Further Reflection On Cleopatra's Nose Theory

In an earlier feature I mentioned the well known Blaise Pascal assertion that had Cleopatra, Queen Of Egypt not been quite so attractive, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony would not have fallen for her charms.

I have now read further on the theory and find that Pascal is surprisingly far off the mark for one big reason. Cleopatra was actually quite a plain looking woman, and some Roman commentators went as far as to describe her as ugly.

Coins commemorating her give her a jutting Mussolini chin and a very beaky hooked nose. The famous movie that starred Elizabeth Taylor might have been more realistic if it had featured Gonzo from The Muppets as Cleopatra.

Despite the rather rude gossip in Roman circles about her looks, Anthony and Julius certainly loved her. Her voice was described as very musical and lyrical.

The historic assumption is that Mark Anthony lost the 31 BC battle of Actium against Octavian from being distracted by thoughts of his distant lovesick pining queen. Not so, as the very politically motivated Cleopatra had invested a great deal of funding to Anthony's cause, seeing him as a potential protector of Egypt, while Octavian was out for conquest and a threat to Egyptian independence.

Anthony's role in Caesar's murder gained him many enemies and plunged Rome into brutal civil war.

Cleopatra's position was becoming more tenuous with Anthony's defeats despite his military tactical skills. Unfortunately, Anthony's skills as a general were in land battles while Octavian's were naval and Actium was a sea-battle.

Mark Anthony's fleet was annihilated and Caesar's assassin committed suicide. His Egyptian lover soon followed suit, in the famous asp-poisoning, knowing her country was now just another expansionist Roman conquest. Octavian became Augustus Caesar.

Cleopatra's looks and her nose had nothing to do with her fate or Mark Anthony's - he loved her despite her lack of attractiveness to others, and his military defeats were stronger in his mind than any thoughts of her in the end.

Primary reading - Josiah Ober - Not By A Nose 2001 Pan Books

Arthur Chappell

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