It’s Cleopatra’s time!
On one of the “Our Mythical Childhood” seminars we got the task to look for the famous Cleopatra VII in texts of culture for children and young adults. My first field of research was (of course) the animation and cartoons for the youngest. And although there are probably more Cleopatras lurking within the animated world, I have found two versions of the Egyptian queen with particularly interesting traits alluding to two concepts: animality and monstrosity.
The first Cleopatra I found interesting comes from Home on De-Nile (1993), an episode from the “Animaniacs” series. It starts with two of the returning characters: Rita (the cat) and Runt (the dog) entering the Egypt – thinking it is Palm Springs – and looking for a new home. While Runt is almost immediately taken to work at the pyramid construction, Rita finds herself at home of Cleopatra. The queen is stunned by her presence and decides to keep her. Because of Cleopatra’s influence, the cat pictures herself as a beautiful and powerful queen of Egypt. Even though her illusion is quite “purrrfect” and she is considered to be an embodiment of the goddess, Rita and Runt have to run from the palace as soon as they find out the cat is being prepared for a sacrifice. In the cartoon Cleopatra poses as a ruthless and self-centred queen that everyone is afraid of. Those negative traits are reflected in the cat, who is as egoistic as cat can be.
The second Cleopatra of my choice is Sedusa from the “Powerpuff Girls”. She appears in several episodes as a returning villain. During the first episode with her character, Mommy Fearest (1998), she is introduced as a caring and lovely new partner of Professor Utonium, Powerpuff Girls’ creator and guardian. She goes by name Ima Goodlady, hiding her hair under a blonde wig. Shortly, Sedusa shows her real nature and real, snake-like hair, which along with the name, recalls the inspiration of Medusa. Her true-self does not appeal to Professor’s taste, and feminine villain has to be defeated.
Sedusa re-appears in several episodes, but the most important for this post would be Aspirations (2004). Due to the previous events she is now completely bald and seeks revenge on the Powerpuff Girls. She assembles Cleopatra’s attributes: tiara, sceptre, and neckless, and – what seems the most important – she grows snake-hair! Cleopatra’s image helps her to grow (literary) and turn into a powerful villain. At the end, she is defeated by the girls, and Sedusa/Cleopatra falls one more time.
It is interesting how the creators of Powerpuff Girls series combined traits of two ancient characters, both “monstrous”, although in a different way, both associated with snakes – maybe for the same reasons. Sedusa can be perceived as a “super” cultural hybrid: femme fatale (seducing man), Medusa and Cleopatra: all women who man were and maybe still are uncomfortable with.
As for the former example, the animality of Cleopatra and the association not only with snakes, but also with cats, brings the animality of the fierce queen to the first row. Cleopatra in Home on De-Nile is “barely human” (or maybe – she is, very much so?), as she is focused only on herself and power. Even though it is “only” a cartoon, it sustains the negative portrait of Cleopatra, who might have been not as scary as popular culture pictures her.
Link to the IMDB page for Home on De-nile: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0856334/
Link to the IMDB page for Mommy Fearest: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1005607/
Link to the IMDB page for Aspirations: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1486130/
Prepared by Anna Mik