When Caesar was assassinated, she was still at Rome, and had some wild hopes of having her son recognized by the Caesareans.
Continuing Cleopatra, Caesar and Antony,
our selection from The Empire of the Ptolemies by John P. Mahaffy published in 1895. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Cleopatra, Caesar and Antony
Time: 51-30 BC
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 entrée 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.
To be continued.
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