Le Parfum Cléopâtre No 5

“The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd, that
The winds were love-sick with them.”
William Shakespeare, Antony & Cleopatra


Imagine you have fallen through a mysterious, sensory-overloading, weird disorienting  vortex that catapults you back to 41 BCE in Juliopolis (Tarsos), in the Roman Empire’s province of Cilicia. Many of the sounds and smells your ears and nose would capture are immediately unrecognizable, foreign, baffling your brain. For effect, play the following sound-byte:

Roman portThere within sight at the mouth of the calmly flowing Cydnus River you find the Roman port. Faintly you see and hear the hammering of many ship-workers and foremen yelling commands. You notice ten or twenty half-built Roman ships, some with two and others three deck-levels or more. These are dry-docked and just as many are finished, docked and tied-off in the harbor.

Traveling Turkey: Taursus

Cleopatra’s Gate in modern Tarsus, Mersin Turkey

Once you arrive to all the commotion trying to determine where you have fallen, what is happening, what has happened, “why is everyone gawking at me as I walk by,” it hits you. I am in 21st-century clothing, I do not speak Greek, and I think my money/currency is no good here.

A breeze picks up and brings another mystery. A distinct, unfamiliar scent crosses over your nostrils. In warm temperatures the aroma has touches of pungent, musky, woody and slight medicinal smells, but then you notice the faint compliments of sweet vanilla and black tea. With this aromatic orchestra comes the sounds of people chattering and rushing to the banks of the Kydnos River. You follow the excited crowds. There at the banks of the river you reach the wall of people lined on both shores yelling and waving out to this massive, golden-plated barge with huge reddish-purple sails on two masts. Being downwind the aromas smelt earlier cannot be avoided. You are witnessing the ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopater traveling up the river to Juliopolis to meet the Roman general Marc Antony.

Cleopatra's barge Tarsos

If you are ever in Berkeley, CA, stop by Mandy Aftel‘s alchemy shop on Walnut Street, called Aftel Perfumes, and travel back in time to ancient and not so ancient recipes of fragrances across the globe, including what might have been Cleopatra’s legendary perfume from her purple sails on the Kydnos River in 41 BCE Cilicia, but also on her seductive body and garments as she romanced Marc Antony!

Researchers Robert Littman, Jay Silverstein, Dora Goldsmith, and Sean Coughlin replicated some of the great Egyptian fragrances from the archaeological excavation of the 300 BCE city of Thmuis and its region’s famed Mendesian and Metopian perfumes. Both contained myrrh, a resin extracted from the tree (see image). Littman states I find it very pleasant, though it probably lingers a little longer than modern perfume. In ancient Egypt and many parts of the Mediterranean port-cities, inland to Rome’s trading network, most of the wealthy families, dignitaries, and rulers wore these scents though they were of a thicker consistency similar to our olive oils or molasses. Cleopatra made perfume herself in a personal workshop, says Mandy Aftel.


It is even possible that when Marc Antony accepted Cleopatra’s invitation to come visit her in Alexandria, Egypt, the queen toured Antony through her perfume factory in Thmuis as she lavishly entertained him overwhelming the powerful general not only with the finest of foods, drink, music, and seduction royalty could imagine, Cleopatra also wanted heirs to Rome’s throne following Julius Caesar’s murder. The rest as they say, is history, and legend—although parts are factual and corroborated.

perfumes with myrrhWhether Cleopatra wore this fragrance to charm and lure one of Rome’s finest generals or not, it is certain that the elite of the ancient Mediterranean, particularly in Alexandria and the eastern provinces of Nabataea, Syria, and Cilicia, did indeed wear these strong, long-lasting scents. If you are ever in need of seducing a powerful figure for your own gain and those of your kingdom’s subjects, definitely have Le Parfum Cléopâtre No 5 in your toiletry bag!


Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Machiavellian Meloidae

For those of you who are utterly fascinated (like me) with Earth’s most resilient creatures — no, humans are not even close — the Meloidae take survival and reproduction to an all new high… or rather a cunning, evil low may be the correct designation. If you think politicians or double-agents are unscrupulous, then you don’t know much about these ingenious Coleoptera. No, not Cleopatra, Coleoptera… though the behavioral similarities are clearly there.

Beware of Seductive Female…


Coleoptera Meloidae

Bees. Yes, seductive fake female bees! Or perhaps I could have left-off “bees”. HAH! But let’s not go there, yet. But I do want to talk about perfumes… seductive perfumes!

