Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heroes: The image of reality

Yes, all is not what it appears. The romantic images that Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw portray of Anthony and Cleopatra when "faced" by reality are quite different. We desire the Anthony and Cleopatra from history to appear as beautiful as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in the movie Cleopatra. What did Anthony and Cleopatra really look like? Before photography we only had the ideal approximate images made in stone, metal or sketches on paper and paintings paid for by the subjects or their patrons.

The Romans were famous for their reputation of copying the works and ideas of others. Beautiful Roman fakes of Greek ideals. But then again we should give those old Romans some credit for originality where credit is due. Look at their coins.

Above is an image of Cleopatra from a Roman coin produced during her lifetime. While no beauty physically she was renown for her intelligence, wit, ruthlessness and survivability. She captured the heart of both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. She was willing to bear their children. For power or for love? She was the first Ptolemy to actually speak the local Egyptian dialect in addition to Greek and Latin. Octavian was unaffected by her charms and planned to parade her in golden chains in his official triumph in Rome. She chose death instead of indignity and dishonor. Her son by Caesar, Caesarion Ptolemy was killed on orders by Octavian. Her children by Mark Anthony survived her. It is my opinion that her personality was best captured by an East Indian actress in the recent series: Rome (produced by HBO).

Did Mark Anthony look like Richard Burton? Well no. Above is a copy of a Roman coin portraying Mark Anthony as he looked during the years he lived in Egypt with Cleopatra. He like Cleopatra had an engaging personality and believed that loyalty was the most important trait in love and friendship. How else would you account for Anthony's rapid rise as the right-hand to Julius Caesar? He appears on the above coin with a strong chin and curly hair....but a boxer's face. Loyalty was important to him. He could be cruel and heartless when it advanced his career. Not a book reader, but politically smart when it suited his purposes. He was a man's man yet met his match with Cleopatra and then tied his fate to her.

Now, what about Julius Caesar? That is another story.

Now how about our hero Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln liked to tell stories relating to his lack of looks. One story he told relates
how he was shaking hands in a receiving line at a political function. A woman greeted him by saying "my God I believe you are the ugliest man I have ever seen". Lincoln replied "I can't help that I am ugly". To which the woman replied "at least you could stay at home." Indeed, where would we be now as a nation if Lincoln had stayed at home.

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