Cleopatra's Conquest Of Caesar And Antony
Author: Mahaffy, John P.

Cleopatra's Conquest Of Caesar And Antony

B.C. 52 - 30


Several Egyptian princesses of the line of the Ptolemies bore the name of
Cleopatra, but history, romance, and tragedy are all illumined with the story
of one - Cleopatra the daughter of Ptolemy Auletes. Born at Alexandria, B.C.
69, she ruled jointly with her brother Ptolemy from 51 to 48. Being then
expelled by her colleague, she entered upon the performance of her part in
Roman history when her cause was espoused by Julius Caesar, whom she had
captivated by her charms. Her reinstatement by the help of Caesar, as well as
all that followed in her relations with Roman rulers, was due primarily to
personal considerations, rather than political or military causes; and among
women whose lives have vitally influenced the conduct of great historic
leaders, and thereby affected the course of events, Cleopatra holds a place at
once the most conspicuous and most unique.

Like Caesar, Mark Antony, at his first interview with Cleopatra,
succumbed to the fascinations of the "Rare Egyptian," and he never after
ceased to be her slave. Not long after Caesar's death Antony had married
Fulvia, whom he deserted for the "enchanting queen." From this point to its
culmination in overwhelming disaster and the tragic death of this celebrated
pair of lovers, the romantic drama of Cleopatra's conquests becomes even more
important in literature than in history. This extraordinary voluptuary, whose
beauty and witcheries have interested mankind for almost twenty centuries, has
been the subject of some thirty tragedies in various languages; and in Antony
and Cleopatra - one of his greatest plays - Shakespeare, closely following the
narratives of Plutarch and other classical writers, has invested her with a
potency of charm unparalleled among literary creations.

She matches Antony in qualities of intellect, while she dazzles him with
her coquettish arts. "A queen, a siren," says Thomas Campbell, "a
Shakespeare's Cleopatra alone could have entangled Shakespeare's Antony." And
Shakespeare alone, as declared by Mrs. Jameson, "has dared to exhibit the
Egyptian Queen with all her greatness and all her littleness, all her paltry
arts and dissolute passions, yet awakened our pity for fallen grandeur without
once beguiling us into sympathy with guilt."

Yet the plain history of this "Sorceress of the Nile," with her "infinite
variety," as told by Plutarch and the other ancients, and retold, with
whatever advantages gained from critical research, by the modern masters,
makes the same impression of moral contrast and inscrutability as that
imparted by the greatest poet who has dramatized the character of Cleopatra.

Cleopatra's Conquest Of Caesar And Antony

Now at last Egypt, coming into close connection with the world's masters,
becomes the stage for some of the most striking scenes in ancient history.
They seem to most readers something new and strange - the pageants and
passions of the fratricide Cleopatra as something unparalleled - and yet she
was one of a race in which almost every reigning princess for the last two
hundred years had been swayed by like storms of passion, or had been guilty of
like daring violations of common humanity. What Arsinoe, what Cleopatra, from
the first to the last, had hesitated to murder a brother or a husband, to
assume the throne, to raise and command armies, to discard or adopt a partner
of her throne from caprice in policy, or policy in caprice? But hitherto this
desperate gambling with life had been carried on in Egypt and Syria; the play
had been with Hellenistic pawns - Egyptian or Syrian princes; the last
Cleopatra came to play with Roman pieces, easier apparently to move than the
others, but implying higher stakes, greater glory in the victory, greater
disaster in the defeat. Therefore is it that this last Cleopatra, probably no
more than an average specimen of the beauty, talent, daring, and cruelty of
her ancestors, has taken an unique place among them in the imagination of the
world, and holds her own even now and forever as a familiar name throughout
the world.

Ptolemy Auletes, when dying, had taken great care not to bequeath his
mortgaged kingdom to his Roman creditors. In his will he had named as his
heirs the elder of his two sons, and his daughter, who was the eldest of the
family. Nobody thought of claiming Egypt for a heritage of the Roman
Republic, when the whole world was the prize proposed in the civil conflict,
for though the war of Caesar and Pompey had not actually broken out, the
political sky was lowering with blackness, and the coming tempest was
muttering its thunder through the sultry air. So Cleopatra, now about sixteen
or seventeen years of age, and her much younger brother (about ten) assumed
the throne as was traditional, without any tumult or controversy.

