We have quite a few ancient recipes for cosmetics attributed to Cleopatra. Maybe Cleopatra wrote them, or maybe they were marketing gimmicks by booksellers. Ancient marketplaces were not much different from today’s. (Here’s a nice book by Claire Holleran on street markets in Rome. More about these markets here.)
Then again, I guess in another way ancient marketplaces were different, because there didn’t seem to be as many safety regulations. Don’t prepare any of these things for use on the body. I can say from experience that it is not a good idea. I don’t endorse any of the claims made by the compilers, either that these are Cleopatra’s recipes (they almost certainly aren’t) or that they do what they say they do. They are not safe and these recipes are purely for historical interest.
(inspired by Laurence Totelin’s reconstruction of Metrodora’s deodorant at concoctinghistory.)
1. Cleopatra’s Sweet Smelling Soap
Source: Aëtius of Amida, Medical Books, Book 8, Chapter 6 (408,18-21 Olivieri)
Ἄλλο σμῆγμα Κλεοπάτρας βασιλίσσης πολυτελὲς εὐῶδες. κόστου σμύρνης τρωγλίτιδος ἴρεως ναρδοστάχυος ἀμώμου φύλλου κασσίας σχοίνου ἄνθους ἀνὰ Γο α` μυροβαλάνου λίτρας δ` νίτρου ἀφροῦ λίτρας β` κόψας σήσας χρῶ· ποιεῖ εἰς ὅλον τὸ σῶμα.
“Another soap, Queen Cleopatra’s, very expensive and fragrant.
Mix together and use it. Works on the whole body.”*
*note: it doesn’t
2. Cleopatra’s Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
Source : Galen, Compound drugs according to place, Kühn XII 492
Καὶ τὰ τῇ Κλεοπάτρᾳ πρὸς ἀχῶρας γεγραμμένα ἐφεξῆς εἰρήσεται κατὰ τὴν ἐκείνης αὐτῆς λέξιν. πρὸς ἀχῶρας. τήλει λεπτῇ ἑφθῇ, μέλανος τεύτλου χυλῷ βεβρεγμένῃ, ἐκκλυζέσθω ἡ κεφαλὴ ἢ τεύτλου ἀφεψήματι ἢ γῇ κιμωλίᾳ βεβρεγμένῃ τούτοις ἐκκλυσαμένῃ, καταχριέσθω μυρσίνῃ λείᾳ μετ' οἰνελαίου, ἄνωθεν δὲ ἐπιτιθέσθω φύλλα τεύτλου.
“And in what follows I will quote in her very own words the things Cleopatra wrote against dandruff :
After washing with this preparation, the head is to be washed thoroughly either with a decoction of beets or wet cimolian earth. Wash it out using a paste made of myrtle with wine and oil, and place leaves of beet on top of the head.’”
3. Face Soap and Brightening Cream
Source: Aëtius of Amida, Medical Books, Book 8, Chapter 6 (407,15-21 Olivieri)
Σμήγματα προσώπου καὶ στιλβώματα. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐν τῇ ἀφαιρέσει τῶν ἐπιχρίστων πειρῶνται τὴν ὄψιν σμήχειν, χρηστέον ταῖς ὑπογεγραμμέναις σκευασίαις. Σμῆγμα λαμπρυντικὸν προσώπου. λιβάνου ἀφρονίτρου κόμμεως ἀνὰ ⋖ δ` ἀμύγδαλα λελεπισμένα μ` σεμιδάλεως ⋖ κδ` κυαμίνου ἀλεύρου ⋖ ιβ` ἀναλάμβανε ὠοῦ τῷ λευκῷ καὶ ἀνάπλασσε τροχίσκους καὶ χρῶ δι' ὕδατος ἀνιὼν ἐν βαλανείῳ καὶ χωρὶς βαλανείου.
“Facial soap and brightener. When you are removing makeup and trying to clean the face, use this preparation:
‘Soap for brightening the face
Up to four drachme:
Foam of soda
40 Peeled almonds
Wheat flour, 24 drachme
Bean flour, 24 drachme
Mix up with egg white and form into small balls.
Use with water when going in the bath or out of the bath.”*
*note: absolutely don’t