Professor Pelling dissected the myths surrounding Cleopatra in a talk that ranged from ancient innuendos to Carry on Cleo, via Shakespeare and renaissance art. Who was Cleopatra? Not a classic beauty, as portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor, rather a clever woman of immense charm. The story that Cleopatra hid in a carpet? Not true, but it shows how one small misunderstanding of the Greek can become fossilised as legend. What about Enobarbus’ speech in Antony and Cleopatra, describing Cleopatra’s spectacular appearance on a barge on the river Nile? Likely to be accurate. Cleopatra’s suicide, too, probably was as the romantics would have us believe.
In all, the perfect talk: salacious and serious, something for everyone, and not a mind left unchanged.