The opening discords, came from within the royal family. The tutors and
advisers of the young King, among whom Pothinos, a eunuch brought up with him
as his playmate, according to the custom of the court, was the ablest and most
influential, persuaded him to assume sole direction of affairs and to depose
his elder sister. Cleopatra was not able to maintain herself in Alexandria,
but went to Syria as an exile, where she promptly collected an army, as was
the wont of these Egyptian princesses, who seem to have resources always under
their control, and returned - within a few months, says Caesar - by way of
Pelusium, to reconquer her lawful share in the throne. This happened in the
fourth year of their so-called joint reign, B.C. 48, at the very time that
Pompey and Caesar were engaged in their conflict for a far greater kingdom.

Caesar expressed his opinion that the quarrel of the sovereigns in Egypt
concerned the Roman people, and himself as consul, the more so as it was in
his previous consulate that the recognition of and alliance with their father
had taken place. So he signified his decision that Ptolemy and Cleopatra
should dismiss their armies, and should discuss their claims before him by
argument and not by arms. All our authorities, except Dio Cassius, state that
he sent for Cleopatra that she might personally urge her claims; but Dio tells
us, with far more detail and I think greater probability, "that at first the
quarrel with her brother was argued for her by friends, till she, learning the
amorous character of Caesar, sent him word that her case was being mismanaged
by her advocates, and she desired to plead it herself. She was then in the
flower of her age (about twenty) and celebrated for her beauty. Moreover, she
had the sweetest of voices, and every charm of conversation, so that she was
likely to ensnare even the most obdurate and elderly man. These gifts she
regarded as her claims upon Caesar. She prayed therefore for an interview,
and adorned herself in a garb most becoming, but likely to arouse his pity,
and so came secretly by night to visit him."

If she indeed arrived secretly and was carried into the palace by one
faithful follower as a bale of carpet, it was from fear of assassination by
the party of Pothinos. She knew that as soon as she had reached Caesar's
sentries she was safe; as the event proved, she was more than safe, for in the
brief interval of peace, and perhaps even of apparent jollity, while the royal
dispute was under discussion, she gained an influence over Caesar which she
retained till his death. Caesar adjudicated the throne according to the will
of Auletes; he even restored Cyprus to Egypt, and proposed to send the younger
brother and his sister Arsinoe to govern it; but he also insisted on a
repayment, in part at least, of the enormous outstanding debt of Auletes to
him and his party.

A few months after Caesar's departure from Egypt Cleopatra gave birth to
a son, whom she alleged, without any immediate contradiction, to be the
dictator's. The Alexandrians called him Caesarion, and she never swerved from
asserting for him royal privileges. We hear of no other lover, though it is
impossible to imagine Cleopatra arriving at the age of twenty without
providing herself with this luxury. She was, however, afraid to let Caesar
live far from her influence, and some time before his assassination - that is
to say, some time between B.C. 48 and 44 - she came with the young King her
brother to Rome, where she was received in Caesar's palace beyond the Tiber,
causing by her residence there considerable scandal among the stricter Romans.
Cicero confesses that he went to see her, but protests that his reasons for
doing so were absolutely nonpolitical. Cicero found her haughty; he does not
say she was beautiful and fascinating. We do not hear of any political
activity on her part, though Cicero evidently suspects it; it is well-nigh
impossible that she can have preferred her very doubtful position at Rome to
her brilliant life in the East. She was suspected of urging Caesar to move
eastward the capital of his new empire, to desert Rome, and choose either
Ilium, the imaginary cradle of his race, or Alexandria, as his residence. She
is likely to have encouraged at all events his expedition against the
Parthians, which would bring him to Syria, whence she hoped to gain new
territory for her son. The whole situation is eloquently, perhaps too
eloquently, described by Merivale, for he weaves in many conjectures of his
own, as if they were ascertained facts.

