Plato admits four sorts of flattery, but Cleopatra had a thousand.
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
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 it 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 continents.”
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 Arsinoë, 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 Arsinoë. The artist had probably never seen the Queen, and if he had, it would not have produced the slightest alteration in his drawing.
To be continued.
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