Cleopatra died 2,050 years ago this month (the exact date is unknown, believed to be either the 10th or 12th August). At the time of her death, hieroglyphs were used as one form of written communication. Many people think that the frequent and growing use of emojis in the communication of today is a movement back to this type of written form, but is that true?
Read our blog to find out about her incredible life and why, even if she had a social media account, she would be using hieroglyphs instead of emojis.
Who was Cleopatra?
Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh of Egypt. She is also one of the most famous figures in history.
Cleopatra was a popular ruler who enabled Egypt to prosper and remain independent of the rapidly expanding Roman Empire. She was part of the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years, from 305BCE to 30CE.
Cleopatra was quite different from her predecessors. She is credited as being the first leader of the Ptolemaic lineage to learn the Egyptian language and embrace the cultures and traditions of Egypt. Furthermore, she is believed to have been a polyglot who (depending on different sources) could speak up to 12 languages. Cleopatra was educated on a variety of subjects including mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy.
Additionally, she was an author and wrote a medical book that provided remedies for male pattern baldness and dandruff.
Of course, it is the legend of her beauty that she is most remembered for 2,000 years after her death.
What if Cleopatra had a social media account?
I tried to imagine what her social media account would have looked like if she had one in 30BCE.
Some people may think she would have been primarily a beauty blogger, posting beauty tips (including a probably viral post for having a bath in donkey milk, honey, and essential oils) and selfies. However, her Instagram account would have been a lot more interesting and varied.
After all, she was the Pharaoh of Egypt!
Cleopatra had 2 brothers, married them, and eventually orchestrated their murders. Marriages between siblings were common at this time because it was believed it kept the bloodline ‘pure’. In the 300 years of the Ptolemaic dynasty, 10 of the 15 marriages were between brother and sister while two included a niece and a cousin.
Among many things, the desire for power caused problems in these marriages.
Cleopatra had one brother poisoned. Regarding the other brother, there was literally a civil war that she won. Her brother/husband drowned in one of the battles. In 41BCE, she organised the death of her sister, Arsinoe, who she considered a rival to the throne.
In order to win this civil war against her brother, she formed an alliance with Julius Caesar and went on to have an affair with him. She had a son called Caesarion in this partnership. Then, Julius Caesar was murdered (not by her) in 44BCE.
However, she then went on to have a very famous relationship with Julius Caesar’s partner in leading Rome at the time, Mark Antony.
All of this by the time she was 28!
It would have been a truly diverse Instagram account from beauty tips to exotic trips on war ships. If she was posting today, would she be able to communicate all these events using emojis the same way ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphs in Egypt at the time?
What are hieroglyphs?
Hieroglyphs are one of the oldest forms of writing and each hieroglyph played a similar role to the letters of the alphabet today.
Have a look at the below:
By looking at the hieroglyphs above, we know that together they refer to Cleopatra. We know this because hieroglyphs not only represent whatever object they show e.g. the birds and lions in Cleopatra’s hieroglyphic name don’t only represent a bird and lion, but also syllables and phonetic sounds.
For example, this is a hieroglyphic symbol for a house (logogram), a sound (phonogram), and can be used to form another word.
Hieroglyphs have specific meanings and sounds attached to them, can the same be said for emojis?
What are emojis?
The word emoji comes from the Japanese for pictograph (e = picture, moji = character). A pictograph is a pictorial symbol for a word or phrase. For example, look at the below:
We know what these pictures represent.
I don’t believe it is correct to describe an emoji as a pictograph because their meanings can be unclear as demonstrated below. An ideogram is a better description and is defined as ‘a character symbolising the idea of a thing without indicating the sounds used to say it'(1).
For example, the ‘face blowing a kiss’ emoji can have several meanings.
According to Emojipedia.com, it can mean:
- Good night
- A kiss goodbye
- Feelings of love and affection more generally
Other sources advise it can mean:
- Appreciation for something (dictionary.com)
- A symbol for flirting (emojis.wiki)
So, what does this combination mean?
Is it that she thought my joke is funny (laugh), a symbol of affection (kiss)?
Is it that she is laughing at me (laugh), good night (kiss)?
A survey by TalkTalk revealed that 72% of 18-25-year-olds find it easier to express themselves with emojis when texting, rather than written words. 6 billion emojis are sent via mobile messaging apps worldwide per day and 90% of online users use emojis to supplement their speech.
Lacking verbal or written explanations, emojis can be ambiguous whereas hieroglyphs provide a more layered and intricate system where sounds, words, and phrases can be understood.
Note: Hieroglyphic is the adjectival form of hieroglyph
Differences between hieroglyphs and emojis
There are many differences between hieroglyphs and emojis.
Hieroglyphs have sounds, specific meanings, and a grammatical system. It is important to remember that not many people could actually create hieroglyphs (estimated around 10% of the population during Cleopatra’s lifetime) and were usually only taught to people in religious, royal or political roles. Hieroglyphs were not used in everyday writing and most documents were written through hieratic writing. Hieratic writing is quite different to hieroglyphic writing.
One of the few similarities between hieroglyphs and emojis is that both were used for artistic purposes. People may use emojis because they add an artistic flair to their texts and ancient Egyptians sometimes used hieroglyphs for the same reason.
So, while aesthetically it may be easy to compare emojis to hieroglyphs, there are significant differences between the two.
The linguistic differences outlined above provide many reasons why comparison between emojis and hieroglyphs isn’t straight forward.
In my opinion, the biggest factor in differentiating the two is the reason why we use them. Hieroglyphs were used to preserve a culture while emojis are used in instant communication. Emojis can be used to help with the tone of a message and express a feeling or attitude. They enhance our written communication, but alone they can’t create an entire language system like hieroglyphs could and did.
Interestingly, Google have just released a translator that, using machine learning, facilitates the translation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is called Fabricius.
We hope you enjoyed this blog. As always, if you have any comments on the blog, please write them below. We’d be interested to hear people’s comments on this topic and learning more. Thank you 🙂 😉
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