The colors of this imitation of a hateful original [the oriental despot]
were heightened by the demeanor of Cleopatra, who followed her lover to Rome
at his invitation. She came with the younger Ptolemaeus, who now shared her
throne, and her ostensible object was to negotiate a treaty between her
kingdom and the Commonwealth. While the Egyptian nation was formally admitted
to the friendship and alliance of Rome, its sovereign was lodged in Caesar's
villa on the other side of the Tiber, and the statue of the most fascinating
of women was erected in the temple of the Goddess of Love and Beauty. The
connection which subsisted between her and the dictator was unblushingly
avowed. Public opinion demanded no concessions to its delicacy; the feelings
of the injured Calpurnia had been blunted by repeated outrage, and Cleopatra
was encouraged to proclaim openly that her child Caesarion was the son of her
Roman admirer. A tribune, named Helvius Cinna, ventured, it is said, to
assert among his friends that he was prepared to propose a law, with the
dictator's sanction, to enable him to marry more wives than one, for the sake
of progeny, and to disregard in his choice the legitimate qualification of
Roman descent. The Romans, however, were spared this last insult to their
prejudices. The queen of Egypt felt bitterly the scorn with which she was
popularly regarded as the representative of an effeminate and licentious
people. It is not improbable that she employed her fatal influence to
withdraw her lover from the Roman capital, and urged him to schemes of
oriental conquest to bring him more completely within her toils. In the mean
while the haughtiness of her demeanor corresponded with the splendid
anticipations in which she indulged. She held a court in the suburbs of the
city, at which the adherents of the dictator's policy were not the only
attendants. Even his opponents and concealed enemies were glad to bask in the
sunshine of her smiles.

When Caesar was assassinated, she was still at Rome, and had some wild
hopes of having her son recognized by the Caesareans. But failing in this she
escaped secretly, and sailed to Egypt, not without causing satisfaction to
cautious men like Cicero that she was gone. The passage in which he seems to
allude to a rumor that she was about to have another child - another
misfortune to the State - does not bear that interpretation. As he says not a
word concerning the young king Ptolemy, we may assume that the youth was
already dead, and that he died at Rome. The common belief was that Cleopatra
poisoned him as soon as his increasing years made him troublesome to her. In
her reign four years are assigned to a joint rule with her elder brother, four
more to that with her younger, so that this latter must have died in the same
year as Caesar.

Cleopatra, watching from Egypt the great civil war which ensued, summoned
and commanded by the various leaders to send aid in ships and money,
threatened with plunder and confiscation by those who were now exhausting Asia
Minor and the islands with monstrous exactions, had ample occupation for her
talents in steering safely among these constant dangers. Appian says she
pleaded famine and pestilence in her country in declining the demands of
Cassius for subsidies. The latter was on the point of invading Egypt, at the
moment denuded of defending forces and wasted with famine, when he was
summoned to Philippi by Brutus.

It was not till B.C. 41, after the decisive battle of Philippi, that the
victorious Antony, turning to subdue the East to the Caesarean cause, held his
joyeuse entree into Ephesus, and then proceeded to drain all Asia Minor of
money for the satisfaction of his greedy legionaries and his own still more
greedy vices. Reaching Cilicia, he sent an order to the queen of Egypt to
come before him and explain her conduct during the late war, for she was
reported to have sent aid to Cassius. The sequel may be told in Plutarch's
famous narrative:

"Dellius, who was sent on this message, had no sooner seen her face, and
remarked her adroitness and subtlety in speech, than he felt convinced that
Antony would not so much as think of giving any molestation to a woman like
this. On the contrary, she would be the first in favor with him. So he set
himself at once to pay his court to the Egyptian, and gave her his advice, 'to
go,' in the Homeric style, to Cilicia, 'in her best attire,' and bade her fear
nothing from Antony, the gentlest and kindest of soldiers. She had some faith
in the words of Dellius, but more in her own attractions, which, having
formerly recommended her to Caesar and the young Cnaeus Pompey, she did not
doubt might yet prove more successful with Antony. Their acquaintance was
with her when a girl, young, and ignorant of the world, but she was to meet
Antony in the time of life when women's beauty is most splendid and their
intellects are in full maturity. She made great preparation for her journey,
of money, gifts, and ornaments of value, such as so wealthy a kingdom might
afford, but she brought with her her surest hopes in her own magic arts and

"She received several letters, both from Antony and from his friends, to
summon her, but she took no account of these orders; and at last, as if in
mockery of them, she came sailing up the river Cydnus, in a barge with gilded
stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the
music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a
canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young
boys, like painted cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were
dressed like sea nymphs and graces, some steering at the rudder, some working
at the ropes. ^1 The perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the
shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the
river on either bank, part running out of the city to see the sight. The
market-place was quite emptied, and Antony at last was left alone sitting upon
the tribunal, while the word went through all the multitude that Venus was
come to feast with Bacchus, for the common good of Asia. ^2 On her arrival,
Antony sent to invite her to supper. She thought it fitter he should come to
her; so, willing to show his good humor and courtesy, he complied, and went.
He found the preparations to receive him magnificent beyond expression, but
nothing so admirable as the great number of lights, for on a sudden there was
let down altogether so great a number of branches with lights in them so
ingeniously disposed, some in squares and some in circles, that the whole
thing was a spectacle that has seldom been equalled for beauty.

