"Roman writers tell us that Cleopatra was intelligent and charismatic, and had a seductive voice," she said. But, tellingly, "they do not mention her beauty at all."
Notions of Cleopatra as a beautiful seductress probably began when William Shakespeare's epic tragedy "Antony and Cleopatra," rolled off some primitive printing presses in 1608.
"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety," Shakespeare wrote of the Egyptian queen.
It turns out the reason "age cannot wither her" is that you can't wet a river.
In fact, one antiquarian now describes the Roman general and his Egyptian queen as, well, downright ugly.
It seems that far from being the glamorous hunk portrayed on movie screens by Richard Burton in the 1960s, Antony in fact had peculiar bulging eyes, a distinctly hooked nose and a sumo wrestler's thick neck.
And the real Cleopatra seems many leagues removed from the beauty portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor, having a sort of pointy chin, a nose like a witch and a shallow forehead. For good measure, Cleo appears to have misplaced her dentures.
This rather stark depiction of the demigods of Shakespearean fame is based on a tiny, 2,000-year-old silver coin that, after being hidden away in a bank vault for the past 85 years, was put on display to celebrate Valentine's Day yesterday at Newcastle University in England.