A new series of medieval Arabic texts has revealed the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII is a talented mathematician, chemist and philosopher, author of many scientific books. She also met weekly with a group of experts to exchange ideas.
If historians verify that these proofs are true, then the once-magnificent queen will no longer have the reputation of a woman as described by Greek and Roman scholars.
New revelations are included in the book Egyptology : The Missing Millennium, Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings, which will be published by the University of London in January. Author Okasha El Daly, an Egyptian scholar at the Archaeological Museum Egypt at the University of London, found these medieval Arabic texts and translated them, analyzing them based on knowledge of ancient Egyptian history.
El Daly believed that Arab authors had access to the first texts about Cleopatra, and even books that she was author of. But those materials are no longer available. The Alexandria Library, which houses ancient documents about Egypt, has been burned by Islamists to destroy all documents before the Koran.
El Daly cited the first Arab document written about Cleopatra by Al-Masudi, who died in 956 AD. In a book called Muruj , Al-Masudi described Cleopatra as follows: "She is a sage, a philosopher, who values scholars and enjoys talking to them. She also writes books about medicine, amulets and cosmetics ".
Medieval Arab writers such as Al-Bakri, Yaqut, Ibn Al-Ibri, Ibn Duqmaq and Al-Maqrizi also recalled how impressed they were with the queen's construction projects. In fact, an Egyptian monk's book, John of Nikiou, says that the queen's construction projects in Alexandria are unlike any previous work. But another Arab historian, Ibn Ab Al-Hakam, argued that one of the greatest works of the ancient world - the Lighthouse of Alexandria - was Cleopatra's.
El Daly commented: "It is not just a beacon that guides ships, but also a great telescope, with large lenses that can burn enemy ships when they attempt to attack Egypt." .
Other sources say Cleopatra has developed a recipe for hair loss treatment and even studied gynecology. The authors Ibn Fatik and Ibn Usaybiah said she had conducted experiments to determine the stages of development of the human fetus in the womb.
"All current information about Cleopatra comes from the enemy. The despised Romans hate her and want to create a sexual image of the little woman," El Daly said. He also pointed out that coins bearing her figure are actually a very ordinary woman without being beautiful in the traditional notion.
However, Mary Lefkowitz, a professor at Wellesley University's Classical Research Institute, disagreed with the idea that the Romans intentionally smeared Cleopatra's image. "In fact, the Romans admired Cleopatra very much, although they were still afraid of her power," Lefkowitz said.
Lefkowitz also added that Cleopatra was the royal name in Egypt's Ptolemaic dynasty, so perhaps the Arab texts mentioned a different queen with the same name. But Lisa Schwappach, at the Egyptian Museum in California, USA, believes that it is very likely that Queen Cleopatra VII is a scientist rather than a lecherous woman.
"At least Cleopatra is involved in medicine, through her support of the Hathor temple in Dendera. Women often come to this temple to treat both physically and mentally," Schwappach said.
She added: "Cleopatra has been educated in science and it is no surprise that she supports scholars and exchanges thoughts with them. She can match them not only by social status but also also by knowledge and wisdom ".