[Footnote 1: There was no Egyptian feature in this show, which was purely

[Footnote 2: How easily such a belief started up in the minds of a crowd in
the Asia Minor of that day appears from Acts xiv. ii seq., where the crowd at
Iconium, on seeing a cripple cured, at once exclaim that the gods are come
down to them in the likeness of men, and call Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul
Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker, bringing sacrifices to offer to
the apostles.]

"The next day Antony invited her to supper, and was very desirous to
outdo her as well in magnificence as contrivance; but he found he was
altogether beaten in both, and was so well convinced of it that he was himself
the first to jest and mock at his poverty of wit and his rustic awkwardness.
She, perceiving that his raillery was broad and gross and savored more of the
soldier than the courtier, rejoined in the same taste, and fell into it at
once, without any sort of reluctance or reserve, for her actual beauty, it is
said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or
that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her
presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her
person, joining with the charm of her conversation and the character that
attended all she said or did, was something bewitching. It was a pleasure
merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many
strings, she could pass from one language to another; so that there were few
of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter. To most of them
she spoke herself, as to the Ethiopians, trogloaytes, Hebrews, Arabians,
Syrians, Medes, Parthians, and many others, whose language she had learned; ^1
which was all the more surprising, because most of the kings her predecessors
scarcely gave themselves the trouble to acquire the Egyptian tongue, and
several of them quite abandoned the Macedonian.

[Footnote 1: We have here the usual lies of courtiers.]

"Antony was so captivated by her that, while Fulvia, his wife, maintained
his quarrels in Rome against Caesar by actual force of arms, and the Parthian
troops, commanded by Labienus - the King's general having made him
commander-in-chief - were assembled in Mesopotamia, and ready to enter Syria,
he could yet suffer himself to be carried away by her to Alexandria, there to
keep holiday, like a boy, in play and diversion, squandering and fooling away
in enjoyments that most costly, as Antiphon says, of all valuables, time.
They had a sort of company, to which they gave a particular name, calling it
that of the 'Inimitable Livers.' The members entertained one another daily in
turn, with an extravagance of expenditure beyond measure or belief. Philotas,
a physician of Amphissa, who was at that time a student of medicine in
Alexandria, used to tell my grandfather Lamprias that, having some
acquaintance with one of the royal cooks, he was invited by him, being a young
man, to come and see the sumptuous preparations for dinner. So he was taken
into the kitchen, where he admired the prodigious variety of all things, but,
particularly seeing eight wild boars roasting whole, says he, 'Surely you have
a great number of guests.' The cook laughed at his simplicity, and told him
there were not above twelve to dine, but that every dish was to be served up
just roasted to a turn, and if anything was but one minute ill-timed it was
spoiled. 'And,' said he, 'maybe Antony will dine just now, maybe not this
hour, maybe he will call for wine, or begin to talk, and will put if off. So
that,' he continued, 'it is not one, but many dinners, must be had in
readiness, as it is impossible to guess at his hour.'"

Plato admits four sorts of flattery, but Cleopatra had a thousand. Were
Antony serious or disposed to mirth she had any moment some new delight or
charm to meet his wishes. At every turn she was upon him, and let him escape
her neither by day nor by night. She played at dice with him, drank with him,
hunted with him, and when he exercised in arms she was there to see. At night
she would go rambling with him to joke with people at their doors and windows,
dressed like a servant woman, for Antony also went in servant's disguise, and
from these expeditions he always came home very scurvily answered, and
sometimes even beaten severely, though most people guessed who it was.
However, the Alexandrians in general liked it all well enough, and joined
good-humoredly and kindly in his frolic and play, saying they were much
obliged to Antony for acting his tragic parts at Rome and keeping his comedy
for them. It would be trifling without end to be particular in relating his
follies, but his fishing must not be forgotten. He went out one day to angle
with Cleopatra, and being so unfortunate as to catch nothing in the presence
of his mistress, he gave secret orders to the fishermen to dive under water
and put fishes that had been already taken upon his hooks, and these he drew
in so fast that the Egyptian perceived it. But feigning great admiration, she
told everybody how dexterous Antony was, and invited them next day to come and
see him again. So when a number of them had come on board the fishing boats,
as soon as he had let down his hook, one of her servants was beforehand with
his divers and fixed upon his hook a salted fish from Pontus. Antony, feeling
his line taut, drew up the prey, and when, as may be imagined, great laughter
ensued, "Leave," said Cleopatra, "the fishing rod, autocrat, to us poor
sovereigns of Pharos and Canopus; your game is cities, kingdoms, and

