Some of his friends

Antony had not abandoned his original design of preventing the
combining of the forces of Octavius by carrying the war into Italy; but
he had lost much time. In the spring of 31 B. C., his army and fleet
being concentrated at Actium, at the mouth of the Gulf of Ambracia, he
was preparing to join them when he learned that some Roman vessels were
coasting the shores of Epirus. It was but the vanguard of Agrippa’s
fleet, but the presence of this vanguard showed that the preparations
of Octavius were in a very advanced state, if not complete. The time
for surprising him was past. Antony decided, before forming new plans,
to wait till the Romans should have defined their plan of the campaign.
The fleet and the army, therefore, remained at Actium, but as the place
was unwholesome and a stay there wearisome, Antony went to Patras with
Cleopatra. Early in August he received the important news that the
Roman fleet had just anchored off the coast of Epirus, that the troops
were landing, and that Octavius was already at Toryne. Antony at once
set out for Actium, much excited and very ill pleased that the enemy so
quickly and so easily had taken up its position. Cleopatra jested with
his uneasiness: “What a misfortune,” said she, “that Octavius should be
sitting upon a dipper!”—in Greek Toryne means a dipper.

The army of Antony, consisting of nineteen legions and twelve
thousand cavalry, and numerous auxiliaries, Cilicians, Paphlagonians,
Cappadocians, Jews, Medes, Arabs, amounted to one hundred and ten
thousand men. His fleet numbered nearly five hundred vessels of three,
five, eight, and ten banks of oars. These last, built in Egypt, were
veritable floating fortresses, surmounted with towers and furnished
with powerful war-engines. Octavius had eighty thousand foot soldiers
recruited in Italy, Sicily, Spain, and Gaul, ten thousand horse, and
but two hundred and fifty vessels, triremes with rostra and light
Liburnian galleys in about equal numbers. If the land forces were about
of equal effective strength the disproportion between the naval forces
was immense; but the ships of Octavius made up for their inferiority of
numbers by their superiority of manœuvring, and the excellence of their
crews, who had all been with Agrippa during the long Sicilian war. On
the contrary, Antony’s sailors were comparatively few, and most of them
were going into battle for the first time; his heavy ships were clumsy
in their evolutions,—as the hyperbolical Florus expressed it: “The sea
groaned under their weight, and the wind exhausted itself in moving
them.”

The army of Antony occupied the northern point of Acarnania, with a
strong detachment on the coast of Epirus, which was directly opposite.
Firmly entrenched within defenses raised during the winter, he
commanded the narrow passage into the Gulf of Ambracia in which his
fleet was moored. Octavius had pitched his camp in Epirus, at a short
distance from the advanced posts of Antony. Antony held an excellent
position for defense, which enabled him to resist successfully the
attacks of the Romans: for the Pass of Actium could not be forced; but
he was blockaded on the side of the sea whence almost all his stores
and munitions must reach him.

For several days the two armies were face to face. Octavius, desirous
to engage, endeavored by every feint to draw his adversary into action
either on land or sea. Antony, uneasy, anxious, hesitating, could
not decide what step to take. He embarked the greater portion of his
troops and transferred them to the coast of Epirus, as if to attack the
Roman camp; then he changed his mind and recrossed into Acarnania. The
officers of Antony, auguring ill of the manœuvring qualities of his
huge vessels, and, at the same time, full of confidence in the valor
of the legionaries, counseled him to fight the battle on land. This
was also the desire of the army. At a review he was accosted by an old
centurion all seamed with scars: “Oh, Emperor, dost thou distrust these
wounds and this sword, that thou puttest thy hope in rotten wood? Let
the men of Egypt and Phœnicia fight on the sea, but to us, give us
the land where we are used to hold our own, and where we know how to
conquer or to die.” But Antony was disturbed by sinister omens. In many
places his statues and those of Cleopatra had been struck by lightning;
at Alba a marble statue, erected in honor of the triumvir, had been
found covered with sweat. “A sign still more alarming,” says Plutarch,
“some swallows, having built their nests under the stern of the
_Antoniad_, Cleopatra’s flagship, other swallows came, drove the first
away, and killed their young ones.” Frequent defeats in the skirmishes
around Actium, the desertion of Domitius Ænobarbus, who suddenly passed
over to the enemy, the defection of two of the allied kings, who, with
their forces, abandoned the army, confirmed these evil omens in the
superstitious soul of Antony. He suspected everything and everybody—his
fortune, his soldiers, his friends, Cleopatra herself. Seeing her sad,
discouraged, a prey to gloomy thoughts—for she, too, dwelt on the omens
of the swallows of the _Antoniad_ and the shattered statues—he fancied
that she wished to poison him, that by this crime she might secure the
favor of Octavius. For days he would take neither food nor drink that
she had not first tasted. Out of pity for her lover, Cleopatra lent
herself willingly to this caprice. One night, however, at the close of
the supper, she took a rose from her crown and lightly dipped it into
a cup of wine which she handed smilingly to Antony. He put it to his
lips, when she arrested his hand and gave the poisoned wine to a slave
to drink, who immediately fell to the floor writhing in mortal agony.
“O Antony!” exclaimed Cleopatra, “what a woman you suspect. See now
that neither means nor opportunities to slay you would fail me if I
could live without you!”

