It’s March, and fashion and beauty have arrived at The Displaced Nation. To help us introduce the new theme, may we present the Queen of the Nile, Isis Personified, Cleopatra VII Philopator, who has agreed to impart some travel-oriented beauty and fashion advice.
Greetings, my subjects — for I cannot help but think of you that way, having lived my entire life as Queen of the Nile.
Meantime, I understand that the descendents of those who were once my subjects are fighting for democracy. How times have changed.
Or have they?
As for me, I’m stretching the limits of my tolerance for democracy by addressing you in a tongue full of Latinate words — Latin of course being the language of many of your, and my own nation’s, conquerors.
Still, at least I conquered two of their warlords, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, with my not inconsiderable charms. The former restored me to my throne, while the latter joined me in fighting off the Romans.
The details of my affair with Antony are well known thanks to the efforts of your foremost literary genius, William Shakespeare. (In more recent times, there was that film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton — verbose, muddled, lumbering, lacking in style and, worst of all, not even entertaining! Still, I get some consolation from knowing that it nearly bankrupted the film studio that tried so hard to undermine my reputation.)
But enough about me. I am here today to focus on the needs of my supplicants. The powers-that-be at The Displaced Nation have informed me that you’re all world travelers, just as I was — having traveled twice to Rome during my reign. But, unlike me, you don’t take the matter of your appearance seriously enough.
Well, never fear, Mother Isis is here, friend of slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden — which, as I can see from a quick glance around, is how some of you have chosen to present yourselves to the world. I will now impart six key lessons on beauty, clothing and comportment, which have stood the test of millennia…
1) Outward appearances count, especially when visiting other cultures.
Can it be true that some of you would venture into other countries unshaven, unkempt and unwashed? I can only assume that this is not by choice but rather the lack of a servant/travel companion to look after you. (For what would I have done without my Iras?)
To be welcomed with open arms, allow ample time for grooming. Your initial appearance will inspire wonder and awe rather than revulsion.
This lesson also applies, by the way, to you men out there: do you think I, a goddess personified, would have taken Mark Anthony into my bed had he arrived in Alexandria looking like a homeless person?
2) Become an ambassador for your home nation’s styles.
Though it has taken more than a millennium for their fashions to evolve, Italy is now a fashion leader. Well, how do you think that came about? When summoned to Rome in 46 BC, I dazzled everyone with the latest Egyptian designs, both clothing and accessories. Alexandria was at that time the fashion center of the world, and I saw myself as a conduit. (Even when the time came to take my own life, I made sure the asps on my breast were artfully arranged, in my belief that it’s important to die as one has lived — with style.)
3) Study the women of other nations for their beauty and fashion secrets.
Imagine the excitement of female travelers to Egypt upon discovering that with the help of a bit of pigment, they could enhance their eyes — for I knew about smokey eyes long before most, and had taken them to another level. As for me, though I benefited very little from studying Roman ladies — togas aren’t exactly seductive (Fulvia looked particularly dumpy in hers!) — the experience was useful in that it taught me a lesson in what not wear.
4) Beauty on its own is never enough; cultivate a little something extra.
My own “little something” was wit, charm, multiple languages and a musical voice. What’s yours — telling cross-cultural jokes, spinning travel yarns, holding forth on issues of the importance to our planet? Glamming up is fine, but hardly sufficient.
5) On that same note, never be afraid to project an aura of mystery.
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women cloy
The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies; for vilest things
Become themselves in her: that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.
— Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare (1606)
I’ve watched for two thousand years as artists and writers have tried to capture my allure — watched, and laughed, because they never quite grasped it. The latest to try is Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff. She had a good go, but even she, with her formidable intellect, didn’t fully get what you today might call my “attitude problem.” Why do we always have to tell others what we think? Why do we have to be consistent? In my — rather wide-ranging — experience, a little artifice never hurt anyone, and the plea for straightforward cross-cultural communications is vastly overdone.
6) Pearls are a girl’s best friend.
I once possessed the most valuable pearls in the world, worth a villa each — and ended up swallowing one of them in order to win a bet, after first dissolving it in a glass of vinegar. What a hoot that was! I’ve been told that one of your more famous sex goddesses had the same to say but about diamonds. That was a woman after Isis’s own heart: smarter than she looks! As a global nomad, you never know what kind of predicament you might be in, and jewels have the advantage of being edible as well as portable.
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Thank you, Cleopatra. Readers, any questions or comments for the Egyptian queen before she turns back into a golden statue?