Plutarch does not mention the most tragic and the most characteristic
proof of Cleopatra's complete conquest of Antony. Among his other crimes of
obedience he sent by her orders and put to death the Princess Arsinoe, who,
knowing well her danger, had taken refuge as a suppliant in the temple of
Artemis Leucophryne at Miletus.

It is not our duty to follow the various complications of war and
diplomacy, accompanied by the marriage with the serious and gentle Octavia,
whereby the brilliant but dissolute Antony was weaned, as it were, from his
follies, and persuaded to live a life of public activity. Whether the wily
Octavian did not foresee the result, whether he did not even sacrifice his
sister to accumulate odium against his dangerous rival, is not for us to
determine. But when it was arranged (in B.C. 36) that Antony should lead an
expedition against the Parthians, any man of ordinary sense must have known
that he would come within the reach of the eastern siren, and was sure to be
again attracted by her fatal voice. It is hard to account for her strange
patience during these four years. She had borne twins to Antony, probably
after the meeting in Cilicia. Though she still maintained the claims of her
eldest son Caesarion to be the divine Julius' only direct heir, we do not hear
of her sending requests to Antony to support him, or that any agents were
working in her interests at Rome. She was too subtle a woman to solicit his
return to Alexandria. There are mistaken insinuations that she thought the
chances of Sextus Pompey, with his naval supremacy, better than those of
Antony, but these stories refer to his brother Cnaeus, who visited Egypt
before Pharsalia.

It is probably to this pause in her life, as we know it, that we may
refer her activity in repairing and enlarging the national temples. The
splendid edifice at Dendera, at present among the most perfect of Egyptian
temples, bears no older names than those of Cleopatra and her son Caesarion,
and their portraits represent the latter as a growing lad, his mother as an
essentially Egyptian figure, conventionally drawn according to the rules which
had determined the figures of gods and kings for fifteen hundred years. Under
these circumstances it is idle to speak of this well-known relief picture as a
portrait of the Queen. It is no more so than the granite statues in the
Vatican are portraits of Philadelphus and Arsinoe. The artist had probably
never seen the Queen, and if he had, it would not have produced the slightest
alteration in his drawing.

Plutarch expressly says that it was not in peerless beauty that her
fascination lay, but in the combination of more than average beauty with many
other personal attractions. The Egyptian portrait is likely to confirm in the
spectator's mind the impression derived from Shakespeare's play, that
Cleopatra was a swarthy Egyptian, in strong contrast to the fair Roman ladies,
and suggesting a wide difference of race. She was no more an Egyptian than
she was an Indian, but a pure Macedonian, of a race akin to, and perhaps
fairer than, the Greeks.

No sooner had Antony reached Syria than the fell influence of the
Egyptian Queen revived. In the words of Plutarch:

"But the mischief that thus long had lain still, the passion for
Cleopatra, which better thoughts had seemed to have lulled and charmed into
oblivion, upon his approach to Syria, gathered strength again, and broke out
into a flame. And in fine, like Plato's restive and rebellious horse of the
human soul, flinging off all good and wholesome counsel and breaking fairly
loose, he sent Fonteius Capito to bring Cleopatra into Syria; to whom at her
arrival he made no small or trifling present - Phoenicia, Coele-Syria, Cyprus,
great part of Cilicia, that side of Judea which produces balm, that part of
Arabia where the Nabathaeans extend to the outer sea - profuse gifts which
much displeased the Romans. For although he had invested several private
persons with great governments and kingdoms, and bereaved many kings of
theirs, as Antigonus of Judea, whose head he caused to be struck off - the
first example of that punishment being inflicted on a king - yet nothing stung
the Romans like the shame of these honors paid to Cleopatra. Their
dissatisfaction was augmented also by his acknowledging as his own the twin
children he had by her, giving them the names of Alexander and Cleopatra, and
adding, as their surnames, the titles of Sun and Moon."