The anxiety and depression reached the army, encamped in an unwholesome
situation, and with reduced supplies. One day, Canidius himself,
hitherto so eager for battle, counseled the abandonment of the
fleet, and to carry the war into Thrace, where Dikome, king of the
Getæ, promised to send reënforcements. But what need was there of
reënforcements, since they were already superior in numbers to the
enemy? Cleopatra offered another opinion, if no less shameful, at any
rate more sensible. Flight against flight, it would be better to go to
Egypt than to Thrace. She proposed to leave part of the army in Greece,
to garrison the fortified towns; to embark the rest, and set sail for
Egypt, passing through the fleet of Octavius. After fresh hesitation,
Antony adopted this plan, though assuredly it was bitter to flee from
an army whose leader he despised. All tends to the belief, besides,
that Antony hoped to destroy the Roman fleet in the naval engagement
that must ensue on issuing from the narrow passage of Actium. If he
gained the victory he would be able to regain his position and attack
the demoralized army of Octavius; if the victory remained doubtful—for
with so powerful a fleet he could not admit the supposition of a
defeat—he would sail for Egypt. The retreat would be but a last
resource.

Desertion and disease had greatly reduced the crews of the galleys.
Antony decided to burn one hundred and forty of them in order to fill
up with their crews the remainder of the fleet. Twenty-two thousand
legionaries, auxiliaries, and slingers were put on board the ships.
Not to discourage the soldiers and sailors, it was concealed from
them that these preparations for battle were indeed preparations for
retreat. The secret was so well kept, that it was a surprise to the
pilots when they received orders to carry the sails with them. They
recollected that in battle the vessels were worked with oars only.
Antony had it reported that the sails were carried the better to pursue
the enemy after the victory.

On the morning of September 2d the vessels of Antony formed in four
grand divisions, crossed the channel of Actium, and, issuing thence,
were disposed in battle array opposite the fleet of Octavius, who was
awaiting them at eight or ten stadia from the land. On the side of
Antony, he himself, with Publicola, commanded the right wing; Marcus
Justus and Marcus Octavius the center, and Cœlius the left wing.
Cleopatra commanded the reserve with sixty Egyptian vessels. On the
side of the Romans, Octavius commanded the right wing, Agrippa the
left, and Arruntius the center. About noon the battle began. The troops
on land, who were under arms and motionless near the shore, saw not,
as is usual in sea-fights, the galleys rush at each other seeking to
strike with their rostra or beaks of steel. On account of their slow
rate of speed, the heavy vessels of Antony could not strike with that
impetuosity which gives force to the shock, and the light galleys of
the Romans feared to break their rostra against those enormous ships,
constructed of strong beams joined with iron. The battle was like a
succession of sieges, a combat of moving citadels with moving towers.
Three or four Roman galleys would unite to attack one of Antony’s
vessels, so huge, says Virgil, that they looked like the Cyclades
sailing on the waters. The soldiers cast grappling-irons, fired burning
arrows on the decks, attached fire-ships to the keels, and rushed to
board them, while the powerful batteries placed at the summit of the
towers of the beleaguered ship showered down on the assailants a hail
of stones and arrows. At the very first the Roman right wing, commanded
by Octavius, gave way before the attack of the division under Cœlius.
At the other extremity Agrippa, having designed a movement to surround
Antony and Publicola, these turned on their right and thus uncovered
the center of the line of battle. The swift Liburnian galleys improved
the opportunity to attack the vessels of the two Marcuses, in the rear
of which was the reserve under Cleopatra. Success and reverse went
hand in hand; the two sides fought with equal fury, and the victory
was doubtful, but the nervousness of Cleopatra was to be the ruin of
Antony’s cause. For hours she had suffered a fever of agony. From the
deck of the _Antoniad_ she anxiously watched the movements of the
fleets. In the beginning she had hoped for victory; now, terrified by
the clamor and tumult, her only desire was to escape. She awaited with
ever-increasing impatience the signal for retreat. Suddenly she noticed
the right wing moving towards the coast of Epirus, the left putting to
sea, and the center, which protected her, attacked, separated, broken,
penetrated by the Roman Liburnians. Then, “pale with her approaching
death”—_pallens morte futura_—listening only to her terror, she ordered
the sails to be hoisted, and with her sixty vessels she passed through
the midst of the combatants and fled towards the open sea. In the midst
of the battle Antony perceived the motion of the Egyptian squadron, and
recognized the _Antoniad_ by its purple sails; Cleopatra was fleeing,
robbing him at the decisive moment of his powerful reserve; but the
queen could not order the retreat, he alone could give the signal
for that. There is some mistake—a feint, perhaps a panic. Antony in
his turn hoists the sails of his galley, and rushes in the wake of
Cleopatra. He will bring back the Egyptian vessels and restore the
chances of the battle. But before overtaking the _Antoniad_ the unhappy
man has time to think. Cleopatra has deserted him either through
cowardice or treason; he can bring back to Actium neither her nor her
fleet. Next he thinks he will return to the combat, which is now only a
rout, to die with his soldiers—to _die_ without seeing Cleopatra once
more! he cannot do it. A fatal power drags him after this woman. He
reaches the _Antoniad_, but then he is overcome with his disgrace. He
refuses to see the queen. He seats himself on the prow of the vessel,
his head on his hands, and remains thus for three days and three nights.

