The assassination of Cæsar

After an existence of forty or fifty centuries, the empire of Egypt
was expiring under the “evil eye” of the Romans. The Greek dynasty,
which had given to the country a new strength and reviving brilliancy,
had exhausted itself in debauchery, crimes, and civil wars. It was now
sustained only by the good-will of Rome, whose fatal protection was
bought at a high price, and who still designed to tolerate, for a time,
at least, the independence of Egypt. Freed from nearly all military
service by the introduction of Hellenic and Gallic mercenaries the
Egyptians had lost their warlike habits. They had suffered so many
invasions and submitted to so many foreign dominations that all that
remained for patriotism was the religion of their ancestors. Little
mattered it to them, born servile and used to despotism, whether they
were governed by a Greek king or a Roman pro-consul—they would give not
an ear of corn less, nor receive a blow the more.

Her glory eclipsed and her power decayed, Egypt still possessed her
marvelous wealth. Agriculture, manufactures, and commerce poured into
Alexandria a triple wave of gold. Egypt had erewhile supplied Greece
and Asia Minor with corn; it remained the inexhaustible granery of the
Mediterranean basin. But the fertile valley of the Nile—“so fertile,”
says Herodotus, “that there was no need of the plough,” produced not
corn only. Barley, maize, flax, cotton, indigo, the papyrus, henna,
with which the women tinted their finger nails, clover sufficient for
countless herds of cattle and sheep, onions and radishes, supplied
to the laborers employed in building the great pyramid of Cheops to
the amount of eight millions of drachms, grapes, dates, figs, and
that delicious fruit of the lotus, which, according to Homer, “made
one forget his native land,” were other sources of wealth. Native
industry produced paper, furniture of wood, ivory, and metal; weapons,
carpets, mats, fabrics of linen, wool, and silk; cloths, embroidered
and painted; glazed pottery, glass-ware, vases of bronze and alabaster,
enamels, jewels of gold and settings of gems. Finally commerce, which
had its factories beyond the Aromatic Cape, which sent its caravans
across Arabia and the Lybian Desert, and whose countless ships ploughed
the seas from the Pillars of Hercules to the mouth of the Indus, had
made Alexandria the emporium of the three continents. Under Ptolemy
XI., the father of Cleopatra, the taxes, tithes, import and export
duties cast annually into the royal treasury twelve thousand five
hundred talents—sixty-eight millions of francs.

The capital of the Ptolemies, Alexandria, made Achilles Tatius exclaim,
“We are conquered,” and the probability is that he saw this city only
after the ruin of many of its fine edifices. But what at all times was
most striking to the stranger was less the number and magnificence
of the buildings than the noble order and symmetrical arrangement
of the city. Two great avenues, bordered with colonnades of marble
and crossing at right angles, traverse Alexandria—the longitudinal
avenue, more than thirty stadia (four thousand eight hundred meters)
in length, and thirty-five meters in width, ran from east to west,
beginning at the gate of the Necropolis and terminating at the Canopic
gate. The transverse avenue extended for a length of seventeen stadia,
from the southern enclosure to the great port. All the other streets
and avenues, alike paved with heavy blocks of stone and provided
with sidewalks, all crossing at right angles, met the two chief
thoroughfares. This regularity, this noble appearance, and endless
perspectives gave to Alexandria a character peculiar to itself. One
felt that, unlike other cities which grow by degrees, by successive
additions, Alexandria had been created at one stroke, on a fixed plan;
and in truth this city had, so to speak, risen from the sand at the
will of Alexander. It was Alexander who determined the position of the
city; it was Alexander who had given it the form of the Macedonian
chlamys; it was Alexander who, with his architect Dinarchus, had
traced this network of streets and avenues, marked out the dykes to
be raised for the new port, and appointed the sites for the principal
edifices. Afterwards the Ptolemies adorned the city; they built
innumerable monuments, created wonderful gardens; populous suburbs
arose, both east and west; but as a whole Alexandria remained as it was
conceived by Alexander.

It was from the Paneum, an artificial elevation in the heart of
the city thirty-five meters in height, that a complete panorama of
Alexandria could be seen. On the south, thousands of houses and private
palaces stretched away to the circumference which, owing to the
perspective, seemed to bathe in the shining waters of Lake Maratis.
Humble cottages, rough-coated with lime, pierced irregularly with
little windows, having wooden gratings, and terraced roofs surrounded
by ventilators, serving as sleeping-places in the hot summer nights,
alternated with vast residences rising amidst courts and gardens,
concealing from the view of the outside world by lofty walls, turreted
like ramparts, their white façades and sculptured porticos with rows
of painted columns and cornices decorated with many colored bands. The
grand Serapium overlooked this whole portion. This colossal edifice was
reached by a winding staircase of a hundred steps; columns of syenite
of the Corinthian order, thirty-two meters in height, supported the
cupola.

