Cleopatra in Manchester

Did you know that the Manchester Museum owns a fantastic collection of Ptolemaic and Roman coins from Alexandria? I didn’t (shame on me…) but yesterday I was introduced to it by Keith Sugden, the curator of numismatics. Keith is helping me to select some pieces from the 1,400 (!!!) for a School day dedicated to discovering Graeco-Roman Egypt.

Bronze coins of Cleopatra VII, Manchester Museum

Bronze coins of Cleopatra VII, Manchester Museum

He had bronze coins of Cleopatra VII on his desk ready to be inspected. An intriguing profile of a woman with a big nose, which has reminded me the famous sentence of Pascal, “Cleopatra’s nose: had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed”. The idea that people with big noses are strong and volitive was typical of physiognomic theories of the past, in Italy we use to say ‘un naso importante’, an important nose, to underline the concept and a certain kind of beauty.

In Pascal’s view Cleopatra embodied vanity, the object of men’s negative passion. But I propose an updated interpretation of the sentence, women have to gain big noses rather than other big attributes (you may esily imagine which ones..) for themselves. It’s time to leave Caesar and Mark Antony at home, defeat Octavian and take control. Don’t you think?

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