The Egyptian fleet and some other vessels which had followed the
fugitives put into the port of Cænopolis, near Cape Tenarum. Often
repulsed by the obstinate silence of Antony, Cleopatra’s women finally
succeeded in bringing about an interview between the lovers. They
supped and passed the night together. O, wretched human weakness!

Some of his friends who had escaped from Actium brought them news. The
fleet had made an obstinate resistance, but all the vessels which were
not sunk or burned were now in possession of Octavius. The army still
maintained its position, and appeared to be faithful. Antony at once
sent messengers and despatched Canidius with orders to recall those
troops, and himself embarked for Cyrenaica, where he still had several
legions. One of his vessels bore his jewels, his valuables, and all the
services of gold and silver which he had used at his entertainments of
the kings, his allies. Before departing from Cænopolis, Antony divided
all this wealth among a few of his friends, whom he constrained to
seek an asylum in Greece, refusing to allow them any longer to follow
his fatal fortunes. When parting from them he talked in the kindest
manner, seeking to console them and regarding their tears with a sad
but kindly smile.

Cleopatra had sailed from Greece some days before Antony. She was in
haste to return to Egypt, fearing that the news of the disaster of
Actium might provoke a revolution. To mislead the people for a few
days, and thus gain time to take her measures, she entered the port of
Alexandria with all the parade of a triumph. Her ships, their prows
adorned with crowns, resounded with the songs of victory and the music
of flutes and sistra. No sooner was she reinstalled in the palace than
she put to death many whose intrigues she feared. These executions,
which benefited the royal treasury, for death involved the confiscation
of the wealth of the real or pretended guilty, delivered Cleopatra
from all fear of an immediate revolution, but she none the less felt
a mortal terror about the future. She still suffered from the horror
of Actium;—at times haunted by the idea of suicide, she contemplated a
death as pompous as had been her life, and she erected at the extremity
of Cape Lochias an immense tomb, in which to consume herself and her
treasures. At other times she thought of flight, and by her orders a
number of her largest ships were transported with great reënforcements
of men, engines, and beasts of burden across the isthmus to the Red
Sea. She had a vision of embarking with all her wealth for some unknown
country of Asia or Africa, there to renew her existence of lust and
pleasure.

Antony soon returned to Alexandria. He was in a state of gloomy
discouragement; his army in Acarnania, deserted by Canidius, who had
taken flight, had surrendered to Octavius after a week of hesitation;
in Cyrenaica he could not even obtain a meeting with his lieutenant
Scarpus, who, having taken sides with the Cæsarians, had threatened
his life; Herod, his creature, whom he had made king of the Jews, had
offered his allegiance to the conqueror of Actium; defection on all
sides with his allies as with his legions. Antony reached the point
of doubting even Cleopatra; he would scarcely see her. Exasperated
at the cruelty of the gods, and still more so at the perfidy of men,
he resolved to pass in solitude the wretched days that his enemies
might yet permit him to live. The story of Timon, the misanthrope of
Athens, which he had heard in happier days, recurred to his memory,
and, determined to live like Timon, he settled in the barren mole
of Poseidon, and busied himself there in erecting a tower which he
intended to call the Timonion.

Cleopatra yielded less submissively to fate. Attacked in the crisis of
danger by a fainting courage to which Antony was an utter stranger, the
immediate danger past she recovered all her powers. With her exalted
imagination she could not despair either wholly or even for very long.
She learned that the vessels she had had transported to the Red Sea had
been burned by the Arabs, and thus her flight prevented. She at once
prepared for determined resistance. Whilst Antony was losing his time
playing the misanthrope, the queen raised fresh forces, furnished new
vessels, formed new alliances, repaired the fortifications of Pelusium
and Alexandria, distributed arms to the people, and to encourage the
Alexandrians to the determined defense of their city, she inscribed the
name of her son, Cæsarion, in the rolls of the militia. Antony could
not but admire the courage and energy of Cleopatra, and, entreated
by his friends besides being weary of his solitude, he resumed his
residence at the palace. The queen received him as in the happy days of
his return from Cilicia or Armenia. They again enjoyed with the friends
of the last hour banquets, festivals, orgies—only “The Inimitables”
changed their appellation, and called themselves “The Inseparables in
Death”: οἱ συναποθανουμéνοι.