Looking towards the sea the view embraced the northern portions, the
old port and the new separated from each other by a gigantic mole seven
stadia in extent which united the island of Pharos with the city. At
the eastern extremity of this island rose the lighthouse, an immense
octagon tower of two stories, one hundred and eleven meters in height,
and built wholly of white marble. Around the vast port, from Cape
Lochias to the Heptastadium, extended a noble line of piers along which
arose palaces and temples. Edifices of pure Greek style stood side
by side with Egyptian buildings and other magnificent ones in which
both styles of architecture had combined their elements, relieving the
utter plainness of Semitic art by ornaments of the Hellenic order,
alternating Corinthian columns with campaniform, and uniting the
acanthus leaf with the papyrus flower. Perspectives of cloisters ended
in apses of marble exedræ; at the extremity of long avenues of sphinxes
gigantic pylons raised their pyramidal masses, where painted on white
screens filed on processions of figures, and the entablature of which
bore the emblematic disk with the great wings unfolded. Here a Greek
temple presented a pediment sculptured in Parian marble; there an
Egyptian temple, vast, squat, mysterious, showed its granite mass whose
quadrangular pillars bore on the four faces of their cubic capitals
the head of the god Hathor. On terraces covered with beds of roses,
and shaded by sycamores, mimosas, and palms, rose palaces surrounded
by porticos supported by columns of lotus form, alleys of pylons,
pavilions in the form of conic towers, open kiosks, tribunes supported
by caryatides. In the squares, at the junction of the streets, before
the great edifices arose sculptured heads of Mercury, Osirian colossi,
statues of the Greek gods, altars, heroums, dominated at intervals by
lofty obelisks and tall masts fixed in the ground whose many colored
flags fluttered in the breeze.

Among these endless monuments would first be noticed, at the extremity
of the cape, the temple of Isis Lochias, and a noble royal villa; then
before the Closed Port of the Kings the shipyards and the arsenal
buildings. There began the Bruchium. Enclosed by lofty walls and
hanging gardens the Bruchium was a city within the city—the City of the
Ptolemies. Each of the Lagidæ had built a palace, erected a temple,
opened gushing fountains, planted groves of acacias and sycamores,
created ponds where bloomed water-lilies, and the blue lotus flower.
Strabo applied to the monuments of the Bruchium the line of the
Odyssey: “One produces the other.” Near the various palaces of the
kings and their vast appurtenances arose the temple of Chronos, the
temple of Isis Pelusia, the lesser Serapium, the temple of Poseidon
[Neptune], the gymnasium with its porticos of a stadium in extent, the
theater, the covered gallery, the library containing seven hundred
thousand volumes.

Finally the Soma, the immense mausoleum in which Alexander’s body
rested in a coffin of solid gold, afterwards replaced by one of glass.
One other edifice of the Bruchium attracted the eye by its vast
proportions and its epistyle crowned by a dome. It was the celebrated
museum of Alexandria, at once a school, a monastery, and an academy.

Grammarians, poets, philosophers, and astronomers lived there together
at the expense of the Ptolemies, and it was maliciously called the
Cage of the Muses,—a splendid cage, however, in which sang Theocritus,
Callimachus, Apollonius, and whence arose the noble voice of the
Alexandrian philosophy.

Beyond the temple of Poseidon the quays inflected in a broken line
towards the southwest. There also edifice succeeded to edifice—the
exchange, the temple of Bendis, the temple of Arsinoë, and the immense
Apostasia in which was gathered the merchandise of the whole world.
Beyond the Heptastadium was the old port with its great shipbuilding
yards, and farther to the west, outside the walls, the suburb of the
Necropolis, the funeral quarter of the embalmers.

Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city. Whilst the cities of Upper Egypt
and Heptanomis had preserved the national character, in the Delta the
Hellenic civilization had been grafted on the Egyptian, or rather they
went side by side. The laws and decrees were written in both languages;
the priesthood, the government, the police, the tribunals, the whole
administration belonged equally to both; the army was composed of Greek
and Gallic mercenaries, of Cilician robbers, of fugitive Roman slaves.
In Alexandria, where for more than two centuries unnumbered colonies
had settled, the native race dwelt together in the ancient Egyptian
city of Rhakotis, but they composed at the most only one-third of the
population. The Jews, who inhabited a distinct quarter where they had
their ethnarch and their Sanhedrim, were in the proportion of one to
three. From the Pharos to the Serapium, from the gate of the Necropolis
to the Canopic gate were seen as many foreigners as Egyptians. They
composed a noisy and variegated crowd of Greeks, Jews, Syrians,
Italians, Arabs, Illyrians, Persians, and Phenicians. In the streets
and on the wharves every language was spoken, in the temples every god
was worshiped. Into this Babel each race brought its own passions. The
population of Alexandria, which amounted to three hundred and twenty
thousand exclusive of the slaves, was as turbulent as that of the other
Egyptian cities was tranquil and resigned, and during the reigns of the
latter Lagidæ the Alexandrian populace always seconded the revolutions
of the palace, hoping under new sovereigns to find more liberty and
less taxes.

