Monday, October 18, 2010

Cleopatra Musings: Was Antony Hot?

A Fayum portrait of an unknown man.
Let’s be honest. The enduring fascination with Cleopatra centers around her supposed beauty. After all, the thinking goes, she “snagged” two of the most powerful men of her era—Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She HAD to be beautiful, right?

Yet, as I’ve explained in previous posts, the busts and coins bearing her image show her as attractive but not necessarily beautiful. Truth is, her looks likely had little to do with her liaisons with Caesar and Antony.  It’s more likely they “fell in love/lust” with her great wealth and her kingdom’s strategic value in controlling trade.
Richard Burton as Mark Antony.

But how boring is that?

So we continue to fantasize that Cleopatra was one hot mamma. Julius Caesar, we know, was fifty-two when he first met the twenty-two year old Queen of Egypt, so we tend to give him a pass in the looks department.

But Mark Antony was younger when he hooked up with Cleopatra. And so, in movies, plays and television, he is often depicted as hot in his own right—either as handsome and charismatic as Richard Burton (in the 1963 movie, above) or as pretty as James Purefoy in HBO’s ROME (below).
James Purefoy as Antony in HBO's Rome

But are we doing to Antony what we’ve done to Cleopatra all these centuries—are we making him “hot” just to add spice to the story?

Hollywood continues to worship physical attractiveness over the truths of history. So if the gorgeous Angelina Jolie can play the somewhat plain but brilliant Cleopatra, why not have a magnificent specimen of manhood play Mark Antony?
The "real" Mark Antony according to a first century bust.

They’ll sell more tickets that way.

Which of course, begs the question—which hunk will they cast opposite Jolie to play Mark Antony? Any guesses?


Narukami said...

Hollywood is already working overtime on this one.

The producers of the Jolie film want to cast Brad Pitt as Antony. Not only is Pitt a good actor and a "babe magnet" (How many woman went to the theatres to see Troy solely because pit was in it, with the added bonus of his bare behind?) but casting him opposite Jolie would echo the 1963 Taylor-Burton epic. Pitt is not keen on the idea, but money my yet have the final word.

Likewise, the other Cleopatra project was hoping to cast Hugh Jackman as Antony opposite Cathrine Zeta-Jones as Cleopatra. Although Jackman might actually be physically closer to the historic Antony (more rugged), Zeta-Jones has put her film career on hold while she tends to her ill husband, so this film will likely not be made.

Several actors have essayed the role of Antony but Purefoy's performance in the HBO series Rome is certainly the most lively and perhaps honest. Antony had a reputation of being an "equal opportunity" lover and as for being "pretty" well...

As Livia opined in the BBC series I. Claudius:

Livia (speaking of Antonia): She's very pretty. She looks like her father. He was very pretty.

Octavia: Too pretty.

Livia: Oh, I don't know... Pleasant I should think if he's your husband.

Octavia: It was no great pleasure being Mark Antony's wife.

Indeed, just ask Cleopatra.

Unknown said...

Great post Vicky! I think it's a great observation that Antony has suffered the same perception biases that Cleopatra has - guilt by association perhaps!

Antony being described as the a Roman Dionysius doesn't help this image much either.

I loved Purefoys's portrayal in HBO's Rome, he added a level f intelligence to the character that isn't in the Burton performance....and perhaps not in the historical record!! ha!


Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Narukami, I hadn't heard of the Hugh Jackman project, but I agree that he would be likelier in terms of the "ruggedness" factor.

And your quotations from I, CLAUDIUS--I always have to remind myself that Robert Graves wrote fiction. But then again, Plutarch claims that Antony was of "noble form," and he wore shorter tunics to show off his legs (!).

Interestingly, in Colleen McCullough's ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, both were depicted as downright ugly, which I found jarring...Thanks for commenting!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Hasan, I too enjoyed Purefoy's portrayal of Antony--in many ways! And actually, according to Plutarch, Antony was intelligent and well educated--it's just that he was also a drunkard, jokester and hot-headed. But then again, it was important for Plutarch to make Antony look bad, so who really knows? Thanks for commenting.

