Cleopatra: the last pharaoh

“The queen of queens”

Cleopatra was born in 69 BC at Alexandria of Egypt. Her father was pharaoh Photolomy XII. She lived in a period of time that saw the creation and expansion of the Roman Empire. Her history was told century after century by historians and in our days by Hollywood. The most known version of the story of her life is the one of Plutarch. He speaks of a beautiful and dangerous (for Rome) queen who put the Roman Empire to her knees by seducing, first one of the most powerful man of history, Julius Caesar, and then one of his strongest lieutenant Marc Antony.

Now we have to remember that the story of Cleopatra has been written by her roman contemporaries, that were also her enemies, while everything written from the Egyptians during her reign has been lost. In fact Cleopatra’s Alexandria is at the moment under the Mediterrenian seas. On the other hand the Arab historians who lived after her death, instead, paint a very different portrait from the Roman one.

They tell of a wise queen who liked to read and foster cultural and artistic progress. In the Arab stories one cannot find any mention to her physical appearance. In absence of any direct Egyptian source ( we don’t even have a certain portrait or a statue of her) is difficult to separate the fiction from the reality that ‘s why Cleopatra is probably become a legend.

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The facts are: she belonged to a Greek lineage of pharaohs who came to rule Egypt after the conquest of the country of Alexander the Great in the IV century BC. These Greek pharaohs adopted Egyptian costumes and in particular the cult of life after death and the cult of the pharaoh representing the divinity on Earth. But not all of the Greek Pharaohs adopted for example the Egyptian language and during their reigns revolts busted the region. Cleopatra tried to stay closer to the population by adopting their language, fighting the corruption, protect the commercial exchanges with the Arabs on the caravan route, that went from the Nile to the Red Sea, and, as said above, by fostering the Arts. For example she rebuilt the Alexandria Library that was the biggest in the world before a fire destroyed it and she was the first to exploit a porphyry quarry to embellish her palace. The same stone was to be used in the following years by the Romans for their statues.

She became queen at the age of 18. At the time Rome was conquering country after country. At the age of 21 she started a relationship with the Roman chief Julius Caesar.

Giulio-CesareWe don’t know if her choice was based on love or ambition. The point is that she had a child from Caesar to whom she gave a roman name Caesarion. Julius Caesar didn’t recognize the child but brought him and Cleopatra to Rome reserving them the highest honors. The reason why Caesar didn’t recognize Caesarion is unknown but we can imagine that Rome was a dangerous place for the baby as many were against the union between Cleopatra and Caesar fearing the end of the Republic and the beginning of a monarchy. Actually Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. and Cleopatra fled to Egypt. She continued to see her son as the heir of Egypt and Rome together as testified by the inscriptions on the Dendera temple that she has it built to show Caesarion as the future governor of the reign.dendara10

In the meanwhile the Roman Empire was split in two parts. The West under Octavian the nephew of Caesar who declared himself the true heir of the dead chief. The East was under Marc Antony lieutenant of Caesar who supported the son of Cleopatra as heir of his former general.

M_AntoniusCleopatra entered in an alliance with Marc Antony, and also in a relationship from which were born 3 children. The couple finally was defeated next to Actium in Greece by Octavian, and they both preferred to commit suicide than to be brought to Rome as slaves.

Marc Antony decided to die in a roman way, with a sword. Cleopatra chose to die by a bite from a cobra, a sacred animal in Egypt, protector of the country and its pharaohs.

Cleopatra was a proud woman and an ambitious mother who lived and died for preserving the traditions and independence of her country through her son.

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Billie Holiday: The dawn of Jazz America

“God bless the child that got its own”

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Billie Holiday’s career spans from the 30’s to the 50’s of the last century. This was the mythical time of America’s Jazz, a time of poverty and frugality, the music of small clubs, the lost sounds of stars nicknames that evoked closeness and familiarity. As it was usual, singers used to tour accompanied by orchestras already with a name of their own. It was in the Count Bessie Orchestra that Billie met legends of the sort of Lester Young. Besides working alongside bands, she developed an important solo career that took her from tiny little clubs in Baltimore and Harlem to the greatest concert halls in Europe even. Billie’s private life had a great deal of an impact on her song writings. She sang of poverty, which experienced earlier in her life, of troubled relationships as in “my man”, and of discrimination a scar more than alive at the time personally and objectively. Eventually was her habit of substance abuse that took her away from the stage for quite some time not only because of health-related problems, but also because she was jailed a couple of times. Her signature style, elegant and mesmerizing, conveys an ever present note of sweet and sour melancholy.

