Rethinking Cleopatra

According to new research from medieval Arab sources, Cleopatra may not be quite the femme fatale we imagine her to be. Okasha El Daly, an Egyptian Egyptologist working in the UK, says that she may have been one of the great scientific luminaries of her age:

Elisabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
"Cleopatra is a scientist, a medical doctor, a woman who had invented a theory of mathematics and, above all, a well-known philosopher," Dr El Daly recalls from the many medieval texts he's read, which talked of how she "used to hold courtly seminars almost every week in which she sat with fellow scientists and philosophers and would discuss with them, on the same level, all sorts of philosophical and scientific issues." He adds that whenever they refer to Cleopatra, the medieval Arab scholars "always refer to her as a great eminent scholar and philosopher" and says they "thought very highly of that famous queen".

Perhaps it's time for a remake of the Liz Taylor movie most of us think of when talking about her.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,