Some of the amusements and pleasures which Antony and Cleopatra pursued were innocent in themselves, though wholly unworthy to be made the serious business of life by personages on whom such exalted duties rightfully devolved. They made various excursions upon the Nile, and arranged parties of pleasure to go out on the water in the harbor, and to various rural retreats in the environs of the city. Once they went out on a fishing-party, in boats, in the port. Antony was unsuccessful; and feeling chagrined that Cleopatra should witness his ill-luck, he made a secret arrangement with some of the fishermen to dive down, where they could do so unobserved, and fasten fishes to his hook under the water. By this plan he caught very large and fine fish very fast. Cleopatra, however, was too wary to be easily deceived by such a stratagem as this. She observed the maneuver, but pretended not to observe it; she expressed, on the other hand, the greatest surprise and delight at Antony's good luck, and the extraordinary skill which it indicated.
The next day she wished to go a fishing again, and a party was accordingly made as on the day before. She had, however, secretly instructed another fisherman to procure a dried and salted fish from the market, and, watching his opportunity, to get down into the water under the boats and attach it to the hook, before Antony's divers could get there. This plan succeeded, and Antony, in the midst of a large and gay party that were looking on, pulled out an excellent fish, cured and dried, such as was known to every one as an imported article, bought in the market. It was a fish of a kind that was brought originally from Asia Minor. The boats and the water all around them resounded with the shouts of merriment and laughter which this incident occasioned.
In the mean time, while Antony was thus spending his time in low and ignoble pursuits and in guilty pleasures at Alexandria, his wife Fulvia, after exhausting all other means of inducing her husband to return to her, became desperate, and took measures for fomenting an open war, which she thought would compel him to return. The extraordinary energy, influence, and talent which Fulvia possessed, enabled her to do this in an effectual manner. She organized an army, formed a camp, placed herself at the head of the troops, and sent such tidings to Antony of the dangers which threatened his cause as greatly alarmed him. At the same time news came of great disasters in Asia Minor, and of alarming insurrections among the provinces which had been committed to his charge there. Antony saw that he must arouse himself from the spell which had enchanted him and break away from Cleopatra, or that he would be wholly and irretrievably ruined. He made, accordingly, a desperate effort to get free. He bade the queen farewell, embarked hastily in a fleet of galleys, and sailed away to Tyre, leaving Cleopatra in her palace, vexed, disappointed, and chagrined.
THE BATTLE OF ACTIUM.
Perplexity of Antony.—His meeting with Fulvia.—Meeting of Antony and Fulvia.—Reconciliation of Antony and Octavius.—Octavia.—Her marriage to Antony.—Octavia's influence over her husband and her brother.—Octavia pleads for Antony.—Difficulties settled.—Antony tired of his wife.—He goes to Egypt.—Antony again with Cleopatra.—Effect on his character.—The march to Sidon.—Suffering of the troops.—Arrival of Cleopatra.—She brings supplies for the army.—Octavia intercedes for Antony.—She brings him re-enforcements. —Cleopatra's alarm.—Her arts.—Cleopatra's secret agents.—Their representations to Antony.—Cleopatra's success.—Antony's message to Octavia.—Devotion of Octavia.—Indignation against Antony.—Measures of Antony.—Accusations against him.—Antony's preparations.—Assistance of Cleopatra.—Canidius bribed.—His advice in regard to Cleopatra.—The fleet at Samos.—Antony's infatuation.—Riot and revelry.—Antony and Cleopatra at Athens.—Ostentation of Cleopatra.—Honors bestowed on her.—Baseness of Antony.—Approach of Octavius.—Antony's will.—Charges against him.—Antony's neglect of his duties.—Meeting of the fleets. —Opinions of the council.—Cleopatra's wishes.—Battle of Actium.—Flight of Cleopatra.—Antony follows Cleopatra.—He gains her galley.—Antony pursued.—A severe conflict.—The avenger of a father.—Antony's anguish—Antony and Cleopatra shun each other.—Arrival at Tsenarus.—Antony and Cleopatra fly together to Egypt.
Cleopatra, in parting with Antony as described in the last chapter, lost him for two or three years. During this time Antony himself was involved in a great variety of difficulties and dangers, and passed through many eventful scenes, which, however, can not here be described in detail. His life, during this period, was full of vicissitude and excitement, and was spent probably in alternations of remorse for the past and anxiety for the future. On landing at Tyre, he was at first extremely perplexed whether to go to Asia Minor or to Rome. His presence was imperiously demanded in both places. The war which Fulvia had fomented was caused, in part, by the rivalry of Octavius, and the collision of his interests with those of her husband. Antony was very angry with her for having managed his affairs in such a way as to bring about a war. After a time Antony and Fulvia met at Athens. Fulvia had retreated to that city, and was very seriously sick there, either from bodily disease, or from the influence of long-continued anxiety, vexation, and distress. They had a stormy meeting. Neither party was disposed to exercise any mercy toward the other. Antony left his wife rudely and roughly, after loading her with reproaches. A short time afterward, she sank down in sorrow to the grave.