Ptolemy XI. (Auletes) died in July, 51 B. C. He left four children.
By his will he appointed to succeed him on the throne his eldest
daughter Cleopatra and his eldest son Ptolemy, and according to the
custom of Egypt the brother was to marry the sister. At her father’s
death Cleopatra was sixteen and Ptolemy thirteen years old. The
tutor of young Ptolemy, the eunuch Pothinus, was an ambitious man,
and, being complete master of the mind of his pupil, he calculated
to rule Egypt under the new reign; but he soon found that Cleopatra
would permit neither him nor Ptolemy to govern the kingdom. Proud and
headstrong, Cleopatra was likewise skillful, intelligent, and very
learned; she spoke eight or ten languages, among them Egyptian, Greek,
Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac. How is it possible to think that
this woman, so haughty and so gifted, would abandon her share of the
sovereignty in favor of a child governed by a eunuch? Either she would
get rid of her brother, or if she consented to live with the young
king she would soon acquire an absolute supremacy over him. Pothinus
realized this, and he devoted all his energies to accomplish the ruin
of the queen. He began by provoking jealousies among the ministers
and the high officers of the crown; then, when the dissension between
the partisans of the king and those of Cleopatra was at its height he
aroused the people of Alexandria against the young queen. He accused
her of desiring to reign alone, even should she have to call in the
armed intervention of the Romans. He declared that she had made this
plan in conjunction with the eldest son of the great Pompey, Cn.
Pompey, who, on his way through Alexandria in 49, had then become
her lover. The riot reached even to the gates of the palace, and
the connivance of Pothinus and the young king could not escape the
perspicacity of Cleopatra. She quitted Alexandria, accompanied by a
few faithful attendants. The fugitive, however, did not regard herself
as vanquished; she would not so easily renounce that crown which she
had already worn for three years. It was soon known that Cleopatra had
raised an army on the confines of Egypt and Arabia, and that she was
marching on Pelusium. The young king collected his forces and advanced
to meet her.

The brother and sister, the husband and wife, were face to face with
their armies in the neighborhood of Pelusium when the illustrious
victim of Pharsalia came to seek an asylum in Egypt. Pompey supposed
he might reckon on the gratitude of the children of Ptolemy Auletes,
for it was at his instigation that seven years previously Gabienus,
pro-consul of Syria, had replaced that king on his throne. It is true
that after the battle of Pharsalia Pompey was helpless and Cæsar
all-powerful, and in assisting a fugitive from whom nothing more could
be hoped for, the anger of Cæsar might be provoked. Pothinus and the
other ministers of the young king did not hesitate; they welcomed
Pompey; but it was to murder him as soon as he set foot on Egyptian
territory. His head, embalmed with the learned art of the Egyptians,
was presented to Cæsar when the latter, who was pursuing Pompey, landed
at Alexandria. Cæsar turned his eyes from the ghastly trophy, and
warmly reproached Pothinus and Achillas with their crime. Doubtless the
two wretches cared but little for his reproaches; they considered that
they had done Cæsar a great service in ridding him of his most powerful
adversary, and they knew enough of mankind to understand that, Pompey
being dead, it was easy for Cæsar to be magnanimous.

Cæsar soon learned the contentions of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, the
flight of the latter in consequence of the threats of the populace,
and the battle about to take place between the two armies assembled
at Pelusium. It had always been the Roman policy to intermeddle in
the private dissensions of nations. This policy of intervention was
still more in order for Cæsar with regard to Egypt, because during
his first consulate Ptolemy Auletes had been declared the ally of
Rome, and in his will had conjured the Roman people to have his last
wishes executed. Another motive, which he does not mention in his
“Commentaries,” induced Cæsar to intermeddle in the affairs of Egypt.
With little expense he had made himself the creditor of the late king,
and he had to call upon the heirs for a large amount. This was no less
than seven millions fifty thousand sesterces which remained due of the
thirty-three thousand talents which Ptolemy had promised to pay Cæsar
and Pompey if by the assistance of the Romans he should recover his
crown.