The choice of this funereal name, assumed as much from resignation as
bravado, sufficiently reveals the state of mind of the lovers. Antony,
it seems, had lost all hope; Cleopatra still hoped, but with intervals
of gloomy discouragement. At such times she would descend to the crypts
of the palace, near the prisons of the condemned; slaves would drag
them, a few at a time, from their cells to test on them the effects of
different poisons. Cleopatra watched with a curiosity, more painful
even than cruel, the dying agonies of the victims. The experiments were
frequently repeated, for the queen could not discover the poison of her
dreams—a poison that slays instantly without pain and without shock.
She noticed that violent poisons killed swiftly but with frightful
torture, and that less active ones inflicted lingering agonies;
then she studied the bites of serpents, and after new experiments
she discovered that the venom of an Egyptian viper, called in Greek
“Aspis,” caused neither convulsion nor any painful sensation, and led
by a constantly increasing drowsiness to a gentle death, like a sleep.
As for Antony, like Cato and Brutus, he had his sword.

In the midst of these preparations for defense and for death the
vanquished of Actium sought to negotiate with their conqueror.
Octavius, recalled to Rome by a threatened sedition of the veterans,
had in the course of the winter gone to Syria, where he was
concentrating his forces. Antony wrote to him; he reminded him of
his former friendship, recalled his services, made excuses for the
wrongs he had done, and ended by promising to lay down his arms on
condition of being allowed to live as a private citizen at Alexandria.
Octavius deigned no reply, nor did he reply to a second letter in which
he offered to kill himself, provided that Cleopatra might continue
to reign over Egypt. The queen on her side, and unknown to Antony,
despatched an envoy to Octavius with rich gifts. Less generous than her
lover, who had offered his life to secure her crown, she separated his
cause from her own. The Egyptian envoy represented to Octavius that his
hatred of Antony ought not to include the queen, who had had no part
in the late events. It was Rome, said he, that declared war on Egypt,
to bring matters to a close with Antony. Was not Cleopatra compelled
to arm in her own defense? But now that Antony is overcome, compelled
to exile or suicide, the Romans may safely show mercy to Cleopatra and
leave her on the throne. That is far more to their interest than to
force this powerful queen to a desperate struggle.

Octavius already considered himself the master of Egypt—and of
the world. He feared but little the broken sword in the hand of
Antony, still less the shattered remains of the army of Cleopatra
and the wrecks of her navy. But there were two things still beyond
his power—all-powerful emperor as he was—the immense treasures of
Cleopatra, on which he had reckoned to pay his legionaries, and
Cleopatra herself, whom he wished to grace his triumph; she might
escape the Roman by death and her treasure by fire. Traitors and spies
were not lacking in Alexandria; and Octavius knew, through their
reports, of the queen’s experiments in poisons as well as that she
had collected all her treasures in her future tomb. He was compelled
to employ cunning with the Egyptian, and, believing himself justified
by the words of her ambassador to propose such a step, he declared
that if the queen would compass Antony’s death she should preserve
her sovereignty. Some days after, fearful that this somewhat savage
diplomacy might not prevail with Cleopatra, he despatched to her
Thyreus, his freedman. In Egypt, Thyreus talked openly before the court
and Antony of the resentment of Octavius and of his severe decrees,
but having obtained without difficulty a secret audience of Cleopatra
he told her that he had been charged by his master to repeat his
assurances that she had nothing to fear. To satisfy her of this, he
pretended to confide to her that she was beloved by Octavius as of old
by Cæsar and Antony. Cleopatra had many interviews with Thyreus and
publicly showed him much friendliness. Antony took the alarm, and,
suspicious of Cleopatra whether as woman or queen, he made use of what
power was left him to avenge himself on Thyreus, and in spite of his
character as ambassador he had him beaten with rods and sent him back
bleeding to his master. The anger of Antony proves that Cleopatra had
not listened with inattentive ears to the communications of Thyreus. A
woman readily believes this sort of declaration, especially when she
has been much beloved. It is true that Cleopatra was then thirty-seven
years old, but had she any less confidence in her ever-victorious
charms? It is also true that Octavius had never seen her, unless,
perhaps, thirteen years before, at Rome, after the death of Cæsar;
but did not the universal fame of her attractions suffice to inspire,
if not exactly love, at least a vague desire and an ardent and eager
curiosity? Cleopatra had loved Antony passionately, but this love
had been aroused, strengthened, and exalted as much by the glory and
power of the triumvir as by his manly beauty and strength. Now Antony
was conquered, a fugitive, betrayed by his friends, deserted by his
legions; himself hopeless and dispirited he seemed to bow to his fate.
His absurd retreat to the Timonion after the battle of Actium, while
she, seized with a feverish activity, was preparing everything for a
final effort, had inspired more scorn than pity in the heart of the
queen. Women neither understand nor can they forgive those perilous
moments of depression which at certain times overcome the bravest.
Little as was the love she still bore Antony, and anxious as she might
be about the revelations made by Thyreus, Cleopatra never thought for
a moment of having Antony slain, or of giving him up to Octavius; but
what, perhaps, she could not help hoping was, that Antony, his life
threatened in Alexandria, forsaken by his last legionaries, and having
no other than Egyptian troops of doubtful fidelity, would flee into
Numidia or Spain and thus deliver her from her embarrassments.