The death of Fulvia was an event which proved to be of advantage to Antony. It opened the way to a reconciliation between him and Octavius. Fulvia had been extremely active in opposing Octavius's designs, and in organizing plans for resisting him. He felt, therefore, a special hostility against her, and, through her, against Antony. Now, however, that she was dead, the way seemed to be in some sense opened for a reconciliation.
Octavius had a sister, Octavia, who had been the wife of a Roman general named Marcellus. She was a very beautiful and a very accomplished woman, and of a spirit very different from that of Fulvia. She was gentle, affectionate, and kind, a lover of peace and harmony, and not at all disposed, like Fulvia, to assert and maintain her influence over others by an overbearing and violent demeanor. Octavia's husband died about this time, and, in the course of the movements and negotiations between Antony and Octavius, the plan was proposed of a marriage between Antony and Octavia, which, it was thought, would ratify and confirm the reconciliation. This proposal was finally agreed upon, Antony was glad to find so easy a mode of settling his difficulties. The people of Rome, too, and the authorities there, knowing that the peace of the world depended upon the terms on which these two men stood with regard to each other, were extremely desirous that this arrangement should be carried into effect. There was a law of the commonwealth forbidding the marriage of a widow within a specified period after the death of her husband. That period had not, in Octavia's case, yet expired. There was, however, so strong a desire that no obstacle should be allowed to prevent this proposed union, or even to occasion delay, that the law was altered expressly for this case, and Antony and Octavia were married. The empire was divided between Octavius and Antony, Octavius receiving the western portion as his share, while the eastern was assigned to Antony.
It is not probable that Antony felt any very strong affection for his new wife, beautiful and gentle as she was. A man, in fact, who had led such a life as his had been, must have become by this time incapable of any strong and pure attachment. He, however, was pleased with the novelty of his acquisition, and seemed to forget for a time the loss of Cleopatra. He remained with Octavia a year. After that he went away on certain military enterprises which kept him some time from her. He returned again, and again he went away. All this time Octavia's influence over him and over her brother was of the most salutary and excellent character. She soothed their animosities, quieted their suspicions and jealousies, and at one time, when they were on the brink of open war, she effected a reconciliation between them by the most courageous and energetic, and at the same time, gentle and unassuming efforts. At the time of this danger she was with her husband in Greece; but she persuaded him to send her to her brother at Rome, saying that she was confident that she could arrange a settlement of the difficulties impending. Antony allowed her to go. She proceeded to Rome, and procured an interview with her brother in the presence of his two principal officers of state. Here she pleaded her husband's cause with tears in her eyes; she defended his conduct, explained what seemed to be against him, and entreated her brother not to take such a course as should cast her down from being the happiest of women to being the most miserable. "Consider the circumstances of my case," said she. "The eyes of the world are upon me. Of the two most powerful men in the world, I am the wife of one and the sister of another. If you allow rash counsels to go on and war to ensue, I am hopelessly ruined; for, whichever is conquered, my husband or my brother, my own happiness will be for ever gone."
Octavius sincerely loved his sister, and he was so far softened by her entreaties that he consented to appoint an interview with Antony in order to see if their difficulties could be settled. This interview was accordingly held. The two generals came to a river, where, at the opposite banks, each embarked in a boat, and, being rowed out toward each other, they met in the middle of the stream. A conference ensued, at which all the questions at issue were, for a time at least, very happily arranged.
Antony, however, after a time, began to become tired of his wife, and to sigh for Cleopatra once more. He left Octavia at Rome and proceeded to the eastward, under pretense of attending to the affairs of that portion of the empire; but, instead of doing this, he went to Alexandria, and there renewed again his former intimacy with the Egyptian queen.
Octavius was very indignant at this. His former hostility to Antony, which had been in a measure appeased by the kind influence of Octavia, now broke forth anew, and was heightened by the feeling of resentment naturally awakened by his sister's wrongs Public sentiment in Rome, too, was setting very strongly against Antony. Lampoons were written, against him to ridicule him and Cleopatra, and the most decided censures were passed upon his conduct. Octavia was universally beloved, and the sympathy which was every where felt for her increased and heightened very much the popular indignation which was felt against the man who could wrong so deeply such sweetness, and gentleness, and affectionate fidelity as hers.