Pothinus, however, thought he had done enough for Cæsar in offering
him the head of Pompey. He urged him, therefore, to reëmbark and to go
whither he was called by much more important matters than the disputes
of Ptolemy and Cleopatra: to Pontus, whence Pharnaces was driving his
lieutenant Domitius, to Rome where Cœlius was exciting the plebeians.
To the claims of Cæsar, he replied that the treasury was empty; to his
offers of arbitration between the heirs of Ptolemy, he objected that
it was not proper for a foreigner to interfere in this quarrel, that
such an interference would rouse all Egypt. In support of his words,
he reminded him that the people of Alexandria, regarding the fasces
borne before Cæsar as an outrage on the royal dignity, were enraged
at it; that daily new riots arose, that every night Roman soldiers
were assassinated, that the Alexandrian population was very numerous,
and that the army of Cæsar (numbering only three thousand two hundred
legionaries and eight hundred cavalry) was very small.

But his refusals, his counsels, his implied menaces availed nought
against the will of Cæsar. His prayers exhausted, he commands. Pothinus
is ordered formally to invite in his name Ptolemy and Cleopatra to
disband their armies and to present themselves before his consular
tribunal to settle their differences. The eunuch was forced to yield,
but, as cunning as Cæsar was persistent, he hoped to turn this
intervention, which he at first dreaded, to secure the success of
his designs. With this purpose he sent to Cleopatra Cæsar’s command
to disband her troops, but without telling her she was expected at
Alexandria, and he wrote to Ptolemy to repair at once to Cæsar but
still to keep his soldiers under arms. Pothinus calculated by these
means to free himself from Cleopatra’s army and to secure to the young
king the favor of Cæsar, since Ptolemy alone of the two heirs of
Auletes summoned by the consul paid due attention to his invitation.
A few days after, Ptolemy actually arrived in Alexandria. He offered
to Cæsar the warmest protestations of friendship, in which he was
joined by Pothinus, Achillas, and the other ministers; he explained
the disputes between himself and Cleopatra, laying all the blame on
her. Cæsar, however, was not so easily duped. Pothinus had supposed
that the absence of Cleopatra would irritate Cæsar against her, but
Cæsar could not believe that the young queen had, through contempt,
declined his invitation to repair to Alexandria. He thought it more
probable that some machination of Pothinus had prevented her coming. In
order to satisfy himself of this he secretly despatched a messenger to
Cleopatra, whom he knew to be still at Pelusium.

The queen was waiting impatiently for news from Cæsar. On the receipt
of his first message, but partially transmitted by Pothinus, she had
hastened to disband her army. She already felt full confidence in the
favor of the great leader who was called “the husband of all women,”
but she knew that she must see Cæsar, or rather that Cæsar must see
her. But the days passed and the invitation to Alexandria did not
arrive. Finally the second message reached her, and she learned that
Cæsar had already sent for her to go to him, but that Pothinus had
taken measures to prevent her knowing it. The thing was plain enough;
her enemies were not willing that she should have an interview with
Cæsar, and now that their trick was discovered they would employ force;
no doubt they were on their guard and laid their plans accordingly.
If Cleopatra sought to reach Alexandria by land she would be taken by
the outposts of the Egyptian army encamped before Pelusium; by sea,
her royal trireme could not escape the vessels of Ptolemy cruising
about the entrance to the port. Even should she succeed in reaching
Alexandria she would run the risk of being torn to pieces by the
populace, incited by Pothinus. Even in the king’s palace, where Cæsar
resided as the guest of Ptolemy, that is to say with an Egyptian guard
of honor, she might be seized and slain by the sentinels.

Cleopatra, abandoning the idea of entering Alexandria with the
trappings of a queen, bethought herself of a plan to do so not merely
under a disguise, but as a bale of goods. Accompanied by a single
devoted attendant, Apollodorus, the Sicilian, she embarked from near
Pelusium in a decked bark which, in the middle of the night, entered
the port of Alexandria. They landed at a pier before one of the lesser
gates of the palace. Cleopatra enveloped herself in a great sack of
coarse cloth of many colors, such as were used by travelers to pack up
mats and mattresses, and Apollodorus bound it round with a strap, then
taking the sack upon his shoulders, entered the gate of the palace,
went straight to the apartments of Cæsar, and laid his precious burden
at his feet.

