I’m currently in the process of painting (yet another) portrait of Cleopatra, and it really got me thinking about how important heroes are in our lives. Children love to surround themselves with idols and role-models. They have posters of their favorite bands, movies, and athletes. They read about them, follow their careers, and aspire to be them. But what do our heroes have to say about us and the way we choose to live? Has any band formed without idolizing another, I wonder? My guess is no.
In addition to the Power Rangers, Ace of Base, and Carmen Sandiego (don’t judge, I was a 90s kid) decorating my childhood walls, I also idolized the famous Queen Cleopatra. She, more than any other childhood hero, has shaped my life in more ways than I can count. It would be impossible to know just how much.
For those who don’t know the backstory: I found my passion for ancient history around second grade, several years before I was captivated by Cleopatra. I knew of her, but I had always thought of her as a traitor and an unskilled ruler. After all, she was the last queen of Egypt… so she lost Egypt’s independence to the Romans, right? (In retrospect, I realize that many children’s history books do not mention her beyond that single fact). One day, my mom rented the Elizabeth Taylor “Cleopatra” for us to watch together. She knew I would appreciate it, being obsessed with anything Egyptian by that point. But the movie was not at all what I expected. I still remember asking her whether Cleopatra was “good or bad” at the end of the film. I had expected to see an irresponsible villain, but instead saw simply a woman. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued. I began to read more about her and the more I learned, the more I grew to appreciate her.
And the rest, you may say, is history.
But how, exactly, have I been shaped by my childhood hero? For starters, I immediately began learning Greek. I had made up my mind that I wanted to study history when I got to college. I began reading everything I could find about Cleopatra, which drastically increased my vocabulary, writing proficiency, etc. I didn’t like many pieces of art depicting her, which were inspired by ancient slurs, and began painting my own depictions. The list goes on and on.
I still have a deeply rooted love of languages. I grew up bilingual, but learning Greek was the first time I learned a language strictly for fun. I did, indeed, study history in college. Not only did it affect my major, but my entire professional life thereafter. I still enjoy academic pursuits, and while one may argue that those are character traits more than influences by childhood heroes, the subject matter is certainly influenced. And as I stated at the beginning of this post, I do still paint. In fact, Cleopatra was the subject of my very first painting.
It’s likely that a lot of these interests may have manifested themselves through another means, but the results would certainly have been different. People we admire have the power to inspire us, and inspiration is what drives us in our creative pursuits.
And Cleopatra was just one of my childhood heroes, though the only one that I have retained into adulthood. I can’t imagine how different of a person I may have been without them all.
I know a lot of people with children. And while many of their kids’ interests are fleeting and trivial, some are not. Some will plant seeds within them that won’t mature for many years to come. I only wish that more kids looked up to those who have helped shape the world in positive ways. Scientists, authors, etc. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be fans of others. But being a fan is not the same thing as idolizing. Those who inspire us are the ones who will shape our lives.
Who are your heroes and how have they shaped your life?