“History is written by the victors” or so the saying goes. But surely history is rewritten by every new generation as events are retold, reinterpreted and understood differently depending on changes in values, viewpoint and perspective. During the holidays, and thanks to some terrific Christmas gifts, our children have been busy rewriting the history of Rome and Egypt with some pretty hilarious results. Our four-year old daughter and six-year old son bring their own unique perspective to the life of Cleopatra.
Scene 1. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, is living on the banks of the Nile not in a sumptuous palace but in a cosy cottage. Cleopatra lives with a ginger-coloured cat. She has a fairly casual relationship with a dark haired leopard-skin wearing fellow who seems to fulfil various roles including slave, husband, cook and driver. His name is simply ‘Servant’. She also has a baby bunny (presumably from an earlier relationship). Cleopatra has her own plunge pool (of course) and a green convertible car (don’t ask), plenty of furniture and her most highly prized possession of all: a sturdy fry pan for making pancakes. Cleopatra wears her jewellery to bed. In fact, my four-year old tells me that Cleopatra spends a fair bit of time in bed because she gets tired easily. Although she has some difficulty getting up the ladder to the second storey of the house because of the curious shape of her hands she is adamant that she can DO IT HERSELF! Overall, life for Cleopatra is happy and harmonious and quite lovely until a Roman galley manned by a six-year old is spotted sailing up the river…
Scene 2. The galley is large, ominous and black. The sail is emblazoned with SPQR in bold red letters (I am told by my reliable six-year old source that these letters stand for ‘Super Playmobil Quest Rome’). The oars are powering along, men are shouting, and there is a sense of mischief and intrigue in the air. Suddenly, a missile is fired from the galley. It hits the wall of the cottage announcing the arrival of Mark Antony. Cleopatra squeals, then shrieks, then growls and harsh words are uttered between four-year old and six-year old. Four-year old is duly reminded that these gifts are for sharing and that there is no such thing as ‘my game’. So, for the moment, play resumes in a more harmonious way.
Scene 3. Mark Antony jumps off the deck of the galley and lands in the front yard of the cottage. He looks grand, decked out in flashy golden sandals, laurel wreath, a red cape, gold belt and sword. Cleopatra is smitten. They marry immediately. But while Mark Antony is distracted, his men are up to no good. A fight breaks out over food. It seems that there has been a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables on board the galley. Titus Maximus has taken all the fruit and the other Roman soldiers are not impressed. The skirmish turns into a nasty fight as swords and spears are engaged and more missiles are fired. One missile hits the house. Another injures Cleopatra’s cat. Cleopatra is distraught. [Some urgent parental intervention is required at this point. Parent suggests a more contained gladiatorial combat between Titus Pullo and the other main offender named Quintus, with Cleopatra and Mark Antony as spectators].
Scene 4. Titus Maximus and Quintus take their places in the arena. The fires are lit. Cleopatra has to remain standing because her dress is too tight and it won’t enable her to sit. The fight begins. Matters are somewhat complicated by the appearance of a scorpion and a dark green snake in the arena. Titus knocks Quintus over. Quintus accidentally treads on the scorpion which mysteriously flies off stage. Meanwhile, the snake coils itself around Titus’ leg. This gives Quintus a chance to start tickling Titus with the horse-hair crest of his helmet. Titus laughs so much that a truce is declared. In a sudden turn of events, Titus and Quintus join forces and start firing missiles at Cleopatra instead. Cleopatra makes a quick escape in a horse-drawn chariot manned by a very shady and hirsute fellow named ‘Hair’ and she is never seen again.
Well, who’s to say this never happened?
As parents, we have learnt that:
- Children are never too young for history.
- Toys can be a convenient way to introduce all manner of historical concepts and scenarios to children.
- Children’s capacity for understanding complex relationships and events is tremendous.
- Both children and adults need time to play. As Aristotle says: “he who is hard at work has need of relaxation, and amusement gives relaxation” (Aristotle, Politics, 8.3).
Link to Playmobil history: http://www.playmobil.co.uk/onlineshop/products/history
Link to Aristotle’s Politics online: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.8.eight.html