Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Gal Gadot is playing Cleopatra

CINEMA, HISTORY, AND GENEALOGY: Woke warriors outraged over Gal Gadot being cast as Cleopatra because she is not black - are ridiculed for not knowing the Egyptian Queen was GREEK (Karen Ruiz, Daily Mail). Technically (as the article says later) she was substantially Macedonian (Greek), but the point pretty much stands.

I saw this story yesterday but didn't post on it because I was still trawling through Cleopatra's genealogy to try to sort out the claims. Meanwhile, the story has gotten a lot of press in the last day. Most of it seems to come down on Ms. Gadot's side. Most of the objections seem to come from a small number of tweets.

Be that as it may, I did learn something about the ancestry of Cleopatra. If anyone has corrections, please drop me a note.

Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII) was one of the later rulers in Egypt's Ptolemaic dynasty, descended from Alexander the Great's Macedonian general Ptolemy I. She also had some Seleucid (i.e., likewise Macedonian) ancestry, and a little Persian.

There is some ambiguity about her ancestry in the generations immediately before her. Her grandfather, Ptolemy IX Soter, was married twice to one sister and once to another sister. (The Ptolemaic dynasty was known for incestuous marriages.) However some ancient writers say that his son, Ptolemy XII Auletes, Cleopatra's father, was illegitimate. This has led to speculation that he was born out of wedlock to another woman. If so, she may have been Greek or Egyptian or whatever. We don't know. And we don't know what illegitimate means in this context. Other interpretations are possible.

Her father, Ptolemy XII, was married to Cleopatra V Tryphaena. We don't know much about her, including her ancestry. Again, she may have been Greek or Egyptian or whatever. Moreover, although we assume she was the mother of Cleopatra VII (our Cleopatra), no ancient source actually says this. If she wasn't, we have no idea who her mother was or what her mother's ancestry was.

In any case our Cleopatra was firmly Macedonian Greek culturally and at least substantially Macedonian Greek genetically. She may or may not have had some Egyptian blood. It is within the realm of possibility that she was 50% or more Egyptian, but positive evidence for any Egyptian ancestry is scarce.

(As I was getting ready to publish this post, I noticed this Newsweek article, which covers much the same ground as above, with some additional details: Was Cleopatra White? After Controversial Gal Gadot Casting, Experts Weigh In (Jon Jackson). On the question of the supposed tomb of Cleopatra's half-sister Arsinoƫ IV, see more here.)

I have spent enough time on this post. I leave it to you, my readers, to decide what all this means in terms of Ms. Gadot's casting as Cleopatra. I blog, you decide. For my part, I congratulate her and I look forward to seeing the film.

By the way, it's interesting to remember that Cleopatra spoke Hebrew.

Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII) does not appear in the Bible, but some of the earlier Ptolemies do. For more on them see here and links.

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