Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Classicist Says Power Hair Political Tool of Cleopatra


Discovery Channel News: "Egyptian queen Cleopatra used her hairstyles in calculated ways to enhance her power and fame, according to a book published recently by a Yale art history and classics professor.

Statues, coins and other existing depictions of the queen suggest Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.) wore at least three hairstyles, according to Diana Kleiner. The first, a "traveling" do that mimicked the hair of a Macedonian Greek queen, involved sectioning the hair into curls, which were then often pulled away from the face and gathered into a bun at the back.

The next was a coiffure resembling a melon, and the third was the regal Cleopatra in her royal Egyptian headdress, complete with a rearing cobra made of precious metal.

Cleopatra did not invent any of these styles, but she used them to her advantage, Kleiner indicated in her book "Cleopatra and Rome.

"From the time of (Egyptian King) Ptolemy I, the Ptolemaic queens wore the 'melon hairstyle' with its segmented sections resembling a melon or gourd," Kleiner told Discovery News. "When Cleopatra followed suit, she was more traditionalist than trendsetter. These same Ptolemaic queens were also depicted in art with the usual Egyptian wigged headdress that had its origins in Pharaonic times. Cleopatra did as well, so again she followed tradition and did not innovate when it came to hair."

"But," Kleiner added, "Cleopatra appears to have worn different coiffures in different circumstances, playing to her audience, so to speak, in life and in art."

Kleiner explained that when the queen was in her homeland, her likely objective was to look like a traditional Egyptian ruler ? since she was in fact Greek ? and to legitimize the Ptolemaic dynasty by linking it to the time of the Pharaohs. A group of Egyptian statues recently has been linked to Cleopatra, although the identification cannot be proved since there are no accompanying inscriptions.

"These show her with the customary Egyptian wig and the triple uraeus (rearing cobra)," she said. "This Egyptian coiffure is the one we most often associate with Cleopatra today. Think Elizabeth Taylor!

The uraeus was associated with a cobra goddess Wadjyt, the sun god Ra and the goddess Hathor, so wearing it signified that the individual had taken on the attributes of a divinity.

Cleopatra also probably often wore the melon hairstyle in Egypt, where she had many slaves to attend to her appearance, including some that were responsible for maintaining the royal wigs.

The Egyptian queen extensively traveled, and did so in style. Not unlike film depictions, Cleopatra would arrive via elegant barge with her attendants catering to her every need.

In Rome, Kleiner believes Cleopatra wore her "Hellenistic traveling coiffure" in places where it would be seen and "gossiped about at cocktail parties." At about the same time, Kleiner notes the melon hairstyle turns up in Roman portraiture, which suggests Roman women admired Cleopatra and attempted to copy her.

Roman leaders Octavian and Antony both seduced the Egyptian queen. Kleiner theorizes that Octavia, Antony's wife, invented a hairstyle called "the nodus" to compete with Cleopatra. The nodus featured a roll over the forehead that Kleiner suggests mimicked Cleopatra's well-known rearing cobra ornament.

The nodus was the height of Roman fashion in the 30s B.C., just before Cleopatra's death by suicide at the age of 39."


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