About the middle of the spring of 30 B. C. news reached Alexandria
that a Roman army had crossed the western frontier of Egypt. Antony
collected a few troops and marched to meet the enemy. A battle was
fought beneath the walls of the strong city of Prætonium, which was
already in the hands of the Romans. Antony, with his handful of men,
was repulsed. When he returned to Alexandria Octavius was within two
days’ march of the city. Whilst his lieutenant, Cornelius Gallus, was
penetrating into Egypt by Cyrenaica he himself had entered through
Syria and had taken Pelusium, after a real or feigned resistance,
in either case a very brief one. After the surrender of Pelusium,
the last of the Romans who had remained faithful to Antony cried out
treason, declaring that Seleucus had surrendered the city by the
orders of Cleopatra herself. Is it true that the queen had given such
instructions? It may be doubted; nevertheless, Cleopatra’s trouble
of mind and her secret hopes give a color to these suspicions. To
vindicate herself she gave up to Antony the wife and children of
Seleucus, and proposed that he should put them to death. This was but
a very doubtful proof of her innocence, but Antony had to be satisfied
with it. His anger subsided before her protestations and tears, true or
false; now was not the time for recriminations: he must fight. Octavius
had pitched his camp on the heights about twenty stadia east of
Alexandria. Antony, having led in person a strong reconnoitering body
of cavalry in that direction, fell in, not far from the Hippodrome,
with the whole body of the Roman cavalry. A furious battle was fought
in which, notwithstanding their great superiority of numbers, the
Romans were broken and utterly routed. Antony pursued them to their
entrenchments; then he returned to the city, strengthened by this
victory, of little importance indeed, but brilliant and of good augury.
He sprang from his horse before the palace, and, without taking time
to lay aside his armor, rushed, still wearing helmet and cuirass, and
covered with the blood and sweat of the fight, to embrace Cleopatra.
She, deceiving herself as to the importance of this skirmish, felt her
love and her hopes at the same time revive. She had again found her
Antony, her emperor, her god of war. She threw herself passionately on
his neck, wounding her breasts against his cuirass. At this moment of
sincere feeling she must have reproached herself grievously (if she
had committed it) with the treason of Pelusium; and the confidences
which she had accepted from the envoy of Octavius must have recurred to
her as a bitter remorse. Cleopatra desired to review the troops. She
made them a speech, and, having had the bravest of them pointed out to
her, she gave him a complete armor of solid gold.

Antony, restored to hope, no longer contemplated negotiating, and
the same day sent a herald to Octavius to invite him to decide their
quarrel by single combat in sight of the two armies. Octavius replied
disdainfully that there was more than one other way for Antony to seek
death. This speech, that marked so great assurance in his enemy, struck
Antony as a fatal omen. Suddenly, dashed from his chimerical hopes, he
felt his situation in all its gloomy reality. Resolved, nevertheless,
the next day to fight one last battle, he ordered a sumptuous feast.
“To-morrow,” said he, “it will, perhaps, be too late!” The supper was
sad as a funeral banquet; the few friends that were faithful to him
maintained a gloomy silence, some even wept. Antony, simulating a
confidence which he did not feel, said to them to revive their sinking
spirits: “Think not that to-morrow I shall only seek a glorious death;
I shall fight for life and victory.” At daybreak, while the troops
were taking up their position before the Roman camp, and the Egyptian
fleet, which was to support the action by attacking that of Octavius,
was doubling Cape Lochias, Antony posted himself on an eminence whence
he commanded both the plain and the sea. The Egyptian vessels advanced
in battle array against the Roman Liburnians, but, when within two
arrow-flights, the rowers raised high in air their long oars in salute.
The salute was returned by the Romans, and immediately the two fleets,
mingling and making now but one, sailed into the port together. Almost
at the same moment Antony sees his cavalry,—that cavalry which the day
previous had fought with such intrepidity,—move without orders and pass
over to Octavius. In the Roman lines the trumpets sounded the onset;
the legions dashed forward with their accustomed war-cry: “_Comminus!
Comminus!_” (Hand-to-hand!) The infantry of Antony did not wait the
shock—it broke and rushed towards the city, dragging their leader
in the midst of the rout. Antony, mad with rage, uttering threats
and curses, striking the fugitives indifferently with the blade and
the flat of his sword, re-entered Alexandria exclaiming that he was
betrayed by Cleopatra, given up by this woman to those with whom he had
fought solely for love of her.

