Was Cleopatra Beautiful?
This is a question that has been asked over and over again for more than 2000 years. Plutarch states expressly that her fascination did not lie so much in her beauty as in a combination of physical attractiveness and great intelligence.
What did she actually look like? The common misconception is that Cleopatra was Egyptian- but she was in fact a pure Macedonian, a race more closely related to the Greeks. She was more likely to be fair-skinned and blonde-as was her ancestor Alexander-than the stereotyped image of the Egyptians. There are, sadly, few contemporary images of Cleopatra. Her profile appears on a number of coins, but they can hardly be counted on as accurate portraits. While we know that Cleopatra was famous for her regal nose, the woman on the coins looks more like an aging Wicked Witch of the West than a girl in her 20s. There are a couple of surviving portrait busts, fortunately, that give us a good look at the young queen. They reveal a girl who was neither ugly nor extraordinarily beautiful. Her nose is prominent-but it seems to fit her oval face nicely enough. It might even be said to be queenly.
She was probably petite-through no one of her time was very tall-otherwise she would never been able to have been carried into Caesar’s presence.
So how did a rather plain-looking young woman become transformed into one of history’s greatest beauties?
Probably because until relatively recently most historians, poets, and playwrights were men… and men simply could not fathom how a woman could have accomplished all the things Cleopatra did. The only way they could accept a woman triumphing over great men like Julius Caesar was to assume she did it through sex. She won over Caesar and Antony because she was beautiful… it could not possibly have been because she had a brilliant mind.