess Isis, great wealth, the knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone and lastly, her intelligence, that got the attention of two of the most powerful men to have ever lived — Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.”

Cleopatra-VII-270wJeffery stated that whether Cleopatra was Greek or Egyptian is one of the most important things to learn about Cleopatra.

“Cleopatra’s father was Ptolemy XII Auletes (117-51 BC). The last Pharaoh of the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt and descendent of Alexander’s general Ptolemy was the famous Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra was a Ptolemy, i.e., she was a Macedonian Greek and not Egyptian. Plus, her name “Cleopatra” (“Κλεοπάτρα”) is Greek and not Egyptian,” he continued. “And her images on coins, and her busts, portray Cleopatra wearing the traditional hairstyle of Hellenistic Greek girls/women.”

Added to that, Jeffery noted that Cleopatra was brilliant, being the product of the educational system in Alexandria, Egypt. She was taught by a myriad of teachers coming from the largest database of the ancient world in the famed Museum and Great Library of Alexandria, Egypt. She was a polyglot, speaking nine languages fluently, and was the only Ptolemy to learn to speak Egyptian.

Student Courtney Jackson said, “Dr. Donley’s multi-media presentation on Cleopatra VII was extremely scholarly, pleasantly witty and simply amazing. The information presented was precisely covered only by historical and archaeological facts. The presentation was spectacular because Dr. Donley has a true passion for teaching, which I appreciate in an educator.”

Michael Caruana, another student participant, was astonished that Cleopatra lived 2,000 years ago. “I really loved the Cleopatra presentation. Dr. Donley is a great speaker,” Michael said. “He spoke about her like he really knew her. It was awesome to attend a scholarly presentation that had energy and excitement to it.”

Professor Donley’s April 2014 lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls drew a similar crowd and ardent student feedback.

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