After much dallying the triumvir really started for the wild East,
whither it is not our business to follow him. Cleopatra he sent home to
Egypt, to await his victorious return, and it was on this occasion that she
came in state to Jerusalem to visit Herod the Great - probably the most
brilliant scene of the kind which had taken place since the queen of Sheba
came to learn the wisdom of Solomon. But it was a very different wisdom that
Herod professed, and in which he was verily a high authority, nor was the
subtle daughter of the Ptolemies a docile pupil, but a practised expert in the
same arts of cruelty and cunning wherewith both pursued their several courses
of ambition and sought to wheedle from their Roman masters cities and
provinces. The reunion of Antony and Cleopatra must have greatly alarmed
Herod, whose plans were directly thwarted by the freaks of Antony, and he must
have been preparing at the time to make his case with Octavian, and seek from
his favor protection against the new caprices of the then lord of the East.

"The scene at Herod's palace must have been inimitable. The display of
counter-fascinations between these two tigers; their voluptuous natures
mutually attracted; their hatred giving to each that deep interest in the
other which so often turns to mutual passion while it incites to conquest; the
grace and finish of their manners, concealing a ruthless ferocity; the
splendor of their appointments - what more dramatic picture can we imagine in

"We hear that she actually attempted to seduce Herod, but failed, owing
to his deep devotion to his wife Mariamne. The prosaic Josephus adds that
Herod consulted his council whether he should not put her to death for this
attempt upon his virtue. He was dissuaded by them on the ground that Antony
would listen to no arguments, not even from the most persuasive of the world's
princes, and would take awful vengeance when he heard of her death. So she was
escorted with great gifts and politenesses back to Egypt.

Such, then, was the character of this notorious Queen. But her violation
of temples, and even of ancient tombs, for the sake of treasure must have been
a far more public and odious exhibition of that want of respect for the
sentiment of others which is the essence of bad manners." ^1

[Footnote 1: The Greek World under Roman Sway.]

As is well known, the first campaign of Antony against Armenians and
Parthians was a signal failure, and it was only with great difficulty that he
escaped the fate of Crassus. But Cleopatra was ready to meet him in Syria
with provisions and clothes for his distressed and ragged battalions, and he
returned with her to spend the winter (B.C. 36-35) at Alexandria. She thus
snatched him again from his noble wife, Octavia, who had come from Rome to
Athens with succors even greater than Cleopatra had brought. This at least is
the word of the historians who write in the interest of the Romans, and regard
the queen of Egypt with horror and with fear.

The new campaign of Antony (B.C. 34) was apparently more prosperous, but
it was only carried far enough to warrant his holding a Roman triumph at
Alexandria - perhaps the only novelty in pomp which the triumvir could exhibit
to the Alexandrian populace, while it gave the most poignant offence at Rome.
It was apparently now that he made that formal distribution of provinces which
Octavian used as his chief casus belli.

"Nor was the division he made among his sons at Alexandria less
unpopular. It seemed a theatrical piece of insolence and contempt of his
country, for, assembling the people in the exercise ground, and causing two
golden thrones to be placed on a platform of silver, the one for him and the
other for Cleopatra, and at their feet lower thrones for their children, he
proclaimed Cleopatra queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya, and Coele-Syria, and with
her conjointly Caesarion, the reputed son of the former Caesar. His own sons
by Cleopatra were to have the style of 'King of Kings'; to Alexander he gave
Armenia and Media, with Parthia so soon as it should be overcome; to Ptolemy
Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia. Alexander was brought out before the people in
Median costume, the tiara and upright peak, and Ptolemy in boots and mantle
and Macedonian cap done about with the diadem; for this was the habit of the
successors of Alexander, as the other was of the Medes and Armenians. And, as
soon as they had saluted their parents, the one was received by a guard of
Macedonians, the other by one of Armenians. Cleopatra was then, as at other
times when she appeared in public, dressed in the habit of the goddess Isis,
and gave audience to the people under the name of the New Isis.

