Hidden-nomics (4): Cleopatra

So many legends and anecdotes have enveloped the historical person that is Queen Cleopatra, and I think that what fascinates most of us are the ones that refer to her great beauty and charm– qualities that were able to get the better of not one but TWO mighty conquerors, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Just how beautiful was this woman? Her adversaries have referred to the leader as a genuine femme fatale who used seduction as a means of getting her way. This derogatory title, coupled with the Hollywood movies that cast beautiful women to portray her, made it very easy to make people believe that she was indeed goddess-like in appearance.

However, recent evidence shows that she was not as physically attractive as people thought. Images of the late queen imprinted on coins or reliefs show a woman with a prominent nose and a protruding chin. While one could argue that beauty standards might have changed overtime and Cleopatra could have been truly considered beauteous back then, is physical appearance enough to seduce two of the smartest, most strategizing and cunning men of her time?

Some of the more “practical-minded” readers would say to themselves that sexual prowess could’ve been the key. But bear in mind that she was with Julius Ceasar for four years and with Mark Antony for a decade… sexual satisfaction alone wouldn’t have sustained such long-lasting relationships. (Ask around, if you must!)

So, for the sake of fun, imagine for a minute or two that the ancient ruler was more plain-looking than what we have been told… What then could she possibly have possessed to catch the interest of these two powerful men? to make great warriors bend their knees before her?

Could it be the same thing that made her the leader that we know she was?  the thing that made her gain so many enemies who tried to destroy her reputation by calling her of a sl*t?

She must have been a vessel filled with something truly valuable, but at the same time intangible! While that would be what historians and aficionados call “charm”, we economists label as “human capital”. In Cleopatra’s case, a magnificent and high-yielding one.

The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Report defines it as:

the skills and capacities that reside in people and that are put to productive use.  This resource must be invested in and leveraged efficiently in order for it to generate returns.

First of all, when it comes to the initial investment, think about it: as a princess, her health was in the hands of the best doctors, she was well-fed, fiercely protected from the smallest mosquito to other lurking dangers (be it natural or man-made), she was exquisitely clothed and guarded from cold or heat, she was sheltered in palaces and this humble servant would dare bet that she was loved and spoiled by the people who surrounded her. Thus, the physical wellbeing she gained from these attentions have made her strong, less sickly, and have allowed her brain to develop well enough to absorb the many lessons she was taught.

As one would expect, her formation and training was certainly top-level as she was well-educated in maths and sciences. She was also well-versed in politics, spoke several languages and had access to the works of the greatest thinkers, so most probably she was also well-read. All of these experiences in turn must have worked their way into her mind, encouraging her creativity.

Accordingly, when it comes to the returns on these investments,  BBC History mentions that “she was a highly intelligent woman and an astute politician, who brought prosperity and peace to a country that was bankrupt and split by civil war.” These are impressive returns for a thriving society!

Lastly, as human capital is also comprised of personality attributes, it must be mentioned that many Egyptologists agree on her having been a witty woman with a good sense of humor. Add to that the strong personality of anybody belonging to her social and economic class and you have the perfect ingredients for a woman who could easily disarm you after 2 minutes of meeting her. I rest my case.

Cleopatra might have or might not have looked like Angelina Jolie, but as looks are subjective (aside from the fact that they fade), we could be sure that she offered more than just a pretty face.

As for being a man-eating, seducing and devious tramp? nothing but venomous words from someone envious. Perhaps a man.

 

 

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