After remaining for some time in Alexandria, and renewing his connection and intimacy with Cleopatra, Antony went away again, crossing the sea into Asia, with the intention of prosecuting certain military undertakings there which imperiously demanded his attention. His plan was to return as soon as possible to Egypt after the object of his expedition should be accomplished. He found, however, that he could not bear even a temporary absence from Cleopatra. His mind dwelled so much upon her, and upon the pleasures which he had enjoyed with her in Egypt, and he longed so much to see her again, that he was wholly unfit for the discharge of his duties in the camp. He became timid, inefficient, and remiss, and almost every thing that he undertook ended disastrously. The army, who understood perfectly well the reason of their commander's remissness and consequent ill fortune, were extremely indignant at his conduct, and the camp was filled with suppressed murmurs and complaints. Antony, however, like other persons in his situation, was blind to all these indications of dissatisfaction; probably he would have disregarded them if he had observed them. At length, finding that he could bear his absence from his mistress no longer, he set out to march across the country, in the depth of the winter, to the sea-shore, to a point where he had sent for Cleopatra to come to join him. The army endured incredible hardships and exposures in this march. When Antony had once commenced the journey, he was so impatient to get forward that he compelled his troops to advance with a rapidity greater than their strength would bear. They were, besides, not provided with proper tents or with proper supplies of provisions. They were often obliged, therefore, after a long and fatiguing march during the day, to bivouac at night in the open air among the mountains, with scanty means of appeasing their hunger, and very little shelter from the cold rain, or from the storms of driving snow. Eight thousand men died on this march, from cold, fatigue, and exposure; a greater sacrifice, perhaps, than had ever been made before to the mere ardor and impatience of a lover.
When Antony reached the shore, he advanced to a certain sea-port, near Sidon, where Cleopatra was to land. At the time of his arrival but a very small part of his army was left, and the few men that survived were in a miserably destitute condition. Antony's eagerness to see Cleopatra became more and more excited as the time drew nigh. She did not come so soon as he had expected, and during the delay he seemed to pine away under the influence of love and sorrow. He was silent, absent-minded, and sad. He had no thoughts for any thing but the coming of Cleopatra, and felt no interest in any other plans. He watched for her incessantly, and would sometimes leave his place at the table, in the midst of the supper, and go down alone to the shore, where he would stand gazing out upon the sea, and saying mournfully to himself, "Why does not she come?" The animosity and the ridicule which these things awakened against him, on the part of the army, were extreme; but he was so utterly infatuated that he disregarded all the manifestations of public sentiment around him, and continued to allow his mind to be wholly engrossed with the single idea of Cleopatra's coming.
She arrived at last. She brought a great supply of clothes and other necessaries for the use of Antony's army, so that her coming not only gratified his love, but afforded him, also, a very essential relief, in respect to the military difficulties in which he was involved.
After some time spent in the enjoyment of the pleasure which being thus reunited to Cleopatra afforded him, Antony began again to think of the affairs of his government, which every month more and more imperiously demanded his attention. He began to receive urgent calls from various quarters, rousing him to action. In the mean time, Octavia—who had been all this while waiting in distress and anxiety at Rome, hearing continually the most gloomy accounts of her husband's affairs, and the most humiliating tidings in respect to his infatuated devotion to Cleopatra—resolved to make one more effort to save him. She interceded with her brother to allow her to raise troops and to collect supplies, and then proceed to the eastward to re-enforce him. Octavius consented to this. He, in fact, assisted Octavia in making her preparations. It is said, however, that he was influenced in this plan by his confident belief that this noble attempt of his sister to reclaim her husband would fail, and that, by the failure of it, Antony would be put in the wrong, in the estimation of the Roman people, more absolutely and hopelessly than ever, and that the way would thus be prepared for his complete and final destruction.
Octavia was rejoiced to obtain her brother's aid to her undertaking, whatever the motive might be which induced him to afford it. She accordingly levied a considerable body of troops, raised a large sum of money, provided clothes, and tents, and military stores for the army; and when all was ready, she left Italy and put to sea, having previously dispatched a messenger to her husband to inform him that she was coming.
Cleopatra began now to be afraid that she was to lose Antony again, and she at once began to resort to the usual artifices employed in such cases, in order to retain her power over him. She said nothing, but assumed the appearance of one pining under the influence of some secret suffering or sorrow. She contrived to be often surprised in tears. In such cases she would hastily brush her tears away, and assume a countenance of smiles and good humor, as if making every effort to be happy, though really oppressed with a heavy burden of anxiety and grief. When Antony was near her she would seem overjoyed at his presence, and gaze upon him with an expression of the most devoted fondness. When absent from him, she spent her time alone, always silent and dejected, and often in tears; and she took care that the secret sorrows and sufferings that she endured should be duly made known to Antony, and that he should understand that they were all occasioned by her love for him, and by the danger which she apprehended that he was about to leave her.
