Cleopatra was one of the most intriguing figures of ancient Egypt. She was not the first female ruler of Egypt, but she was certainly one of the most famous. She was known for her cunning, intelligence and ambition. Art activities can help bring Cleopatra to life and give children a greater understanding of her time. Students can use various media to depict her image and her elaborate attire.
A Great Beauty?
In films, Cleopatra is typically portrayed as a great beauty who uses her feminine charms to gain power over men. However, historical descriptions of Cleopatra suggest that she would not have been beautiful by modern standards. According to some historical accounts, she was quite overweight and had a neck with fat folds, a large nose and bad teeth. Talk about these descriptions with younger children or instruct middle- or high-school students to read the source material directly, such as Plutarch's "Life of Antony." Then ask students to draw or paint a picture of what they think Cleopatra actually looked like. Talk about how these pictures compare to film portrayals, such as Elizabeth Taylor's role as Cleopatra.
Penchant for Disguise
Cleopatra was known for dressing in elaborate costumes and for disguising herself. One of the most famous stories about her concerns how she disguised herself in a carpet roll so that she could pass through the city undetected to gain an audience with Caesar. Cleopatra also strongly identified with the goddesses Isis and Aphrodite. Ask students to draw or paint portraits of Cleopatra in disguise as Isis or Aphrodite. For example, Cleopatra disguised as Isis would have very large, colorful wings. Creating these portraits will also require that students learn more about Isis and Aphrodite. Middle- and high-school students can read mythology texts to get this information, but teachers will have to provide informational work sheets to elementary students.
Her Stamp on Money
Cleopatra was the only Egyptian queen during the Ptolemaic era to have coins created with her name and likeness. Provide students with air-drying clay and ask them to "carve" an image of Cleopatra on the coin. Ask them to include other symbols that represent Cleopatra or the era in which she lived. For example, students might include Egyptian symbols like the ankh, which represented eternal life, or the pyramid. Younger students can do this activity with Play Doh and some tooth picks for the "carving."
Commemorating Her Life
A stele is a stone slab that was used to commemorate a person's life, usually to serve as a funerary marker. Ask students to create a stele for Cleopatra using pictures and hieroglyphics. The stele can be created from air-drying clay to look more like a stone slab. For a simpler version of the activity, use construction paper and markers or paints. Provide students with a work sheet of hieroglyphics for reference. Shorten the list and use simple pictures for younger children.
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