It’s not much of a secret that I love ancient history. My two favorite periods are from the 18th to the 25th dynasties of Egypt and, even more so, the period of world history from 334bce, when Alexander crossed the Hellespont, through the fall of Jerusalem in 70ce to the soon-to-be Roman Emperor Titus. This period of time, roughly four hundred years, reverberates today.
This was a period of time well known to our forefathers. They were steeped in it, drenched in its philosophical ideas and lessons. They understood the political games and the attempts by despots to rule the world, and how easy it was for there to be manipulation of public opinion when education was lacking.
Four Hundred and thirteen years after Shakespeare, we have been conditioned to see the stories of the lives of the great names in a sympathetic light. Julius Caesar was a benevolent father to his people and he was a tragic figure. Mark Anthony was troubled by the need to avenge the murder of his friend and also spend his life and his personal fortune with his love.
Cleopatra? Of all of them, she has undergone the most serious transformation. Elizabeth Taylor aside, Cleopatra probably wasn’t beautiful, but she was dangerous. Far more dangerous and much more deadly than an Egyptian Asp.
Why does any of this matter?
If Shakespeare can transform these characters from who they really were into their opposites, why is today’s cultural manipulation any different?