Aphrodite rose radiant from the sea: Cleopatra less pretendingly from
a sack; but Cæsar was none the less moved at the surprise and ravished
with the apparition. Cleopatra, who was then nineteen, was in the
flower of her marvelous and seductive beauty. Dion Cassius calls the
queen of Egypt the most beautiful of women, but Plutarch finds one
epithet insufficient to depict her, and expresses himself thus: “There
was nothing so incomparable in her beauty as to compel admiration;
but by the charm of her physiognomy, the grace of her whole person,
the fascination of her presence, Cleopatra left a sting in the soul.”
This is her veritable portrait. Cleopatra did not possess supreme
beauty, she possessed supreme seductiveness. As Victor Hugo said of a
celebrated theatrical character, “She is not pretty, she is worse,”
which suggestive expression may well apply to Cleopatra. Plutarch
adds, and his testimony is confirmed by Dion, that Cleopatra spoke
in a melodious voice and with infinite sweetness. This information
is valuable in a psychological point of view. Certes, this charm of
voice, divine gift so rarely bestowed, this pure and winning caress,
this ever new delight was not one of the least attractions of the Siren
of the Nile.

This first interview between Cæsar and Cleopatra probably extended
far into the night. It is certain that, with the earliest dawn, Cæsar
sent for Ptolemy, and told him he must be reconciled to his sister and
associate her in the government. “In one night,” says Dion Cassius,
“Cæsar had become the advocate of her of whom he had erewhile thought
himself the judge.” Ptolemy was resisting the thinly disguised commands
of the consul, when Cleopatra appearing, the young king, mad with rage,
cast his crown at the feet of Cæsar and rushed from the palace uttering
the cry: “Treason! treason! to arms!” The mob, excited by his cries,
rose and marched on the palace. Cæsar feeling himself too weak to
resist (he had but a handful of legionaries about him) ascended one of
the terraces and harangued the multitude from a distance. He succeeded
in restoring a calm by his promises of satisfying the Egyptians in
their demands. Just at this time his legionaries arrived from the camp,
surrounded the young prince, separated him from his partisans, and
with every mark of respect reinstated him willy-nilly in the palace
where he might serve as a hostage for Cæsar. The next day the people
were assembled in the public square, and Cæsar, accompanied by Ptolemy
and Cleopatra, went thither in great state with his escort of lictors.
Every Roman was under arms, ready to suppress the first symptom of
sedition. Cæsar read aloud the testament of Ptolemy Auletes, and
declared solemnly in the name of the Roman people that he would insist
on carrying out the last will of the late king. By this the two elder
of his children were to reign conjointly over Egypt. As for the other
two children of the king, he, Cæsar, made them a gift of the island of
Cyprus, and handed over to them the sovereignty of it.

This scene overawed the Egyptians; nevertheless, Cæsar, fearing an
insurrection, hastened to summon to Alexandria the new legions which
he had formed in Asia Minor of the wrecks of Pompey’s army. But long
before these reënforcements could reach him, the Egyptian army from
Pelusium, on secret orders from Pothinus, entered the city to drive out
the Romans. At the same time, Arsinoë, the young sister of Cleopatra,
assisted by the eunuch Ganymede, made her escape from the palace,
and in default of Ptolemy, still Cæsar’s prisoner, was received with
acclamations both by the army and people as the daughter of the Lagidæ.
This army, commanded by Achillas, amounted to eighteen thousand foot
and two thousand horse, and the people of Alexandria made with it
common cause against the foreigner.

Cæsar had but four thousand soldiers and the crews of his triremes. He
was in extreme peril; occupying with this handful of men the palaces of
the Bruchium, he was attacked from the city by the troops of Achillas
and the armed populace, and his fleet, which was at anchor in the
greater harbor, was virtually captive, since the enemy held the passes
of Taurus and Heptastadium. He even feared that this inactive fleet
might fall into the hands of the Alexandrians, who would have made use
of it to intercept his supplies of men and munitions. Cæsar averted
this danger by setting fire to his vessels. The immense conflagration
reached the quays and destroyed many houses and edifices, among others
the arsenal, the library, and the grain emporium. The Egyptians,
exasperated, rushed to the attack, but the legionaries, as good diggers
as brave soldiers, had transformed the Bruchium into an impregnable
entrenched camp. On all sides were embankments, barricades, lines of
earthworks; the theater had become a citadel. The Romans sustained
twenty assaults without losing an inch of ground. Cæsar even succeeded
in seizing the island of Pharos, which gave him the command of the
great harbor.

