Friday, November 5, 2010

Was Cleopatra a healthy eater?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 3:30 PM

click to enlarge Cleopatra liked her boar
  • Cleopatra liked her boar

This week marks the release of a much-heralded new biography of the most famous queen of Egypt: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff which reveals much about the life of a woman who remains as famous now as she was during her lifetime.

Schiff writes that Cleopatra retains one of the busiest afterlives in history" as not only a historical figure, but as the name for an asteroid, a synonym for Elizabeth Taylor, and inspiration for a video game, cigarettes, slot machine, and strip clubs.

And restaurants! There are dining spots named for Cleo in Louisiana, Florida, New Mexico, Texas, Michigan, Arizona and Ohio.

It's appropriate that a queen who traveled with a retinue that included professional tasters (poisoning was always a concern) and who inspired the line, in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, "eight wild boars roasted whole at breakfast" would have some connection to fine dining.

In the 2008 book, Cleopatra, by Ron Miller and Sommer Browning, the title character's diet is reported to have been a healthy one. Breakfast might be "wheat or barley bread soaked in a little wine...accompanied by figs and olives." The evening meal, the heaviest of the day, might feature exotic game -- antelope, gazelle, porcupine, quail or crane that might be boiled or roasted. "Wine might be mixed with honey or resinated in the Greek style."

In 2001, the Sunday Times of London claimed that Cleopatra had actually been short, plain and fat, a charge disputed by Egypt's best-known archeologist Zahi Hawas (frequently seen on the History Channel) who insisted that other representations of the queen present her as "beautiful, fine-featured and slim."

Other culinary connections to Cleopatra include her reported fondness for okra, her supposed habit of bathing in milk, and the dramatic moment that she dropped a valuable pearl into a glass of vinegar, watched the acidic vinegar melt the pearl and then drank the glass of vinegar.

(Image via Flickr: Tiffany Silva)

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