A belated Happy Easter!
This time last week, I let my diet go for the day and tucked into my Easter Egg. Happiness was mine. Ironically, I was even happier on Monday after resuming my more sensible eating regime. How could it be? Well, in the six or so months since I started watching the calories alongside doing my daily exercise (which I have been able to do more and more of following my hip operation in November) I have lost over two stone. I like my selfies more these days, and appreciate no longer filling out my shirts when I put them on.
The Post That Got Away
But that’s enough of me, what about Alexander the Great? Well, I should first apologise for not posting anything last week. I did mean to, and began writing a post, but I started it too late in the day to finish. Despite thinking about it a lot during the week, the moment had gone and I never picked it up again.
Late last week, Google Alerts notified me of two interesting projects coming to Netflix. The first, which will start streaming on 10th May, is a docu-drama about Cleopatra VII. It is titled Queen Cleopatra. The second is a docu-series about Alexander himself.
Over the last few weeks, I have tried to keep my Alexander Facebook page active by posting to it every Friday. Two days ago, however, I knew that if I posted about Queen Cleopatra some people would get annoyed. Why? Because the actress (Adele James) playing her is black, and there is no evidence in the historical record for this being Cleopatra’s ethnicity. I tried to circumvent this by referencing in my post how it would make people angry. I thought that if I highlighted this possible response it might make people think twice before being so predictable. Of course, it didn’t work; though I am pleased to say that I have not yet had to warn anyone about their behaviour or ban them*.
If you would like to read the post and its replies, you can do so here. My view of the Queen Cleopatra docu-series was and remains this: if the filmmakers chose Adele James to play the last Ptolemaic queen because they felt simply that she was the best person for the role or they wanted to use Cleopatra’s story to say something, for example, about the world today, fine. Actually, that’s laudable. If they chose her because they think Cleopatra was black, however, then potentially we have a problem – for the reason mentioned above.
The Queen Cleopatra trailer appears to reveal the filmmakers’ position. You can watch it on YouTube here. It is that they think Cleopatra was indeed black (or, as it is written in American-English, Black). Now, that’s not very encouraging. However, we must be cautious – and charitable. It’s in the nature of trailers to be spicy so as to get you to watch the film or programme. Perhaps Queen Cleopatra itself will be more nuanced: for every person who says, ‘Cleopatra was this’, there will be another to say, ‘Actually, she was that.’
* in between writing this post and publishing it I did have to warn someone. Oh well. Two days was a good run
A Look at the Trailer
I’d like to highlight a few points in the trailer that I disagree with or which have made me think.
Firstly, (0:04) the narrator states, ‘There was a time long ago when women ruled with unparalleled power.’ I would very much like to know when that was. It certainly wasn’t in first century BC Egypt.
Secondly, a talking head tells us (0:44) that Julius Caesar wanted ‘to be king to Cleopatra’s queen’. Well, Caesar certainly behaved like he wanted to be a king but I have to say I have a hard time believing that he ever saw Cleopatra as his equal, which sounds like the implication here.
Thirdly, Cleopatra is made to say (0:55), ‘There is no Rome without Egypt’. Actually, this line is quite intriguing. My first reaction was to dismiss it: By the time Julius Caesar came knocking on Cleopatra’s door, Rome was by far the more powerful state. However, I am aware that Egypt provided a lot, if not most of, Rome’s grain. It therefore was a country of vital importance to the latter’s well-being. Unfortunately, I don’t know when Rome’s reliance (if such it was) on Egypt’s grain began. Maybe it was before Cleopatra’s time, hence her confidence. Either way, there’s nothing wrong with showing Cleopatra being proud. Rome was a whippersnapper compared to Egypt, after all.
Fourthly, and here we come back to Cleopatra’s ethnicity. A talking head states (1:22), ‘it’s possible she was an Egyptian’. I mean, in that she was born in Egypt she certainly was. But that is probably not what they mean as another talking head (1:27) adds, ‘I remember my grandmother saying to me, “I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was Black.”‘ I bow to no one in my love of grandmothers and their wisdom. However, even I know not to take everything they say as gospel. As I mentioned above, there is simply no evidence to support this grandmother’s view. If Queen Cleopatra acknowledges this, the programme will be doing its work well; if it doesn’t, it will, to paraphrase Mr Knightly, have done badly.
When I read my Google Alerts, I did a search to see if I could find any more info about Cleopatra’s ethnicity – preferably from a reputable source. In doing so, I came across this article on the Oxford University Press’s website. I like its headline: Cleopatra’s true racial background (and does it matter?) In a way, it doesn’t matter at all but it certainly does if someone takes a position for which there is no justification.
To Watch or Not?
So, will I watch Queen Cleopatra? Of course! And for the reason I mentioned above about trailers purposefully being ‘spicy’. The only way to find out what the programme is really saying is to watch it. I admit I am not very confident but that’s irrelevant. Fairness demands a viewing.
Alexander @ Netflix
As I mentioned above, Netflix are also making a series about Alexander. You can read about it here. Please try to forgive Deadline’s faux pas in calling ancient Macedonia a city. They are but a humble entertainment website and cannot be expected to be able to research basic facts. More seriously, though, Netflix have a big job on their hands if they are going to improve upon, say, Michael Wood’s In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great.
How does someone mistake a country for a city, anyway? To be fair, the writer is probably thinking of the Greek city-states. And if he is rushing to finish his article, he may forget to double check that what applies to the rest of ancient Greece also applies to Macedon. It is a bad mistake to make but an easy one. To quote Warnie Lewis in Shadowlands, ‘there it is’ so let’s move on.
These are my thoughts. Please feel free to let me know yours. One thing that has occurred to me in the writing of this post is that the OUP article I linked to was written in 2010. I wonder if any new evidence about Cleopatra’s ethnicity has come to light since then. If you know of any, please do mention it!
One last thing: This blog has had the same travel theme since I created it over ten years ago. I’m thinking about replacing it. If you know of any other WordPress themes that might suit The Second Achilles, I’d love to hear your suggestions.
Visions of Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor – The Guardian
Adele James – CAM (Creative Artists Management)
Lyndsey Marshal – HBO
Thanks for the post. Everyone knows that Cleopatra was a relative of Ptolemy, hence the Ptolemaic lineage. Ptolemy was supposed to have been Alexander’s half-brother because of Philip’s philandering. Since the historical record is so murky and because of propaganda, who knows the real story? Cleopatra is a popular Macedonian name, not an Egyptian name. Maybe we should have written the Netflix series for both shows. Take care.
All that’s known about Cleopatra’s ancestry is that She is mostly Macedonian Greek with a little bit of Persian. There is no evidence to suggest She had any Egyptian in Her. We do know that one of Her grandmother’s is unknown and therefore it’s possible that person could have had Egyptian ancestry but that’s just not enough to go on for me. They should have hired someone of Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern heritage if they wanted historical accuracy. That being said, I wish the actress well and I hope people don’t blame her for a decision she had nothing to do with
Hail Cleopatra Thea Philopator Nea Isis-Aphrodite!