The friends and secret agents of Cleopatra, who reported these things to Antony, made, moreover, direct representations to him, for the purpose of inclining his mind in her favor. They had, in fact, the astonishing audacity to argue that Cleopatra's claims upon Antony for a continuance of his love were paramount to those of Octavia. She, that is, Octavia, had been his wife, they said, only for a very short time. Cleopatra had been most devotedly attached to him for many years. Octavia was married to him, they alleged, not under the impulse of love, but from political considerations alone, to please her brother, and to ratify and confirm a political league made with him. Cleopatra, on the other hand, had given herself up to him in the most absolute and unconditional manner, under the influence solely of a personal affection which she could not control. She had surrendered and sacrificed every thing to him. For him she had lost her good name, alienated the affections of her subjects, made herself the object of reproach and censure to all mankind, and now she had left her native land to come and join him in his adverse fortunes. Considering how much she had done, and suffered, and sacrificed for his sake, it would be extreme and unjustifiable cruelty in him to forsake her now. She never would survive such an abandonment. Her whole soul was so wrapped up in him, that she would pine away and die if he were now to forsake her.
Antony was distressed and agitated beyond measure by the entanglements in which he found that he was involved. His duty, his inclination perhaps, certainly his ambition, and every dictate of prudence and policy required that he should break away from these snares at once and go to meet Octavia. But the spell that bound him was too mighty to be dissolved. He yielded to Cleopatra's sorrows and tears. He dispatched a messenger to Octavia, who had by this time reached Athens, in Greece, directing her not to come any farther. Octavia, who seemed incapable of resentment or anger against her husband, sent back to ask what she should do with the troops, and money, and the military stores which she was bringing. Antony directed her to leave them in Greece. Octavia did so, and mournfully returned to her home.
As soon as she arrived at Rome, Octavius, her brother, whose indignation was now thoroughly aroused at the baseness of Antony, sent to his sister to say that she must leave Antony's house and come to him. A proper self-respect, he said, forbade her remaining any longer under the roof of such a man. Octavia replied that she would not leave her husband's house. That house was her post of duty, whatever her husband might do, and there she would remain. She accordingly retired within the precincts of her old home, and devoted herself in patient and uncomplaining sorrow to the care of the family and the children. Among these children was one young son of Antony's, born during his marriage with her predecessor Fulvia. In the mean time, while Octavia was thus faithfully though mournfully fulfilling her duties as wife and mother, in her husband's house at Rome, Antony himself had gone with Cleopatra to Alexandria, and was abandoning himself once more to a life of guilty pleasure there. The greatness of mind which this beautiful and devoted wife thus displayed, attracted the admiration of all mankind. It produced, however, one other effect, which Octavia must have greatly deprecated. It aroused a strong and universal feeling of indignation against the unworthy object toward whom this extraordinary magnanimity was displayed.
In the mean time, Antony gave himself up wholly to Cleopatra's influence and control, and managed all the affairs of the Roman empire in the East in the way best fitted to promote her aggrandizement and honor. He made Alexandria his capital, celebrated triumphs there, arranged ostentatious expeditions into Asia and Syria with Cleopatra and her train, gave her whole provinces as presents, and exalted her two sons, Alexander and Ptolemy, children born during the period of his first acquaintance with her, to positions of the highest rank and station, as his own acknowledged sons. The consequences of these and similar measures at Rome were fatal to Antony's character and standing. Octavius reported every thing to the Roman Senate and people, and made Antony's misgovernment and his various misdemeanors the ground of the heaviest accusations against him. Antony, hearing of these things, sent his agents to Rome and made accusations against Octavius; but these counter accusations were of no avail. Public sentiment was very strong and decided against him at the capital, and Octavius began to prepare for war.
Antony perceived that he must prepare to defend himself. Cleopatra entered into the plans which he formed for this purpose with great ardor. Antony began to levy troops, and collect and equip galleys and ships of war, and to make requisitions of money and military stores from all the eastern provinces and kingdoms. Cleopatra put all the resources of Egypt at his disposal. She furnished him with immense sums of money, and with an inexhaustible supply of corn, which she procured for this purpose from her dominions in the valley of the Nile. The various divisions of the immense armament which was thus provided for were ordered to rendezvous at Ephesus, where Antony and Cleopatra were awaiting to receive them, having proceeded there when their arrangements in Egypt were completed, and they were ready to commence the campaign.