The Egyptians imagined that victory would be theirs if, instead
of a woman, they could have Ptolemy to lead them. They therefore
sent word to Cæsar that they made war on him only because he kept
their king a prisoner, and that as soon as he should be restored
to liberty hostilities would cease. Cæsar, who knew the fickleness
of the Alexandrians, yielded—he gave them back Ptolemy. As for his
accustomed counsellor Pothinus, Cæsar had intercepted letters from him
to Achillas, and had delivered him over to the lictors. No sooner had
Ptolemy rejoined the Egyptian army than the war, far from ceasing,
was renewed with increased vigor. Just then the first reënforcement,
the thirty-seventh legion, reached Cæsar by sea. The war was carried
on without any decided advantage till the beginning of the spring
of 47 B. C. Then it was learned that Pelusium had been taken by
assault by an army that was coming to the relief of Cæsar; it was a
body of auxiliaries from Syria, led by Mithridates of Pergamos. The
Egyptians, fearing to be shut in between two enemies if they remained
in Alexandria to await the coming of Mithridates, marched to meet him.
The first battle, which was indecisive, took place near Memphis; but,
a few days later, Cæsar, who had also quitted Alexandria, succeeded
in joining the troops of Mithridates and a second battle was fought.
The Egyptians were broken and cut to pieces, and King Ptolemy drowned
himself in the Nile. Cæsar returned with his victorious army to
Alexandria, now humbled; the turbulent populace of the great city,
henceforth, knowing the power of the Roman steel, received the consul
with loud acclaims. Thus ended the War of Alexandria, which should
rather be styled the _War of Cleopatra_, since this war, adding nothing
to Cæsar’s fame, injurious to his interests, useless to his country,
and to which he nearly sacrificed both his life and his glory, had been
maintained by him for the love of Cleopatra.

Eighteen years previous to these events, Cæsar, being ædile, had
endeavored to have voted by a plebiscit the execution of the will of
Alexander II., who had bequeathed Egypt to the Roman people. Now, Egypt
was subjugated and Cæsar had but to say the word for this vast and
rich country to become a Roman province. But in the year 63 Cleopatra
was only just born; in the year 65 Cæsar had not felt the bite of the
“Serpent of the Nile,” as Shakspeare calls her—the consul took good
care not to remember the propositions of the ædile. The first act of
Cæsar on reëntering Alexandria was solemnly to recognize Cleopatra as
Queen of Egypt. In order, however, to humor the ideas of the Egyptians
he determined that she should espouse her second brother, Ptolemy
Neoteras, and share the sovereignty with him. As, however, Dion
remarks, this union and this sharing were equally visionary; the young
prince, who was only fifteen, could be neither king nor even husband to
the queen; apparently Cleopatra was the wife of her brother, and his
partner on the throne; in reality she reigned solely, and continued the
mistress of Cæsar.

During the eight months of the Alexandrian struggle Cæsar, shut up in
the palace, had scarcely quitted Cleopatra, except for the fight, and
this long honeymoon had seemed short to him. He loved the beautiful
queen as fondly, and perhaps more so, than in the early days, and he
could not resolve to leave her. In vain the gravest interests called
him to Rome, where disorder reigned and blood was flowing, and where,
since the December of the preceding year, not a letter had been
received from him;[1] in vain, in Asia, Pharnaces, the conquerer of
the royal allies of Rome and of the legions of Domitius, has seized
on Pontus, Cappadocia, and Armenia; in vain, in Africa, Cato and
the last adherents of Pompey have concentrated at Utica an immense
army—fourteen legions, ten thousand Numidian horsemen, and one hundred
and twenty elephants of war; in vain, in Spain, all minds are excited
and revolt is brewing. Duty, interest, ambition, danger—Cæsar forgets
everything in the arms of Cleopatra. Truly he is preparing to leave
Alexandria, but it is to accompany the beautiful queen on a pleasure
excursion up the Nile. By the orders of Cleopatra, one of those immense
flat-bottomed pleasure vessels has been prepared, such as were used by
the Lagidæ for sailing on the river, and called thalamegos (pleasure
pinnace). It was a veritable floating palace, half a stadium long and
forty cubits high above the water-line. The stories rose one above
the other, surrounded by porticos and open galleries, and surmounted
by belvederes sheltered from the sun by purple awnings. Within were
numerous apartments, furnished with every convenience and every
luxurious refinement of Greco-Egyptian civilization, vast saloons
surrounded by colonnades, a banqueting-hall provided with thirteen
couches, with a ceiling arched like a grotto, and sparkling with a
rock-work of jasper, lapis lazuli, cornelian, alabaster, amethyst,
aquamarine, and topaz. The vessel was built of cedar and cypress, the
sails were of byssus, the ropes were dyed purple. Throughout, carved
by skillful hands, were the opening chalices of the lotus, wound the
volutes of the acanthus, twined garlands of bean-leaves and flowers of
the date palm. On all sides shone facings of marble, of thyia, ivory,
onyx, capitals and architraves of bronze. Mimes, acrobats, troops of
dancing-girls, and flutists were on board to cheer the austere solitude
of the Thebaīd with the diversions and luxuries of Alexandria.

