Who was the real Cleopatra? | CNN Style

The history of the ancient world abounds with stories of all-powerful women. Take Nefertiti, the 18th-dynasty Egyptian queen who established a new religion and kickstarted a cultural revolution as the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten; or Zenobia, a third-century warrior queen of Palmyra, who conquered Egypt and defied the Roman Empire.

But perhaps the most legendary of all is Cleopatra. The final ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty, she used her political tact, personal connections and endless capacity for reinvention to become the sole woman of the ancient world to rule alone.

And yet, more than 2000 years after Cleopatra’s death, the popular narrative around her life remains markedly one-dimensional. To many, she is the femme fatale who seduced two Roman statesman, and allegedly killed herself with the bite of an asp.

Her most remarkable asset, it seems, was her fabled beauty — a conception driven by cultural touchstones such as Shakespeare’s great tragedy “Antony and Cleopatra,” and Elizabeth Taylor’s iconic turn in the 1963 epic “Cleopatra,” which spawned the ubiquitous image of a queen with beaded braids, kohl-rimmed eyes and serpentine accessories.

Read the full feature here.

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