When all was ready for the expedition to set sail from Ephesus, it was Antony's judgment that it would be best for Cleopatra to return to Egypt, and leave him to go forth with the fleet to meet Octavius alone. Cleopatra was, however, determined not to go away. She did not dare to leave Antony at all to himself, for fear that in some way or other a peace would be effected between himself and Octavius, which would result in his returning to Octavia and abandoning her. She accordingly contrived to persuade Antony to retain her with him, by bribing his chief counselor to advise him to do so. His counselor's name was Canidius. Canidius, having received Cleopatra's money, while yet he pretended to be wholly disinterested in his advice, represented to Antony that it would not be reasonable to send Cleopatra away, and deprive her of all participation in the glory of the war, when she was defraying so large a part of the expense of it. Besides, a large portion of the army consisted of Egyptian troops, who would feel discouraged and disheartened if Cleopatra were to leave them, and would probably act far less efficiently in the conflict than they would do if animated by the presence of their queen. Then, moreover, such a woman as Cleopatra was not to be considered, as many women would be, an embarrassment and a source of care to a military expedition which she might join, but a very efficient counselor and aid to it. She was, he said, a very sagacious, energetic, and powerful queen, accustomed to the command of armies and to the management of affairs of state, and her aid in the conduct of the expedition might be expected to conduce very materially to its success.
Antony was easily won by such persuasions as these, and it was at length decided that Cleopatra should accompany him.
Antony then ordered the fleet to move forward to the island of Samos. Here it was brought to anchor and remained for some time, waiting for the coming in of new re-enforcements, and for the completion of the other arrangements. Antony, as if becoming more and more infatuated as he approached the brink of his ruin, spent his time while the expedition remained at Samos, not in maturing his plans and perfecting his arrangements for the tremendous conflict which was approaching, but in festivities, games, revelings, and every species of riot and dissolute excess. This, however, is not surprising. Men almost always, when in a situation analogous to his, fly to similar means of protecting themselves, in some small degree, from the pangs of remorse, and from the forebodings which stand ready to terrify and torment them at every instant in which these gloomy specters are not driven away by intoxication and revelry. At least Antony found it so. Accordingly, an immense company of players, tumblers, fools, jesters, and mountebanks were ordered to assemble at Samos, and to devote themselves with all zeal to the amusement of Antony's court. The island was one universal scene of riot and revelry. People were astonished at such celebrations and displays, wholly unsuitable, as they considered them, to the occasion. If such are the rejoicings, said they, which Antony celebrates before going into the battle, what festivities will he contrive on his return, joyous enough to express his pleasure if he shall gain the victory?
After a time, Antony and Cleopatra, with a magnificent train of attendants, left Samos, and, passing across the Aegean Sea, landed in Greece, and advanced to Athens, while the fleet, proceeding westward from Samos, passed around Taenarus, the southern promontory of Greece, and then moved northward along the western coast of the peninsula. Cleopatra wished to go to Athens for a special reason. It was there that Octavia had stopped on her journey toward her husband with re-enforcements and aid; and while she was there, the people of Athens, pitying her sad condition, and admiring the noble spirit of mind which she displayed in her misfortunes, had paid her great attention, and during her stay among them had bestowed upon her many honors. Cleopatra now wished to go to the same place, and to triumph over her rival there, by making so great a display of her wealth and magnificence, and of her ascendency over the mind of Antony, as should entirely transcend and outshine the more unassuming pretensions of Octavia. She was not willing, it seems, to leave to the unhappy wife whom she had so cruelly wronged even the possession of a place in the hearts of the people of this foreign city, but must go and enviously strive to efface the impression which injured innocence had made, by an ostentatious exhibition of the triumphant prosperity of her own shameless wickedness. She succeeded well in her plans. The people of Athens were amazed and bewildered at the immense magnificence that Cleopatra exhibited before them. She distributed vast sums of money among the people. The city, in return, decreed to her the most exalted honors. They sent a solemn embassy to her to present her with these decrees. Antony himself, in the character of a citizen of Athens, was one of the embassadors. Cleopatra received the deputation at her palace. The reception was attended with the most splendid and imposing ceremonies.
One would have supposed that Cleopatra's cruel and unnatural hostility to Octavia might now have been satisfied; but it was not. Antony, while he was at Athens, and doubtless at Cleopatra's instigation, sent a messenger to Rome with a notice of divorcement to Octavia, and with an order that she should leave his house. Octavia obeyed. She went forth from her home, taking the children with her, and bitterly lamenting her cruel destiny.
In the mean time, while all these events had been transpiring in the East, Octavius had been making his preparations for the coming crisis, and was now advancing with a powerful fleet across the sea. He was armed with authority from the Roman Senate and people, for he had obtained from them a decree deposing Antony from his power. The charges made against him all related to misdemeanors and offenses arising out of his connection with Cleopatra. Octavius contrived to get possession of a will which Antony had written before leaving Rome, and which he had placed there in what he supposed a very sacred place of deposit. The custodians who had it in charge replied to Octavius, when he demanded it, that they would not give it to him, but if he wished to take it they would not hinder him. Octavius then took the will, and read it to the Roman Senate. It provided, among other things, that at his death, if his death should happen at Rome, his body should be sent to Alexandria to be given to Cleopatra; and it evinced in other ways a degree of subserviency and devotedness to the Egyptian queen which was considered wholly unworthy of a Roman chief magistrate. Antony was accused, too, of having plundered cities and provinces, to make presents to Cleopatra; of having sent a library of two hundred thousand volumes to her from Pergamus, to replace the one which Julius Caesar had accidentally burned; of having raised her sons, ignoble as their birth was, to high places of trust and power in the Roman government, and of having in many ways compromised the dignity of a Roman officer by his unworthy conduct in reference to her. He used, for example, when presiding at a judicial tribunal, to receive love-letters sent him from Cleopatra, and then at once turn off his attention from the proceedings going forward before him to read the letters.
