From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cleopatra's revenge: Egypt needling New York

Bust of Cleopatra
An official of the Egyptian government has been threatening to take back the Cleopatra’s-Needle obelisk that has proudly stood in New York’s Central Park for over a century and a quarter.  

Perhaps one too many showings of Antony and Cleopatra in New York City has riled up the ancient queen’s spirit.  Although Shakespeare had tried his best to portray the queen as a grand and tragic figure, her shortcomings were nevertheless often quite evident.

One of these shortcomings – vanity – was perhaps the reason why an obelisk that was built and inscribed by two other pharoahs hundreds of years before her time is now associated mainly with Cleopatra’s name.  Her politically-fueled passions were also partly responsible for this association.  During the Roman era, the obelisk that had originally stood in the ancient Egyptian holy city of Heliopolis was moved to the temple that Cleopatra had built in honor of – you guessed it – Marc Antony.

Although Cleopatra was actually Greek, she liked to portray herself as being a living incarnation of the Egyptian goddess, Isis.  Isis was known for magic, fertility, and motherhood (the latter being perhaps the biggest stretch in Cleopatra’s case).  The son of Isis, Horus, was – according to Wikipedia – “one of the oldest and most significant deities in the ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times.”

The name Horus appears a number of times as part of the hieroglyphic inscriptions upon Central Park’s
Cleopatra’s Needle.  That is because Cleopatra was far from the only pharaoh to be self-portrayed as a
deity (or as the child of a deity).  Thutmosis III, who originally ordered the obelisk to be built, is referred to on one of its sides as “the golden Horus, content with victory…”  Not to be outdone, Ramses II added his own inscriptions centuries later:  Ramses II, The chosen of Ra, Son of the Sun…


Copyright January 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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