Cleopatra had no longer the power either to betray or to save Antony;
for she, the “New Goddess,” the “Queen of Kings,” she, too, was
abandoned by her people, as he, the great captain, was deserted by his
army. Their cause was lost, who would be faithful to it? During the
preceding day and night, Octavius’s emissaries had worked upon the
legionaries and the Egyptians, promising to the former amnesty, to the
latter safety. The valiant soldier on whom Cleopatra the day before had
bestowed the golden suit of armor had not even waited for the morning
to pass into the Roman camp; that very night he had deserted! At the
sight of the fugitives rushing like a torrent into the city, Cleopatra
is overcome with terror. She is aware of the suspicions of Antony,
she knows his terrible fits of rage. Already she is familiar with the
idea of death, but she desires a more easy death, a death the sister
of sleep. She shudders and revolts at the thought of Antony’s sword;
she has a vision of hideous wounds in her person, her breast, perhaps
her face. As for attempting to calm his fury, she has neither strength
nor courage for that. Desperate, she quits the palace with Iras and
Charmion, and withdraws to her tomb, of which she has the door closed;
and, to prevent Antony’s attempting to force this refuge, she gives
orders to tell him she is no more.[14]

Antony, rushing like a madman about the deserted apartments of the
palace, learns the news. His anger dissolves in tears: “What more have
you to expect, Antony?” exclaimed he, “Fortune robs you of the only
blessing which made life dear.” He commands his freedman Eros to slay
him; then, unfastening his cuirass, he addresses this last adieu to
Cleopatra: “O, Cleopatra! I do not complain that thou art taken from
me, since in a moment I shall rejoin thee.” Eros, meanwhile, has drawn
his sword, but instead of striking Antony, he stabs himself. “Brave
Eros,” said Antony, seeing him fall dead at his feet, “you set me the
example!” and, thrusting the sword into his breast, he sinks fainting
upon a couch.

In a few minutes he recovers consciousness. He calls and entreats the
slaves, the soldiers, to put an end to him, but none dare to comply,
and he is left alone, howling and struggling on the couch. Meanwhile
the queen has been informed of the fact. Her grief is bitter and
profound—the more bitter that it is mingled with remorse. She must see
Antony again; she commands that he be brought, dead or alive. Diomedes,
her secretary, hastens to the palace. Antony is at the last gasp, but
the joy at hearing that the queen is not dead revives him, and “he
rises,” says Dion Cassius, “as if he might still live!” Slaves bear him
in their arms, and, to hasten their movements, he utters entreaties,
invectives, threats, which mingle with the death-rattle. They reach
the tomb; the queen leans from a window of the upper story; fearing
a surprise, she will not have the portcullis raised, but she throws
down some ropes, and commands them to be fastened round Antony. Then,
aided by Iras and Charmion, the only ones she has allowed to enter
the mausoleum, she begins to drag him up. “It was not easy,” says
Plutarch, “for women thus to lift a man of Antony’s size.” Never, say
those who witnessed it, was a sadder or more pitiful sight. Cleopatra,
with arms stiff and brow contracted, dragged painfully at the ropes,
whilst Antony, bleeding and dying, raised himself as much as possible,
extending towards her his dying hands.

At last he reached her, and they laid him on a bed, where she long
held him in a close embrace. Her grief spent itself in tears, in sobs,
in despairing kisses. She called him her husband, her master, her
emperor; she struck her breast, tore it with her nails, then again
casting herself upon him, she kissed his wound, wiping off on her face
the blood that flowed from it. Antony endeavored to calm and console
her, and entreated her to care for her own safety. Burning with fever,
he begged for a drink, and swallowed a cup of wine. Death was rapidly
approaching. Cleopatra renewed her lamentations. “Do not grieve,”
said he, “for this last misfortune; rather congratulate me for the
blessings I have enjoyed in my life, and the happiness that has been
mine in being the most powerful and illustrious of men; congratulate me
on this, that, being a Roman, none but a Roman has conquered me.” He
expired in the arms of Cleopatra, dying, as Shakspeare says, where he
had wished to live.

When Octavius heard of Antony’s death, he despatched Proculeius and
Gallus with orders to seize Cleopatra before she could have time to
kill herself. Their calls attracted the attention of the queen; she
descended and began to parley with them from behind the portcullis.
Deaf to the promises and protestations of the two Romans, Cleopatra
declared that she would only surrender if Octavius would agree by oath
to maintain her or her son on the throne of Egypt; otherwise Cæsar
should have but her dead body. Proculeius, espying the window which had
admitted Antony, left his companion to converse alone with the queen,
and, finding a ladder, placed it against the thick wall, and thus
entering the tomb, he descended the staircase within and sprang upon
Cleopatra. Charmion, turning at the noise, exclaimed: “Unhappy queen,
thou art taken alive!” Cleopatra snatched from her girdle a dagger
which for some time she had carried in order to kill herself, but
Proculeius seized her wrist and only allowed her to free herself after
being assured that she had no other weapon and no suspicious phial
about her. He then resumed the respectful attitude demanded by the rank
and misfortunes of the royal captive. He assured her she had nothing to
fear from Octavius. “O, Queen,” said he, “you are unjust towards Cæsar,
whom you would rob of the noblest opportunity of exercising clemency.”