[Footnote 1: These letters, in accordance with the scale of expense and extravagance on which Cleopatra determined that every thing relating to herself and Antony should be done, were engraved on tablets made of onyx, or crystal, or other hard and precious stones.]
Sometimes he did this when sitting in the chair of state, giving audience to embassadors and princes. Cleopatra probably sent these letters in at such times under the influence of a wanton disposition to show her power. At one time, as Octavius said in his arguments before the Roman Senate, Antony was hearing a cause of the greatest importance, and during a time in the progress of the cause when one of the principal orators of the city was addressing him, Cleopatra came passing by, when Antony suddenly arose, and, leaving the court without any ceremony, ran out to follow her. These and a thousand similar tales exhibited Antony in so odious a light, that his friends forsook his cause, and his enemies gained a complete triumph. The decree was passed against him, and Octavius was authorized to carry it into effect; and accordingly, while Antony, with his fleet and army, was moving westward from Samos and the Aegean Sea, Octavius was coming eastward and southward down the Adriatic to meet him.
In process of time, after various maneuvers and delays, the two armaments came into the vicinity of each other at a place called Actium, which will be found upon the map on the western coast of Epirus, north of Greece. Both of the commanders had powerful fleets at sea, and both had great armies upon the land. Antony was strongest in land troops, but his fleet was inferior to that of Octavius, and he was himself inclined to remain on the land and fight the principal battle there. But Cleopatra would not consent to this. She urged him to give Octavius battle at sea. The motive which induced her to do this has been supposed to be her wish to provide a more sure way of escape in case of an unfavorable issue to the conflict. She thought that in her galleys she could make sail at once across the sea to Alexandria in case of defeat, whereas she knew not what would become of her if beaten at the head of an army on the land. The ablest counselors and chief officers in the army urged Antony very strongly not to trust himself to the sea. To all their arguments and remonstrances, however, Antony turned a deaf ear. Cleopatra must be allowed to have her way. On the morning of the battle, when the ships were drawn up in array, Cleopatra held the command of a division of fifty or sixty Egyptian vessels, which were all completely manned, and well equipped with masts and sails. She took good care to have every thing in perfect order for flight, in case flight should prove to be necessary. With these ships she took a station in reserve, and for a time remained there a quiet witness of the battle. The ships of Octavius advanced to the attack of those of Antony, and the men fought from deck to deck with spears, boarding-pikes, flaming darts, and every other destructive missile which the military art had then devised. Antony's ships had to contend against great disadvantages. They were not only outnumbered by those of Octavius, but were far surpassed by them in the efficiency with which they were manned and armed. Still, it was a very obstinate conflict. Cleopatra, however, did not wait to see how it was to be finally decided. As Antony's forces did not immediately gain the victory, she soon began to yield to her fears in respect to the result, and, finally, fell into a panic and resolved to fly. She ordered the oars to be manned and the sails to be hoisted, and then forcing her way through a portion of the fleet that was engaged in the contest, and throwing the vessels into confusion as she passed, she succeeded in getting to sea, and then pressed on, under full sail, down the coast to the southward. Antony, as soon as he perceived that she was going, abandoning every other thought, and impelled by his insane devotedness to her, hastily called up a galley of five banks of oarsmen to pull with all their force after Cleopatra's flying squadron.
Cleopatra, looking back from the deck of her vessel, saw this swift galley pressing on toward her. She raised a signal at the stern of the vessel which she was in, that Antony might know for which of the fifty flying ships he was to steer. Guided by the signal, Antony came up to the vessel, and the sailors hoisted him up the side and helped him in. Cleopatra had, however, disappeared. Overcome with shame and confusion, she did not dare, it seems, to meet the look of the wretched victim of her arts whom she had now irretrievably ruined. Antony did not seek her. He did not speak a word. He went forward to the prow of the ship, and, throwing himself down there alone, pressed his head between his hands, and seemed stunned and stupefied, and utterly overwhelmed with horror and despair.
