ERSATZ ALEXANDERS IN
EGYPT AND ROME
We have seen that Cleopatra was one of those rare individuals who was special in her lifetime but became an icon after death. Her fame centered on her accomplishments and was reinforced by her personality and appearance. Evidence for her deeds and her looks is preserved in the historical and literary records, with one or the other taking precedence as she was imitated and reinterpreted over time. As the emphasis shifted back and forth, Cleopatra became a touchstone for two very different kinds of women—the powerful monarch and the seductive femme fatale. After her dramatic suicide at a young age, it was the second of the two images that appears to have become the essence of her myth. This is not just because she was a woman; even famous dead men have become known more for their physical attributes than their accomplishments, as their bodily parts took on the power of talismans. Perhaps the best twentiethcentury example is John Fitzgerald Kennedy, whose mythology is made up as much of his youth, casual elegance, and hair as his PT 109 exploits, stirring speeches, or tragic assassination. In other words, style is as integral a part of such imagery as substance.
In the ancient world, Cleopatra's only rival for this level of celebrity was Alexander the Great. Alexander's thrilling exploits, striking good looks, and untimely death were the perfect recipe for lifetime fame and for posthumous adoration and emulation. As the quintessential general and leader, Alexander was already depicted as a hero during his life