Cæsar and Cleopatra anticipate with rapture this voyage of
enchantments; they will carry their young loves amid the old cities of
Egypt, along the “Golden Nile,” which they will ascend as far as the
mysterious land of Ethiopia. But on the very eve of their departure the
legionaries become indignant, they murmur, they rebel; their officers
cry aloud to the consul, and Cæsar returns to reason. For an instant
he contemplates carrying Cleopatra away with him to Rome, but that
project must be deferred. It is in Armenia that the danger is most
pressing; it is to Armenia that he will first repair. He leaves two
legions with Cleopatra—a faithful and formidable guard, which will
secure the tranquility of Alexandria, and sets sail for Antioch.

During the campaigns of Cæsar in Armenia and Africa (from July, 47, to
June, 46, B. C.) Cleopatra remained in Alexandria, where a few months
after the departure of the dictator she gave birth to a son. She named
him Ptolemy-Cæsarion, thus proclaiming her intimate relations with
Cæsar, which, however, were no secret to the Alexandrians.

When Cæsar, the army of Cato under Thapsus being crushed, was about
to return to Rome, he wrote to Cleopatra to meet him there. Probably
she arrived there about midsummer of the year 46, at the period of
the celebration of Cæsar’s four triumphs. In the second, the triumph
of Egypt, Cleopatra must have beheld, at the head of the train of
captives, her sister Arsinoë, who at the breaking out of the war of
Alexandria had joined her enemies. The queen had brought with her her
son Cæsarion, her pseudo-husband the young Ptolemy, and a numerous
train of courtiers and officers. Cæsar gave up his superb villa on the
right bank of the Tiber as a residence for Cleopatra and her court.

Officially, if we may thus use this very new word to express a very
old thing, Cleopatra was well received in Rome. She was the queen of
a great country, the ally of the Republic, and she was the guest of
Cæsar, then all-powerful; but, beneath the homage offered, lurked
contempt and hatred. Not that Roman society took offence at her
intrigue with Cæsar; for more than half a century, republican Rome
had strangely changed its chaste morals and severe principles. Public
morality, private morality,—were utterly transformed. Electors sold
their votes, and the elected made use of their offices to re-imburse
themselves for their election expenses and to provide means for
their reëlection; they sold alliances, prevaricated, plundered, took
ransoms, having an understanding with the publicans (tax-gatherers) to
grind down the provinces. In the latter times of the Republic in Rome
politics became the school of crime; the theater, where, contrary to
the custom of the Greeks, women might take part in the comedies and in
the obscene games of the mimes and mountebanks, became the school of
debauchery. The favorite poet is the licentious Catullus; the mold of
fashion, and at the same time the pupil, client, and friend of Cicero
is Cœlius, a man of unscrupulous ambition and unbridled libertinism.
Assassination became a means of government, poison a way to an
inheritance. From the time of the proscriptions of Sylla, the hold on
life seemed very precarious; one must make the most of it. “Let us
live and love,” says Catullus. “Suns may set and rise again, but we,
when our brief day is ended, must sleep a night that has no morrow.”
The time was past when the Roman matron lived quietly at home and spun
with her maidens. She sought adventures, plotted, gave or sold herself.
Greek libertinism and Oriental voluptuousness had reached Rome and been
transformed into a gross sensuality. The multiplicity of divorces
“annihilated the sacredness of the family”; the love of luxury,
ambition, and extravagant passions ruined its honor, and the noblest
of the patrician ladies were the foremost in this race of debauchery.
Among them were Valeria, the sister of Hortensius; Sempronia, wife of
Junius Brutus; Claudia, wife of Lucullus, and the other Claudia, wife
of Quintus Metellus Celer. Again there was Junia, the wife of Lepidus;
Posthumia, the wife of Sulpicius; Lollia, the wife of Gabinius;
Tertullia, the wife of Crassus; Mucia, the wife of the great Pompey;
Servilia, the mother of Brutus, and many others.

In so dissolute and adulterous a city, it could shock no one that Cæsar
should be false to his wife with one mistress or even with several;
but in the midst of her debaucheries, and even though Rome had lost
many of her ancient virtues, she still preserved the pride of the
Roman name. These conquerors of the world looked upon other nations as
of servile race and inferior humanity. Little did they care for the
transient loves of Cæsar and Ennoah, queen of Mauritania, nor would
they have cared any more had Cleopatra served merely to beguile his
leisure during the war of Alexandria; but in bringing this woman to
the seven-hilled city, in publicly acknowledging her as his mistress,
in forcing on all the spectacle of a Roman citizen, five times consul
and thrice dictator, as the lover of an Egyptian woman, Cæsar seemed,
according to the ideas of the time, to insult all Rome. As Merivale
justly observes: “If one can imagine the effect that would have been
produced in the fifteenth century by the marriage of a peer of England
or of a grandee of Spain with a Jewess some idea may be formed of
the impression made on the Roman people by the intrigue of Cæsar and
Cleopatra.”