He was, however, soon aroused from his stupor by an alarm raised on board his galley that they were pursued. He rose from his seat, seized a spear, and, on ascending to the quarter-deck, saw that there were a number of small light boats, full of men and of arms, coming up behind them, and gaining rapidly upon his galley. Antony, now free for a moment from his enchantress's sway, and acting under the impulse of his own indomitable boldness and decision, instead of urging the oarsmen to press forward more rapidly in order to make good their escape, ordered the helm to be put about, and thus, turning the galley around, he faced his pursuers, and drove his ship into the midst of them. A violent conflict ensued, the din and confusion of which was increased by the shocks and collisions between the boats and the galley. In the end, the boats were beaten off, all excepting one: that one kept still hovering near, and the commander of it, who stood upon the deck, poising his spear with an aim at Antony, and seeking eagerly an opportunity to throw it, seemed by his attitude and the expression of his countenance to be animated by some peculiarly bitter feeling of hostility and hate. Antony asked him who he was, that dared so fiercely to threaten him. The man replied by giving his name, and saying that he came to avenge the death of his father. It proved that he was the son of a man whom Antony had at a previous time, on some account or other, caused to be beheaded.
There followed an obstinate contest between Antony and this fierce assailant, in the end of which the latter was beaten off. The boats then, having succeeded in making some prizes from Antony's fleet, though they had failed in capturing Antony himself, gave up the pursuit and returned. Antony then went back to his place, sat down in the prow, buried his face in his hands, and sank into the same condition of hopeless distress and anguish as before.
When husband and wife are overwhelmed with misfortune and suffering, each instinctively seeks a refuge in the sympathy and support of the other. It is, however, far otherwise with such connections as that of Antony and Cleopatra. Conscience, which remains calm and quiet in prosperity and sunshine, rises up with sudden and unexpected violence as soon as the hour of calamity comes; and thus, instead of mutual comfort and help, each finds in the thoughts of the other only the means of adding the horrors of remorse to the anguish of disappointment and despair. So extreme was Antony's distress, that for three days he and Cleopatra neither saw nor spoke to each other. She was overwhelmed with confusion and chagrin, and he was in such a condition of mental excitement that she did not dare to approach him. In a word, reason seemed to have wholly lost its sway—his mind, in the alternations of his insanity, rising sometimes to fearful excitement, in paroxysms of uncontrollable rage, and then sinking again for a time into the stupor of despair.
In the mean time, the ships were passing down as rapidly as possible on the western coast of Greece. When they reached Taenarus, the southern promontory of the peninsula, it was necessary to pause and consider what was to be done. Cleopatra's women went to Antony and attempted to quiet and calm him. They brought him food. They persuaded him to see Cleopatra. A great number of merchant ships from the ports along the coast gathered around Antony's little fleet and offered their services. His cause, they said, was by no means desperate. The army on the land had not been beaten. It was not even certain that his fleet had been conquered. They endeavored thus to revive the ruined commander's sinking courage, and to urge him to make a new effort to retrieve his fortunes. But all was in vain. Antony was sunk in a hopeless despondency. Cleopatra was determined on going to Egypt, and he must go too. He distributed what treasure remained at his disposal among his immediate followers and friends, and gave them advice about the means of concealing themselves until they could make peace with Octavius. Then, giving up all as lost, he followed Cleopatra across the sea to Alexandria.
THE END OF CLEOPATRA.
Infatuation of Antony.—His early character—Powerful influence of Cleopatra over Antony,—Indignation at Antony's conduct.—Plans of Cleopatra.—Antony becomes a misanthrope.—His hut on the island of Pharos—Antony's reconciliation with Cleopatra.—Scenes of revelry.—Cleopatra makes a collection of poisons.—Her experiments with them.—Antony's suspicions.—Cleopatra's stratagem.—The bite of the asp.—Cleopatra's tomb.—Progress of Octavius.—Proposal of Antony.—Octavius at Pelusium.—Cleopatra's treasures.—Fears of Octavius.—He arrives at Alexandria.—The sally.—The unfaithful captain.—Disaffection of Antony's men.—Desertion of the fleet.—False rumor of Cleopatra's death.—Antony's despair.—Eros.—Antony's attempt to kill himself.—Antony taken to Cleopatra.—She refuses to open the door.—Antony taken in at the window.—Cleopatra's grief.—Death of Antony.—Cleopatra made prisoner.—Treatment of Cleopatra.—Octavius takes possession of Alexandria.—Antony's funeral.—Cleopatra's wretched condition.—Cleopatra's wounds and bruises.—She resolves to starve herself.—Threats of Octavius.—Their effect.—Octavius visits Cleopatra.—Her wretched condition.—The false inventory.—Cleopatra in a rage.—Octavius deceived.—Cleopatra's determination.—Cleopatra visits Antony's tomb.—Her composure on her return.—Cleopatra's supper.—The basket of figs.—Cleopatra's letter to Octavius.—She is found dead.—Death of Charmion.—Amazement of the by-standers.—Various conjectures as to the cause of Cleopatra's death.—Opinion of Octavius.—His triumph.
