Saturday, October 18, 2008

Halloween and Cleopatra

This week, Princess of the House told me she would like to go “Trick or Treat” with 2of her classmates. I hesitated for a while before saying yes. Last year, after Halloween, I said there would be no more “Trick or Treat”. But I buckled.

I don’t believe in Halloween. But I do believe in allowing Princess some freedom to exercise a bit of creativity, and to have lots of fun. So every year, I am a dutiful accomplice as she takes her flights of fancy into the hollow world of Halloween.

Last year, I went over the top. To greet the neighbourhood’s kids looking for treats, I decorated our front door with a huge spider web, completed with a rubbery mother-spider with her baby spiders -- I even spun my own spider web made out of wool. The funny thing was, the real cob webs at my front door lent real spectacular effects to my Halloween decoration. Mum would have been appalled at my standard of house cleaning.

Halloween, it is not a Kiwi tradition, nor a Chinese one. This Halloween business is a result of globalization, or the Americanization of the world, whichever you choose to call it. Would we see an American kid carrying a Chinese lantern to celebrate the mi-Autumn festival? I don’t think so? But I hope Chinese lanterns will sprout over supermarkets all over the world, one day, near mid-autumn.

The last few years, Princess went around in fairy outfits. I think she has outgrown this fairy thing. This year, she wants to be Cleopatra. Ah, Cleopatra – the most beautiful woman of Egypt. Or should I say, the most feared woman?

The little that I did know about Cleopatra from my limited history was that she was a woman of beauty; she charmed men and ruled an empire with a fist.

“Who did Cleopatra marry?” Princess asked Hubby.

“Huh? Hmmm…. Tutunkhamun??” Hubby replied.

Princess and I cracked up, roaring in laughter. Clearly Hubby wasn’t a history whizz.

Cleopatra trivia
Lately Princess of the House considers herself a bit of a Cleopatra expert. Her class has been learning about ancient Egypt. She has just read a romanticized version of Cleopatra’s life as a 12 year old, a book written by an ex-banker turned writer, Caroline Corby.

“Caesar first,” she quipped, “and then Marc Anthony,” she adds, still smarting from her victory over Daddy.

The Egyptians, Princess of the House tells me, invented eye make-up and the water clock. They invented writing and paper. They embalmed their dead, wore plenty of amulets.

Eye makeup
For now, Princess is most concerned about how to make herself look like Cleopatra using eye makeup – just like the ancient Egyptians. She had an “Egyptian” dress ready, one she made with her friend Holly during the school holidays – using a hot glue gun and lots of sparkly bits and fabric paint.

I wasn’t sure about that the eye make-up thing. And I wasn’t sure about Caroline Corby’s version of the romanticized Cleopatra who was all good and sanitized.
Did Cleopatra wear heavy eye makeup?

So I googled a bit. Cleopatra, as it seems, isn’t all sugar and honey. She was ruthless and cunning, and ruled to win.

She had two main lovers in her life – Caesar and Marc Anthony. Caesar, it was said, she admired for his intelligence; and Marc Anthony, probably out of sheer fatal attraction. Historical sites say Marc Anthony had his affair with Cleopatra while still married to his wife, Fulvia. And when he had a chance to marry Cleopatra after Fulvia died, he didn’t – he chose his rival Octavian’s sister (to secure political support), Octavia and continued his fling with Cleopatra.

Cleopatra gave birth to three children (one by Caesar and three (including a set of twins sired by Marc Anthony).

The Marc Anthony-Cleopatra combination as lovers was far from romantic. It reeked of fatal attraction, and cloak-and-dagger politics. It was about animal instincts, a woman’s need for love, a woman’s quest to secure a crumbling empire, and a matriach's desperate attempt to keep her family in power. What is most interesting is Cleopatra wasn’t even Egyptian – she was a Macedonian!

Hollywood's Cleopatra
Cleopatra, I imagined to be a woman of untold beauty. Ah, the Hollywood version of Cleopatra was a woman of Elizabeth Taylor-type beauty, with bangs on her hair, a sharp high-bridged nose, and almond-shaped eyes decorated with heavy eye make-up.

The more I googled, the more I found myself to be wrong. As it turns out, Cleopatra’s image, minted on coins, showed her to be somewhat plain, with a large hooked nose and not so beautiful. Apparently, in real life, she shaved her head and wore a wig with tight curls. Princess is convinced Cleopatra wore eye makeup.

What else did I learn about Cleopatra? Well, her father Ptolemy was also a murderer –he beheaded his own daughter (Berenice) to regain his throne. Ptolemy then married Cleopatra (who was around 18 years old) off to her brother (who was around 12, according to one source) – all to keep the throne within the family.