Cæsar had received supreme power and had been deified. He was
created dictator for ten years, and in the city his statue bore this
inscription: “Cæsari semideo”—To Cæsar the demigod. He might believe
himself sufficiently powerful to despise Roman prejudices; for the
rest, during the last two years of his life, Cæsar, till then so
prudent, so cautious in humoring the sentiments of the plebeians, so
skillful in using them for his own designs, pretended in his public
life to despise and brave public opinion. It was the same in his
private life; far from dismissing Cleopatra, he visited her more
frequently than ever at the villa on the Tiber, talked incessantly of
the queen, and allowed her publicly to call her son Cæsarion.

He went further still; he erected in the temple of Venus the golden
statue of Cleopatra, thus adding to the insult to the Roman people the
outrage to the Roman gods. It was not enough that Cæsar for love of
Cleopatra had not reduced Egypt to a Roman province; not enough that
he had installed this foreigner in Rome, in his villa on the banks of
the Tiber, and that he lavished on her every mark of honor and every
testimony of love;—now he dedicated, in the temple of a national
divinity, the statue of this prostitute of Alexandria, this barbarous
queen of the land of magicians, of thaumaturgy [wonder-working], of
eunuchs, of servile dwellers by the Nile, these worshipers of stuffed
birds and gods with the heads of beasts. Men asked each other where
the infatuation of Cæsar would end. It was reported that the dictator
was preparing to propose, by the tribune Helvius Cinna, a law which
would permit him to espouse as many wives as he desired in order to
beget children by them. It was said that he was about to recognize
the son of Cleopatra as his heir, and still further, that after
having exhausted Italy in levies of men and money he would leave the
government of Rome in the hands of his creatures and transfer the seat
of empire to Alexandria. These rumors aroused all minds against Cæsar,
and, if we may credit Dion, tended _to arm his assassins against him_
(to furnish the dagger to slay him).[2] Notwithstanding this hostility,
Cleopatra was not deserted in the villa on the Tiber. To please
the divine Julius, to approach him more intimately, the Cæsarians
controlled their antipathy and frequently visited the beautiful
queen. To this court of Egypt transported to the banks of the Tiber
came Mark Antony, Dolabella, Lepidus, then general-of-horse; Oppius
Curio, Cornelius Balbus, Helvius Cinna, Matius, the prætor Vendidius,
Trebonius, and others. Side by side with the partisans of Cæsar were
also some of his secret enemies, such as Atticus, a celebrated silver
merchant with great interests in Egypt, and others whom he had won
over, like Cicero. The latter while making his peace with Cæsar did
not forget his master-passion, love of books and of curiosities. An
insatiable collector, he thought to enrich his library at Tusculum
without loosing his purse-strings, and requested Cleopatra to send
for him to Alexandria, where such treasures abounded, for a few Greek
manuscripts and Egyptian antiquities. The queen promised willingly, and
one of her officers, Aumonius, who, formerly an ambassador of Ptolemy
Auletes to Rome, had there known Cicero, undertook the commission; but
whether through forgetfulness or negligence the promised gifts came
not, and Cicero preserved so deep an enmity to the queen in consequence
that he afterwards wrote to Atticus, “I hate the queen (odi reginam),”
giving as his only reason for this aversion the failure of the royal
promise. The former consul had also received an affront from Sarapion,
one of Cleopatra’s officers. This man had gone to his house, and
when Cicero asked him what he wished he had replied rudely: “I seek
Atticus,” and at once departed. How often does the ill-conduct of upper
servants create a prejudice against the great.

The assassination of Cæsar, which struck Cleopatra like a thunderbolt,
would have been the destruction of all her hopes if one could lose hope
at twenty-five. Cæsar dead, there was nothing to detain her in Rome,
and she did not feel safe in this hostile city amid the bloody scenes
of the parricidal days. She prepared to depart, but Antony having
entertained for a moment the weak desire of opposing to Octavius as
Cæsar’s heir the little Cæsarion, Cleopatra remained in Rome until
the middle of April. When the queen perceived that this project was
finally abandoned, she hastened to depart from the city where she had
experienced so much contempt and which she quitted with rage in her
heart.