Her treasures and her person in the power of the Romans, Cleopatra felt
herself without the means of defense. What availed it that Cæsar left
her her life, since henceforth she desired only to die? The only favor
she asked was to be allowed to pay funeral honors to Antony. Although
the same request had already been made by the captains of his army who
had served under Antony, Octavius, touched with compassion, granted the
prayer of the Egyptian. Cleopatra bathed the body of her lover, adorned
and armed it as for a last battle, then she laid it in the tomb which
she had built for herself and in which she had vainly sought death.
After the obsequies the queen was conducted, by order of Octavius, to
the palace of the Lagidæ. There she was treated with every attention,
but she was, so to speak, never lost sight of (a prisoner forever
watched).

The terrible emotions through which Cleopatra had passed, the intense
grief which overwhelmed her, above all the wounds she had inflicted on
herself during the death-struggle of Antony, brought on an inflammation
of the chest, attended by a burning fever. In this illness she saw the
hoped-for death, and to hasten her deliverance she refused for many
days all medical treatment and all food. Octavius was informed of this,
and he sent her word that she must have forgotten that he held her four
children as hostages, and that their lives should answer for hers. This
horrid threat overcame the resolution of Cleopatra, who then consented
to be properly cared for.

Octavius meanwhile felt he had cause for disquiet. What if the pride
of the queen overpowered her motherly instincts? what if the horror
of gracing as a captive his approaching triumph should decide her
to a self-inflicted death? Doubtless she was well guarded, but what
negligence or what treason might he not fear? Besides, though without
arms or poison, might she not induce the faithful Charmion to strangle
her? “Now Octavius,” so says Dion Cassius, “conceived that the death of
Cleopatra would have robbed him of his glory.” He resolved, therefore,
to see her. He knew he possessed sufficient self-control not to become
entangled, and believed himself sufficiently skillful to keep the queen
uncertain of the fate to which he destined her.

Cleopatra was no longer deceived as to the pretended sentiments of love
with which, according to Thyreus, she had inspired Octavius; of this
we are assured by Plutarch. Since the emperor’s arrival in Alexandria
he had not even expressed the intention of seeing her, and the harsh
treatment, the rigorous seclusion, and the savage threats which she
had to endure from him did not certainly indicate a man in love. Can
it be said, however, that the prospect of the unexpected visit of
Octavius aroused in Cleopatra, desperate as she was, no glimpse of
hope, no fugitive vision of a throne, no last enthusiasm? that from her
beautiful eyes shot no ray of half-seen triumph?

The queen, scarcely convalescent, was in bed when Octavius entered.
She sprang from the couch, though wearing only a tunic, and knelt
before him. At the sight of this woman, worn out by fever, emaciated,
dreadfully pale, with drawn features, eyes sunken and red with tears,
bearing on her face and breast the marks made by her own hands,
Octavius found it hard to believe that this was the enchantress that
had captivated Cæsar and enslaved Mark Antony; but had Cleopatra
been more beautiful than Venus he would not have been her lover.
Continence was not among his virtues, but he was too prudent and too
clever ever to sacrifice his interests to his passions. He urged the
queen to return to her couch, and seated himself near her. Cleopatra
began to vindicate herself, referring all that had passed to the force
of circumstances and the fear she felt of Antony. She often ceased
speaking, interrupted by her choking sobs; then, in the hope of moving
Octavius to pity (of seducing him, some say), she drew from her bosom
some of Cæsar’s letters, kissed them, and exclaimed: “Wouldst thou know
how thy father loved me, read these letters…. Oh! Cæsar! why did I
not die before thee!… but for me you live again in this man!” and
through her tears she essayed to smile at Octavius. Lamentable scene of
coquetry, which the wretched woman no longer could or knew how to play.

To her sighs, her moans, the emperor made no reply, even avoiding
looking at her and keeping his eyes fixed on the floor. He spoke only
to reply, one by one, to all the arguments by which the queen sought
to justify herself. Chilled by the impassibility of this man, who,
without being at all moved by her misfortunes and her sufferings, was
arguing with her like a schoolmaster, Cleopatra felt that she had
nothing to hope. Again death appeared as the only liberator. Then she
ceased her pleas, dried her tears, and, in order completely to deceive
Octavius, she pretended to be resigned to everything, provided her life
was spared. She handed him the list of her treasures, and entreated
him to permit her to retain certain jewels that she might present them
herself to Livia and Octavia in order to secure their protection. “Take
courage, O woman!” said the emperor as he left her. “Be hopeful; no
harm shall happen to you!”