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Zaha Hadid: The Architect

“You remind me of someone… a man I met in a half-remembered dream. A man possessed of some radical notions.”

Zaha Hadid was a very famous architect. She was born in Iraq in 1950 lived in London and worked everywhere. Hadid started each project thinking that the world was not a rectangle. Reality has several faces, a number of perspectives and billions of angles. In the early stages of her career she was fascinated by the concept of break, split, divisions in one unit, like the spikes of icebergs, like cliffs in ranges of mountains.buildings

She became an expert at shaping the concrete in fluid and organic forms. Her buildings look like giant glassy white or grey snakes, beehives, frozen waves. You can find her plastic buildings from Italy to Chine, from USA to Azerbaijan.zaha

Zaha justified her choices by saying that today’s technology allow us to experience buildings with excitement and to explore, also in this field, the infinite possibilities of the unexpected. She imposed her buildings and therefore her visions as a breakthrough, and didn’t hide that it’s ok to preserve traditions and heritage but also to dispose of the old. Perhaps she wass missing a bit on color. Her works are astonishing but they don’t exude much warmth; probably they should sit in more comprehensive and consistent new urban schemes where would stand out as jewels on the crown.

Medusa: look me in the eyes!

“Amor et psyche”

Medusa is another figure from the Greek mythology. imageOriginally she was a priestess of Athena, very charming, with beautiful locks adorning her face. After having had an intercourse with Neptune in the temple of Athena (wisdom), the goddess herself turned Medusa into a monster with snakes in place of her hairs to punish the desecration of the temple.

Medusa wandered the world spreading despair and death since she had the power to turn men into stones just by meeting their eyes. She found peace when the hero Perseus (wisdom) cut her head.image

Maybe this is a myth that stands for a symbol of the constructive and destructive power of the reason.

Mata Hari: Arcane Exotica?!

“What goes around comes around” Anonymous

Born as Margaretha Geertruida, she turned into Mata Hary (Indonesian for eye of the day) by her 20’s. After the failure of her marriage which she took at the age of 18, Zelle was broke and didn’t know what to do to survive. She moved to Paris and reinvented herself as a dancer; as far as her movements she drew from the women she saw performing in the temples of Indonesia the period of time she was married to her former husband, a Dutch Army Captain. Her exotic style, together with an almost nude look gained her an enormous popularity throughout Europe at the beginning of XX Century. image

Unfortunately once in her 30’s her dancer career was over, and Mata Hary was at the mercy of her numerous lovers for her sustainment. When the First World War broke out she first settle in the Netherlands, which where neutral at the time, but later decided to go back to Paris to once again reinvent herself, in what apparently was for her, the game of life. She was hired by the French Army as a double agent with the aim of grasping information out of the Germans. Mata Hari’s only weapon was seduction, but was quite ineffective as she was only able to pass misinformation to the Allies, because the men who she meet understood her plan. In the meanwhile Paris was taken over by a paranoia about spies of which, ironically, Mata Hari, became a victim. Accused of being a spy for the Germans by the same who had hired her as a double agent ( a certain Ladou), she was brought to trial in July 1917 and soon after put to death, after being described as a woman who left her family to live a life of sexual independence. Eventually, what brought her fame, gave her death. Now she is a legend anyway, probably for her mystery audacity and for being chameleonic.

Athena: the owl

imageimage“When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will”. Chuck Palahniuk.

Athena was a deity born in the Ancient Greek culture. She was the goddess of war, arts, crafts, and wisdom.

The wars in which Athena participated were considered just. Her contribution was strategy as opposed to slaughters and bloodsheds offered by her brother Ares. She was born from the head of her father Zeus (time ) and she represents philosophy therefore one of her attributes is the owl, the bird which sees well at night. Plato in one of his dialogues suggests that the meaning of her name is the mind of god.

She is typically dressed with a sleeveless spartan tunic, and a cloak. On her head there is an helmet, and a shield with Medusa’s face protects her body. She holds a spear and the statue of Nike, victory.