I was intrigued to read that there is a new theory into the death of Cleopatra. ‘Killed by ash, not asp?’ ran the headline in The Times, ‘Volcano’s kiss of death for Cleopatra’.
Here is one of history’s most enigmatic and most talked about figures. With each new generation another version of her life is put forward. Was she the tragic lover of Shakespeare’s play? The dangerous seductress depicted in the early Hollywood film of her life? Or the strong, astute leader and ‘one world’ politician that Elizabeth Taylor brought to the screen in the 1960s?
Her reputation is a movable feast as the only evidence we have of her life is through the eyes of her enemies in Rome.
Now scientists have linked Cleopatra’s suicide to a volcanic eruption in Nicaragua. The eruption would have suppressed the flooding of the Nile and failure in the floods could cause widespread famine in Egypt. They argue that the Queen would have struggled to unite her people against the Romans if they were facing economic hardship at home.
So not love, but a loss of power over her own kingdom led to her demise.
There are two things we can learn from this. The first is that we will always look at the past through the lens of present. History will be interpreted according to the culture of the day.
The second lesson is for reputation management and communications. In the absence of fact, we fill the void with gossip, speculation and our own perceptions.