Cleopatra exhibition shows her splendor


By Monica Haynes - Post-Gazette

Be prepared to spend at least 90 minutes, probably longer on the weekends when attendance tends to be heavier. There are 140 artifacts from a variety of sources, including the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, cultural institutions such as the Egyptian Museum in Berlin and private collectors.

Among the artifacts are ancient coins that archaeologists believe bear Cleopatra's likeness. And guess what ? She looked nothing like Elizabeth Taylor.

Still, like the tale of King Tut (the Franklin Institute hosted an exhibition on the boy Pharoah three years ago), Cleopatra's is an intriguing story wonderfully told not only with artifacts but also through video clips, audio narration, maps and photographs.

"Based on our success with King Tut and through our own research, Egypt and Egyptian themes tend to resonate very well with the American public.

Why that's the case we don't know, but nevertheless, they continue to be interested," said Troy Collins, senior vice president, programs, marketing and business development for The Franklin Institute.

"Cleopatra is one of these very timeless, iconic pieces of history. ... People think they know a lot about [her], but once they know the true history and the true story, they become even more fascinated."

Visitors to the exhibition first encounter a room with a glass floor and blue and green lighting moving around the walls. It gives the feel of being underwater, where many of the artifacts were discovered. Beneath the floor is sand and items such as urns and portions of statues. They next enter a room where a brief film on Cleopatra is narrated by the Queen herself. (Actually, it's an actress.)

Egypt's last ruler was of Greek descent and a member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. While her body has never been found and no one really knows what she looked like, she's been described by many ancient historians as "beautiful" and "intelligent."

The Romans obliterated all traces of her when they conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. Still, enough has been discovered to put together Cleopatra's life, a life less ordinary.

She was not the first Cleopatra, but actually Cleopatra VII. She was 17 when she became Pharoah and ruled the country with her younger brother, whom she married. She was well-educated and fluent in Ethiopian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and ancient Egyptian.

She had one son with Julius Caesar (Caesarion or little Caesar) and three children with Mark Antony, including a set of twins.

Perhaps the artifact that gives the most insight into this mysterious monarch is a papyrus from the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, which bears her handwriting.

It was a document granting a tax exemption for a businessman and friend of Mark Antony. To it, Cleopatra added the word "ginesthoi" -- which means "make it happen."


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