This was getting too much for me. After her first lover, Caesar, was assassinated, Cleopatra used her relationship with Marc Anthony in various ways to have her hold over Egypt. In the meantime, Marc Anthony was using Cleopatra and Egypt’s finances and harvest to keep his hold over the struggle for Rome.

In ended in tears – Marc Anthony committed suicide (one source says he did so because he thought Cleopatra was dead) and lost his struggle for Rome to arch rival Octavian.

On discovering Marc Anthony dead, Cleopatra apparently chose to commit suicide too. One source says she allowed herself to be bitten by an asp (a poisonous snake) smuggled into her room via a basket of figs. The different sources that I read make me think that Cleopatra used Marc Anthony – yes she did have a soft spot for him -- in her struggle to keep her empire intact.

How tragic. This was the life of Cleopatra. A highly intelligent woman no doubt; brave on all accounts; an exceptional linguist I found; and a woman who can charm with her brilliant speech. Cleopatra of history was also a woman drunk on power and reckless ambition. A murderer and nasty piece of work by all accounts.

I shudder to think why Princess would want to go as Cleopatra in her Halloween outing. I’d rather she go as a fairy, with wings, a magic wand, and glass slippers.


  1. Dont forget Princess is the Y-generation, no more glass slippers, magic wands and fairy tales. She would be the intelligent individual creature with the fast maturity who will earn more than us when we were 21 and demanding what she'll be this and next and next Halloween. You'll just got to go with the flow of the generation Lady Lavender. I'll say that I admire her creativity rather than just being a fairy and to be the Hollywood Cleopatra, and the effort in making her outfit.

    Anyway I can imagine Princess will look striking with the heavy eye makeup and the sparkly Egyptian dress - compared to mine little one who rather be Spiderman in his cape for the last 3 years!

  2. I forgot to mention, interesting reading of Cleopatra.

    Keep writing, thoroughly enjoyed your blog. :D

  3. Hi Jenny, ya ya...these kids -- always so full of ideas of what we can do for them! Hahaha.
    Spider man is easier! I should have kept my spider thingy for you -- I threw them all out!

  4. I still love Cleopatra...for all her bad pressx..and approve of bathing in asses milk so long as there is no nasty stuff starting with mel.... dong shi dongshi....I just think of that fantastic line in "shakespeare in luv"....from Elizabeth 1, played by Judy Dench. " I DO know something of a woman wearing mans clothes and living in a man's world..." words to that effect... Agreed though...Mid Autumn festival in NZ woul be lovely...I think keep building on CNY and Landtern Dragon boat..Yoke...ya gonna have to start making those sticky rice bamboo triangle wraps!!!!!!!! Because of the's hard to bring in a seasonal tradition..when the southern hemisphere is doing something else!!!!!!!xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx More fireworks..anyhow...

  5. WE LOVE green eye shadow anyhows.....

  6. ....anyhow...if we are looking for a strong role moel for our girls..what about the ONLY Empressess of China? huh? Good Sichuan gal! Hot and spicy...

  7. Princess is future digital native....go google that baby!

  8. Glass slippers and wands and cautionary tales are timeless, who knows what our chilren's earning powers will be? or their cost of living or even basics we all take for granted like decent drinking water?. I think we empower our children with the freedom of choice to make informe decisions....we fill their lilttle heads inspriational folk of the past...soun values to last the life time.......AND a love of magic , literature, art and gift the chilren of the future....the abliltiy to express themeselves in a Global learning community.....xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  9. Long live the Princess and her King and Queenx

  10. Hi Anna, you have amazing insight! I am not sure where all this Cleopatra madness will lead to...but like you say, we offer our children the canvass, they do the vignettes! Princess of the House actually wrote a play about Eqyptian elections -- with spoofs on Pon Key and Whack can figure out where she got those from if you live in NZ.

    Cleopatra lived in a world dominated by power hungry man? I think she did what she did out of sheer will to survive, yes, a bit like the Last Empress of China...But history often potray these women unkindly...

    Definitely will take your advise, somedays, perhaps, I will put my skills to test and do rice dumplings -- to celebrate courage and the triumph of a good man over an evil emperor!

    Can't seem to access your blog!

  11. Trick or Treat sure sounds fun, though I had to part with 2 packets of hershey chocolates (dunno where my auntie kept the candies and I was home alone, lucky I still like chocolates and bought lots of them to eat =p) when the monsters came.. though the kids here go for cute costumes like black kitty, or superheroes

    my fav Egyptian queen is Nefertiti, though I admire Cleopatra for her courage to get what she wants. It must be super difficult for a woman of her times. People of those times are used to taking cruel actions to secure their kingdom. nowadays, we are often reminded of karma :)



Hi, I welcome your say on the matter!