"This over, he gave Priene to his players for a habitation, and set sail
for Athens, where fresh sports and play-acting employed him. Cleopatra,
jealous of the honors Octavia had received at Athens - for Octavia was much
beloved by the Athenians - courted the favor of the people with all sorts of
attentions. The Athenians, in requital, having decreed her public honors,
deputed several of the citizens to wait upon her at her house, among whom went
Antony as one, he being an Athenian citizen, and he it was that made the

"The speed and extent of Antony's preparations alarmed Caesar, who feared
he might be forced to fight the decisive battle that summer, for he wanted
many necessaries, and the people grudged very much to pay the taxes; freemen
being called upon to pay a fourth part of their incomes, and freed slaves an
eighth of their property, so that there were loud outcries against him, and
disturbances throughout all Italy. And this is looked upon as one of the
greatest of Antony's oversights that he did not then press the war, for he
allowed time at once for Caesar to make his preparations, and for the
commotions to pass over, for while people were having their money called for
they were mutinous and violent; but, having paid it, they held their peace.

"Titius and Plancus, men of consular dignity and friends to Antony,
having been ill-used by Cleopatra, whom they had most resisted in her design
of being present in the war, came over to Caesar, and gave information of the
contents of Antony's will, with which they were acquainted. It was deposited
in the hands of the vestal virgins, who refused to deliver it up, and sent
Caesar word, if he pleased, he should come and seize it himself, which he did.
And, reading it over to himself, he noted those places that were most for his
purpose, and, having summoned the senate, read them publicly. Many were
scandalized at the proceeding, thinking it out of reason and equity to call a
man to account for what was not to be until after his death. Caesar specially
pressed what Antony said in his will about his burial, for he had ordered that
even if he died in the city of Rome, his body, after being carried in state
through the Forum, should be sent to Cleopatra at Alexandria.

"Calvisius, a dependent of Caesar's, urged other charges in connection
with Cleopatra against Antony: that he had given her the library of Pergamus,
containing two hundred thousand distinct volumes; that at a great banquet, in
the presence of many guests, he had risen up and rubbed her feet, to fulfil
some wager or promise; that he had suffered the Ephesians to salute her as
their queen; that he had frequently at the public audience of kings and
princes received amorous messages written in tablets made of onyx and crystal,
and read them openly on the tribunal; that when Furnius, a man of great
authority and eloquence among the Romans, was pleading, Cleopatra happening to
pass by in her litter, Antony started up and left them in the middle of their
cause, to follow at her side and attend her home." ^1

[Footnote 1: Plutarch: Antony.]

When war was declared, Antony sought to gain the support of the East in
the conflict. He made alliance with a Median king who betrothed his daughter
to Cleopatra's infant son Alexander; but he made the fatal mistake of allowing
Cleopatra to accompany him to Samos, where he gathered his army, and even to
Actium, where she led the way in flying from the fight, and so persuading the
infatuated Antony to leave his army and join in her disgraceful escape.

Historians have regarded this act of Cleopatra as the mere cowardice of a
woman who feared to look upon an armed conflict and join in the din of battle.
But she was surely made of sterner stuff. She had probably computed with the
utmost care the chances of the rivals, and had made up her mind that, in spite
of Antony's gallantry, his cause was lost. ^2 If she fought out the battle
with her strong contingent of ships, she would probably fall into Octavian's
hands as a prisoner, and would have no choice between suicide or death in the
Roman prison, after being exhibited to the mob in Octavian's triumph. There
was no chance whatever that she would have been spared, as was her sister
Arsinoe after Julius Caesar's triumph, nor would such clemency be less hateful
than death. But there was still a chance, if Antony were killed or taken
prisoner, that she might negotiate with the victor as queen of Egypt, with her
fleet, army, and treasures intact, and who could tell what effect her charms,
though now full ripe, might have upon the conqueror? Two great Romans had
yielded to her, why not the third, who seemed a smaller man?

[Footnote 2: Dion says that Antony was of the same opinion, and went into the
battle intending to fly; but this does not agree with his character or with
the facts.]