Deceived by the pretended resignation of Cleopatra, Octavius no longer
doubted that he would be able to exhibit to the Roman rabble the
haughty queen of Egypt walking in chains before his triumphal car.
He had not heard, as he left her, the last word uttered by Cleopatra,
that word which, since the taking of Alexandria, she had incessantly
repeated: Οἰ θριαμβεúσομαι! “I will not contribute to his triumph.”[15]

A few days after this interview, an intimate companion of Octavius,
taking pity on such dire reverses, secretly revealed to Cleopatra that
the next day she would be embarked for Rome. She asked to be allowed
to go with her women to offer libations at the tomb of Antony. She was
borne thither in a litter, being still too weak to walk. After pouring
the wine and adjusting the crowns she kissed for the last time the
sepulchral stone, saying: “O, beloved Antony, if thy gods have any
power—for mine have betrayed me—do not abandon thy living wife. Do not
let thyself be triumphed over, by making her at Rome take part in a
disgraceful show. Hide me with thee under this earth of Egypt.”

On her return, Cleopatra went to the bath; her women arrayed her in her
most magnificent robes, dressed her hair with care, and adjusted her
royal crown. Cleopatra had ordered a splendid repast; her toilet ended,
she was placed at the table. A countryman entered, carrying a basket.
A soldier of the guard desiring to see the contents, the man opened it
and showed some figs; and, the guard exclaiming at the beauty of them,
he offered them some to taste. His good nature lulled all suspicion;
he was allowed to pass. Cleopatra received the basket, sent to Octavius
a letter she had written in the morning, and was then left alone with
Iras and Charmion. She opened the basket and separated the figs, hoping
to be stung unawares but the reptile was asleep. Cleopatra discovered
it beneath the figs. “There it is, then!” cried she, and began to rouse
it with a golden pin. The asp bit her on the arm.

Warned by the letter of Cleopatra, Octavius sent in haste to the
apartments. His officers found the guards at their post, ignorant of
what had occurred. They forced the door and beheld Cleopatra, clad in
her royal robes, lying lifeless on her golden couch, and at her feet
the corpse of Iras. Charmion was still alive; leaning over Cleopatra,
she was arranging with her dying hands the diadem around the head of
the queen. A soldier exclaimed in a voice of wrath: “Is this well done,
Charmion?” “Yes,” said the dying Charmion, “it is well done, and worthy
of a queen, the descendants of so many kings!”

Octavius put to death Cæsarion, the son of Cæsar and Cleopatra, but
he was merciful to the dead body of the queen. Granting the mournful
prayer she had made to him in her last letter, he permitted her to be
buried beside Antony. He also granted honorable burial to the faithful
slaves, Charmion and Iras, who had accompanied their mistress to the
world of shadows.

By her suicide, Cleopatra escaped contributing to the triumph of
Octavius,[16] but failing her person he had her effigy, and the
statue of Cleopatra with a serpent wound about her arm was borne in
the triumphal procession. Does it not seem that the statue of this
illustrious queen, who had subdued the greatest of the Romans, who had
made Rome tremble, and who preferred death to assisting at her own
humiliation, had by her death triumphed over her conqueror, and still
defied the senate and the people on the way to the Capitol?

We can easily conceive of Cleopatra as a great queen, the rival of the
mythic Semiramis, and the elder sister of the Zenobias, the Isabellas,
the Maria-Theresas, and the Catharines; but, in truth, only those
queens are great who possess manly virtues, who rule nations and compel
events as a great king might do. Cleopatra was too essentially a woman
to be reckoned among these glorious androgynuses. If for twenty years
she preserved her throne and maintained the independence of Egypt, it
was done by mere womanly means—intrigue, gallantry, grace, and weakness
which is also a grace. Her sole method of governing was, in reality,
by becoming the mistress of Cæsar and the mistress of Mark Antony.
It was the Roman sword that sustained the throne of the Lagidæ. When
by the fault of Cleopatra the weapon was broken, the throne tottered
and fell. Ambition, her only royal virtue, would have been limited to
the exercise of her hereditary government if circumstances had not
developed and exalted it.

Knowing herself weak, without genius and without mental force, she
reckoned wholly on her lovers for the accomplishment of her designs,
and it too often happened to this woman, fatal to others as to herself,
to retard the execution of these, dominated, as she ever was, by the
imperious desire of some entertainment or some pleasure. This queen
had the recklessness of the courtesan; women of gallantry might have
considered her their august and tragic ancestress. She only lived for
love, pomp, and magnificence; wherefore, when her lover was slain, her
beauty marred, her wealth lost, and her crown shattered, she found, to
face death, the masculine courage which had failed her in life.

No, Cleopatra was not a great queen. But for her connection with
Antony, she would be forgotten with Arsinoë or Berenice. If her renown
is immortal, it is because she is the heroine of the most dramatic
love-story of antiquity.

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