The larvae of the Blister Beetle, after they are hatched, must immediately seek food. But they do not seek out just any menu. They want a specific 5-star platinum dinning establishment with an unforgettable experience, AND they want and will be chauffeured there! Men, married men, husbands with a pregnant wife or newborns… does this sound familiar? How do these newly born larvae do it? As the below video will show, their genetic coding makes them work as one team, climb to the top of a blade of grass or leaf, clump together, then the Coup d’état… they lure an unsuspecting (horny) male Digger-bee, and do it with specialized perfume, or pheromones! Again, sound familiar? Talk about the greatest STD. Wow! Guys, this totally redefines the need for super safe sex!

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What Can We Learn From Blister Beetles?

Having a background in psych counseling and assessment, as well as certified 4th through 8th grade teacher in all core subjects with a deep fondness for science and social studies (history), my students have always enjoyed relating or connecting Earth science and its creatures to self or to us. Invariably the bored middle school kids ask the question… How does this effect me or help me in life? Well my little unknowing enquiring mind, it does in many ways. Case and point: the Blister Beetle.


Male Digger-bee with stowaways

Ever heard of the adage “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is” or its gullible opposite “Never look a gift horse in the mouth“? Those two phrases and similar ones carry a lot of wisdom. As many a magician have demonstrated over the centuries, our eyes can be easily deceived. Our ears and nose can be fooled as well, to a lesser extent. Obviously, the “perfumed pheromones” these meloidae larvae ooze, cause much “male digger-bee intoxication” and I believe mimic other species’ perfumes! I’ve fallen prey to different parfums enivrants as many times as these male digger-bees! And I’d wager I have hit the ground, once or twice, much harder than these gullible lads!

Our judgement and perceptions (of self and others) can be quite flawed. Only through periods of time — sometimes years, and in the case of humanity, centuries or millenia — and through trial and error do we learn from events and our mistakes. Hopefully not fatal mistakes. Therefore, it really behooves us flawed humans (and hetero males?) to consider situations with as much cognitive examination as with emotion, especially impulsive emotion. Easier said than done, right? Particularly when some of us are genetically wired to feel and feel strongly, or to find and love, and love strongly. Believe me, I have wrestled with this advice for much of my life, as my recent posts about my daughter, marriages and divorces, and the nature of love can greatly attest!

Five-Factor Model - courtesy of noboproject.com

Five-Factor Model – courtesy of noboproject.com

All of us, every single human being alive, are inextricably connected to this planet and its life-giving (and taking) environments and creatures. We absolutely can learn from all the animals, how they survive, adapt, evolve, and especially reproduce, even from the aversely simpatico relationship of Blister Beetles and Digger bees.


Subtraits of the Big Five – courtesy of noboproject.com

In modern psychology, Machiavellianism (and this beetle) is one of three personality traits of the Dark Triad; dark meaning malevolent manifestations. Essentially it is behavior exhibited by a high drive to achieve at the expense of or disregard to others. Clearly this is the female Blister Beetle’s — and her offspring’s — motivation and behavior. What I find fascinating is the question “Are there Blister Beetles among us as humans?” Is it simply genetic programming in order to survive and perpetuate the species and they cannot CHOOSE morality… the “higher road”? Or are there always choices between species; in other words, species who are inferior deserving of extinction and those as superior who deserve to live and survive? Are we talking about humans or beetles? Humanity’s long long history of wars and genocide speak volumes of this Genetics versus Morality judgement. As much as Blister Beetles have a very high regard for self and their offspring, I think humans do too… particularly certain males. By default I must reluctantly include myself in that gender. 😦

In Wikipedia’s description of Mechaiavellianism, the section on human relations with other personality traits, I found to be uncomfortably familiar. Are you familiar with the HEXACO model? I wasn’t until I began comparing this beetle’s behavior with similarities to other Earth species, which I typically like to do as a good (Freethinking Humanist) science teacher. See the three figures of the HEXACO “Big Five” tables.. Where do you think your (self?) personality falls?


Traits beyond Five-Factor Model – courtesy of noboproject.com

Personally, I see the Blister Beetle’s Machiavellianism within several primate species, especially certain Homo sapiens. Would you agree or disagree? Why or why not? Are we products of our DNA or of our environment, or a little of both? Are you a Blister Beetle or a Digger bee. Or if you’d like to protect your true identity (like I do here!) you can simply comment about these cunning little insects and their larvae. 😈

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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