This view implies that she was already false to Antony, and it may well
be asked how such a charge is compatible with the affecting scenes which
followed at Alexandria, where her policy seemed defeated by her passion, and
she felt her old love too strong even for her heartless ambition? I will say
in answer that there is no more frequent anomaly in the psychology of female
love than a strong passion coexisting with selfish ambition, so that each
takes the lead in turn; nay, even the consciousness of treachery may so
intensify the passion as to make a woman embrace with keener transports the
lover whom she has betrayed than one whom she has no thought of surrendering.
There are, moreover, in these tragedies unexpected accidents, which so affect
even the hardest nature that calculations are cast aside, and the old loyalty
resumes a temporary sway. Nor must we fail to insist again upon the
traditions wherein this last Cleopatra was born and bred. She came from a
stock whose women played with love and with life as if they were mere
counters. To hesitate whether such a scion of such a house would have delayed
to discard Antony and to assume another passion is to show small appreciation
of the effects of heredity and of example. Dion tells us that she arrived in
Alexandria before the news of her defeat, pretended a victory, and took the
occasion of committing many murders, in order to get rid of secret opponents,
and also to gather wealth by confiscation of their goods, for both she and
Antony, who came along the coast of Libya, seem still to have thought of
defending the inacessible Egypt, and making terms for themselves and their
children with the conqueror. But Antony's efforts completely failed; no one
would rally to his standard. And meanwhile the false Queen had begun to send
presents to Caesar and encourage him to treat with her. But when he bluntly
proposed to her to murder Antony as the price of her reconciliation with
himself, and when he even declared by proxy that he was in love with her, he
clearly made a rash move in this game of diplomacy, though Dion says he
persuaded her of his love, and that accordingly she betrayed to him the
fortress of Pelusium, the key of the country. Dion also differs from Plutarch
in repeatedly ascribing to Octavian great anxiety to secure the treasures
which Cleopatra had with her, and which she was likely to destroy by fire if
driven to despair.

The historian may well leave to the biographer, nay, to the poet, the
affecting details of the closing scenes of Cleopatra's life. In the fourth
and fifth acts of Antony and Cleopatra Shakespeare has reproduced every detail
of Plutarch's narrative, which was drawn from that of her physician Olympos.
Her fascinations were not dead, for they swayed Dolabella to play false to his
master so far as to warn her of his intentions, and leave her time for her
dignified and royal end. But if these Hellenistic queens knew how to die,
they knew not how to live. Even the penultimate scene of the tragedy, when
she presents an inventory of her treasures to Octavian, and is charged by her
steward with dishonesty, shows her in uncivilized violence striking the man in
the face and bursting into indecent fury, such as an Athenian, still less a
Roman, matron would have been ashamed to exhibit. Nor is there any reason to
doubt the genuineness of this scene, though we must not be weary of cautioning
ourselves against the hostile witnesses who have reported to us her life.
They praise nothing in her but her bewitching presence and her majestic death.

"After her repast Cleopatra sent to Caesar a letter which she had written
and sealed, and, putting everybody out of the monument but her two women, she
shut the doors. Caesar, opening her letter, and finding pathetic prayers and
entreaties that she might be buried in the same tomb with Antony, soon guessed
what was doing. At first he was going himself in all haste; but, changing his
mind, he sent others to see. The thing had been quickly done. The messengers
came at full speed, and found the guards apprehensive of nothing; but on
opening the doors they saw her stone dead, lying upon a bed of gold, set out
in all her royal ornaments. Iras, one of her women, lay dying at her feet,
and Charmion, just ready to fall, scarce able to hold up her head, was
adjusting her mistress' diadem. And when one that came in said angrily, 'Was
this well done of your lady, Charmion?' 'Perfectly well,' she answered, 'and
as became the daughter of so many kings'; and as she said this she fell down
dead by the bedside."

Even the hostile accounts cannot conceal from us that both in physique
and in intellect she was a very remarkable figure, exceptional in her own,
exceptional had she been born in any other, age. She is a speaking instance
of the falsehood of a prevailing belief, that the intermarriage of near
relations invariably produces a decadence in the human race. The whole
dynasty of the Ptolemies contradicts this current theory, and exhibits in the
last of the series the most signal exception. Cleopatra VI was descended from
many generations of breeding-in, of which four exhibit marriages of full
brother and sister. And yet she was deficient in no quality, physical or
intellectual, which goes to make up a well-bred and well-developed human
being. Her morals were indeed those of her ancestors, and as bad as could be,
but I am not aware that it is degeneration in this direction which is assumed
by the theory in question, except as a consequence of physical decay.
Physically, however, Cleopatra was perfect. She was not only beautiful, but
prolific, and retained her vigor, and apparently her beauty, to the time of
her death, when she was nearly forty years old.

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