Was Cleopatra a conniving temptress who seduced her way to the top, or the target of recorded history's most effective negative political campaign ?
A splashy exhibit making its world premiere at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia makes a case for the latter, using recently discovered artifacts to illustrate two archaeologists' search for the truth - and the tomb - of one of antiquity's most maligned figures.
Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt, features many never-before-seen artifacts from a pair of ongoing Egyptian archaeological expeditions. It remains in Philadelphia until January, when it begins a tour of five not-yet-announced American cities.
The show employs theatrical lighting and sound, 17 video screens documenting archaeologists uncovering some of the 150 artifacts on display, and a four-minute video providing an overview of Cleopatra's life and loves in a style that looks and sounds like a trailer for a slick action movie.
"We're using ancient objects to tell a modern-day story about the search for Cleopatra," said John Norman of Arts and Exhibitions International, the company that organised the show.
The first of the exhibit's two sections showcases the discoveries of French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio, whose 20-year Egyptian expedition so far has uncovered Cleopatra's palace, two ancient cities near the coast of the ancient city of Alexandria, and 20,000 artifacts and counting.