Cleopatra, considered ancient Egypt’s great last pharaoh before that civilization fell to Roman conquest in the first century B.C., had a reputation for knowing how to present herself stunningly to outsiders. Legend has it she once sailed upriver in a gilded barge with purple sails to introduce herself to Mark Antony, the powerful Roman leader who became her new lover after an earlier one, the great Julius Caesar, had been assassinated.
Thus, she would be thoroughly pleased with the presentation of the show that bears her name, Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.
It dazzles with its historical objects, including two 16-feet-tall granite statues of a Ptolemaic-era king and queen recovered from the ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion, where pharaohs were crowned. These originally flanked the doorway to the Temple of Amon. Cleopatra would have passed between these figures on her way into the temple to be crowned and again on her way out, having been declared divine. (The Ptolemaic dynasty, which had Greek origins, ruled Egypt for some 275 years, ending with Cleopatra. It was originally put in power by Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt some 300 years before Cleopatra’s rule.)
The exhibit features some theatrically conceived installations that offer showbiz flair. At one point, visitors walk over a glass floor covering what appears to be the bottom of the sea, with ruins half-buried in sand. An amphora is on its side and a broken sphinx is near the base of what once was a statue but is now reduced to a pair of feet.
Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt continues at the Cincinnati Museum Center through Sept. 5. Go here to read Jane Durrell's full review.