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

I am not happy about angelina being cast :( i doubt i will even see the movie, she represents everything cleopatra is NOT in my opinion.

antony-eh why not have him be hot?? Equal treatment for males and females, right?? if hollywood does it to cleopatra, why not antony too?? i always picture him as good looking but more of his attractiveness comes from charisma :)

India said...

My favorite line of Antony's in ROME was during one of the battle scenes, when he was asked what was going on down in the fray. His answer: "Not a clue. But when in doubt -- ATTACK!!" And zoom, off he went....

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Hi India, welcome to my blog and thanks for posting! I too loved that scene. I really hate that ROME only ran two seasons. It was so much fun!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

HI Carrie, I agree, Angelina Jolie, I think, is not the right person. But then again, I can't think who the right person would be. The ideal would be to have an interesting looking but brilliant actress of Mediterranean looks take the role and rock it...but most unlikely, right?

And I agree, equal hotness for both characters...

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Dang - whoever they cast, I sure enjoyed this post! Great eye candy - accurate or not. :)

Karen Strong said...

I've always pictured Antony as way hotter than Caesar -- mainly because of the age factor. But just like radio DJ's -- the real thing never seems to match what we picture in our heads.

Bearded Lady said...

Wait...what rock have I been under? Jolie is playing Cleopatra?

I have always picture Caesar without any hair so it is hard to put him in the same class as Antony.

Did you cringe when you saw HBO's Rome? Lots of inaccuracies in that one but I still enjoyed it.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

E: You're welcome on the eye-candy! (ha!) Karen, your line about the DJ's is so true. It's easy to fall for a great, resonant voice. Burton had both the voice and the looks.

Carlyn, yeah Jolie is slated to play Cleo with James Cameron directing. Latest news said it was going to be in 3-D. My reaction to all of it is...SERIOUSLY?

Gabriele Campbell said...

OK, I must have been under a rock as well, because that's the first time I hear about a Cleopatra movie in the making.

Well, it can't be worse than Gladiator, Last Legion and most of the History Channel stuff. ;) So, since it's going to suck anyway re. historical accuracy, they can as well give us some eye candy, right? My vote's not for Pitt, though, I don't find him hot. Purefoy now ..... ;)

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Hi Gabriele, thanks for commenting. I agree with everything you say! If it's not going to be historically accurate, why not make it pretty? And I'm a definite "NO" on Brad Pitt. A friend suggested Clive Owen or Javier Bardem. Interesting, eh?

Narukami said...


You might find this of passing interest, not for the Star Wars news (though you might also be a fan of that film series) but for the news that James Cameron claims he is involved with the new Cleopatra film (producer or director, he does not say).

Given Cameron's love of 3D (he is converting Titanic to 3D) can you imagine Cleopatra in 3D?

And we thought the Queen suffered at the hands of Shakespeare...

Lemur said...

Cleopatra may not have been the most beautiful woman on the planet, and there's a lot of merit in suggesting that both Caesar and Marc Anthony fell in love with her wealth and kingdom. But I suspect that her reputation also has something to do with the fact that by all my reading she was a very sensual woman, with a gift of personal magnetism.

I know quite a few attractive but not beautiful women who are so vivacious and sexy that they can have any guy they want.

The CRITTER Project and Naked Without a Pen

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Hi Lemur, thanks for posting a comment! I agree with you--as does Plutarch--it was the force of her personality and charisma that made her irresistible. BTW, I love your blogs, especially the writing one!

Amalia Dillin said...

Well, I don't think that Hollywood is doing anything that people haven't been doing throughout history-- Egypt painted its Pharaoh's with precise proportions, regardless of their actual appearance, after all. If Egypt could do it then, why can't we do it now? :)

I'm sure that part of it was propaganda-- perpetuating the god-king ideas-- but it seems like it might be MORE historically accurate (as far as historical politics went), to carry on the trend of making these larger-than-life figures from history as fabulous as possible!