The wonder we feel is not at Cleopatra’s beauty (which Plutarch reports was “in itself not altogether incomparable”) but at the extraordinary cultural universe that preceded her and surrounded her before Egypt submitted to the Romans in 30 B.C. and Cleopatra — Egypt’s last pharaoh and the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty — committed suicide.
The exhibition is powerful. But that is not really because of Cleopatra; it is because a lost world is resurrected here. There are some 150 artifacts on display, and the vast majority were found buried in the silt and clay of the Bay of Aboukir, off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. Since 1992 those waters have been explored by Franck Goddio and his European Institute of Underwater Archaeology. Using a nuclear magnetic resonance magnetometer, Mr. Goddio mapped the geographic fault lines beneath the clouded waters and has brought to the surface a small fraction of what lies below.