Cleopatra and her Wine Club
Cleopatra – the last pharaoh and one of the most powerful rulers of Egypt, a debauched temptress and a woman of superior intellect (she spoke at least a dozen languages and was educated in math, philosophy and astronomy). It turned out that she was also a huge wine lover along with Marc Antony, a Roman general and her lover. He, by the way, was declared the New Dionysus, a god of wine, happiness, and immortality. A couple spent the winter of 40-41 B.C. in Egypt, living a life of leisure and excess. They even formed their own drinking club called the «Inimitable Livers», which some historians have interpreted as an excuse to lead a life of debauchery, though it could have been just a group dedicated to the cult of the god Dionysus with main rituals being nightly feasts and wine-binge, games and contests.
The Secret of Cleopatra’s Beauty
For centuries people had admired Cleopatra’s beauty and talents. It is believed that Cleopatra took red wine baths as a skincare treatment and used crushed grapes as a facial mask to rejuvenate the skin. Although, there is no proven evidence of anti-aging effect of soaking your body in the red wine (what a waste!), there is one modern spa treatment worth considering. “Vinotherapie” – a term trademarked and popularized by Caudalie, a cosmetic brand, which uses wine grape extracts in their products. “Vinotherapy” is a specialty spa bath that adds red wine leaf extract and post-winemaking grape crud to clean warm water. Grape seeds and leaves are very high in polyphenols, which are highly effective and powerful antioxidants.
Check out this article from Wine Folly and make your own wine bath at home to keep your wrinkles away. Too lazy to DIY, there is even one spa in New York City, no surprise.
Cleopatra and her Most Expensive Cocktail
A Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder describes a bet Cleopatra made with Antony that she could spend 10 million sesterces on one dinner (something about $10 to $20 million in modern currency). The dinner was served and there were nothing extraordinary about it until she ordered the dessert to be served. The servant placed just one dish before her, it was a cup of vinegar that was so strong it could dissolve pearls «into slush». She dropped then one of her priceless and unique pearl earrings and drank the solution when it was dissolved. Antony was declared the loser.
Giving the legend the benefit of a doubt, classicist Prudence Jones of Montclair State University in New jersey proved the Cleopatra’s pearl cocktail to be possible.
Learn more surprising fact about fabled Queen of the Nile.
See The Death of Cleopatra painting by Guido Cagnacci at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
See Dying Cleopatra painting by Guido Cagnacci at Instituto Italiano di Cultura in New York
Thank you for this article, it is informative about so many things. How about wine,- what kind of wine could Cleopatra and her companions have been drinking?
Marina, you are very welcome, glad you found it interesting.
From what I know, wine in ancient Egypt was predominantly red due to its resemblance to blood, but white wine was also present (residue from clay amphoras in Tutankhamun’s tomb, have been shown to be that of white wine, so it was available at least through the trade if not produced domestically).
As for the wine style, because of the hot summers in the Nile Delta, wine probably was very concentrated, high in alcohol and residual sugar content. These qualities allowed to keep it in amphoras (clay jars) for a very long time.