While surfing the net, as one does when one has nothing better to do, I came across a picture of a woman, dead a couple of millennia, used to advertise a course in ancient drawing, or something along these lines. I stopped in my tracks and looked more carefully – that nameless woman looked very much like me. The same brow and eyes, a similar nose (I would like to think mine is not as long) and a nearly identical mouth. If ever did I believe in my uniqueness, here was the proof I was sorely mistaken.

I am obviously not oblivious we carry the genes of our forefathers but how often do we think about where we really come from? My extremely Roman names (very common at the time when most noble women were all called Giulia, Octavia etc, creating enormous confusion when writing historical accounts) were always a reminder of where my roots lie. As a kid, who hasn’t looked in those “name books” to figure out the meanings of our names? In my case, I was quickly disappointed: Claudia comes from Claudius who, besides being a Roman emperor, is also at the root of the word “claudicante” or the one who limps. And Giulia means from the house of Julius. No funky saint attached to my name, no exotic meaning.

Digging a bit further, I found out my “carbon copy” was Roman but lived in Egypt and died about 100 years after Christ. Her portrait was commissioned for her burial.  Some nameless woman who looks like me, travelled from Rome, most likely with her husband, probably sent to work in the Eastern provinces, and died there – maybe in childbirth, maybe from the heat, maybe of a broken heart.

As much as we live in an age of uniqueness, where we are pushed to think of ourselves as inimitable beings, let’s face it – we all come from the same muck and we are all a lot more intertwined that we give ourselves credit for. Roman Betty and I both came from Africa to begin with – she moved back to it while I went on to explore a continent she knew nothing about. Her picture lives on – mine won’t. But some other woman, a thousand-year from now, will look at it one day and think “Wait, that looks like me!”



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