The case of Mark Antony affords one of the most extraordinary examples of the power of unlawful love to lead its deluded and infatuated victim into the very jaws of open and recognized destruction that history records. Cases similar in character occur by thousands in common life; but Antony's, though perhaps not more striking in itself than a great multitude of others have been, is the most conspicuous instance that has ever been held up to the observation of mankind.
In early life, Antony was remarkable, as we have already seen, for a certain savage ruggedness of character, and for a stern and indomitable recklessness of will, so great that it seemed impossible that any thing human should be able to tame him. He was under the control, too, of an ambition so lofty and aspiring that it appeared to know no bounds; and yet we find him taken possession of, in the very midst of his career, and in the height of his prosperity and success, by a woman, and so subdued by her arts and fascinations as to yield himself wholly to her guidance, and allow himself to be led about by her entirely at her will. She displaces whatever there might have been that was noble and generous in his heart, and substitutes therefor her own principles of malice and cruelty. She extinguishes all the fires of his ambition, originally so magnificent in its aims that the world seemed hardly large enough to afford it scope, and instead of this lofty passion, fills his soul with a love of the lowest, vilest, and most ignoble pleasures. She leads him to betray every public trust, to alienate from himself all the affections of his countrymen, to repel most cruelly the kindness and devotedness of a beautiful and faithful wife, and, finally to expel this wife and all of his own legitimate family from his house; and now, at last, she conducts him away in a most cowardly and ignoble flight from the field of his duty as a soldier—he knowing, all the time, that she is hurrying him to disgrace and destruction, and yet utterly without power to break from the control of his invisible chains.
The indignation which Antony's base abandonment of his fleet and army at the battle of Actium excited, over all that part of the empire which had been under his command, was extreme. There was not the slightest possible excuse for such a flight. His army, in which his greatest strength lay, remained unharmed, and even his fleet was not defeated. The ships continued the combat until night, notwithstanding the betrayal of their cause by their commander. They were at length, however, subdued. The army, also, being discouraged, and losing all motive for resistance, yielded too. In a very short time the whole country went over to Octavius's side.
In the mean time, Cleopatra and Antony, on their first return to Egypt, were completely beside themselves with terror. Cleopatra formed a plan for having all the treasures that she could save, and a certain number of galleys sufficient for the transportation of these treasures and a small company of friends, carried across the isthmus of Suez and launched upon the Red Sea, in order that she might escape in that direction, and find some remote hiding-place and safe retreat on the shores of Arabia or India, beyond the reach of Octavius's dreaded power. She actually commenced this undertaking, and sent one or two of her galleys across the isthmus; but the Arabs seized them as soon as they reached their place of destination, and killed or captured the men that had them in charge, so that this desperate scheme was soon abandoned. She and Antony then finally concluded to establish themselves at Alexandria, and made preparation, as well as they could, for defending themselves against Octavius there.
Antony, when the first effects of his panic subsided, began to grow mad with vexation and resentment against all mankind. He determined that he would have nothing to do with Cleopatra or with any of her friends, but went off in a fit of sullen rage, and built a hermitage in a lonely place, on the island of Pharos, where he lived for a time, cursing his folly and his wretched fate, and uttering the bitterest invectives against all who had been concerned in it. Here tidings came continually in, informing him of the defection of one after another of his armies, of the fall of his provinces in Greece and Asia Minor, and of the irresistible progress which Octavius was now making toward universal dominion. The tidings of these disasters coming incessantly upon him kept him in a continual fever of resentment and rage.
At last he became tired of his misanthropic solitude, a sort of reconciliation ensued between himself and Cleopatra, and he went back again to the city. Here he joined himself once more to Cleopatra, and, collecting together what remained of their joint resources, they plunged again into a life of dissipation and vice, with the vain attempt to drown in mirth and wine the bitter regrets and the anxious forebodings which filled their souls. They joined with them a company of revelers as abandoned as themselves, and strove very hard to disguise and conceal their cares in their forced and unnatural gayety. They could not, however, accomplish this purpose. Octavius was gradually advancing in his progress, and they knew very well that the time of his dreadful reckoning with them must soon come; nor was there any place on earth in which they could look with any hope of finding a refuge in it from his vindictive hostility.
Cleopatra, warned by dreadful presentiments of what would probably at last be her fate, amused herself in studying the nature of poisons—not theoretically, but practically—making experiments with them on wretched prisoners and captives whom she compelled to take them in order that she and Antony might see the effects which they produced. She made a collection of all the poisons which she could procure, and administered portions of them all, that she might see which were sudden and which were slow in their effects, and also learn which produced the greatest distress and suffering, and which, on the other hand, only benumbed and stupefied the faculties, and thus extinguished life with the least infliction of pain. These experiments were not confined to such vegetable and mineral poisons as could be mingled with the food or administered in a potion. Cleopatra took an equal interest in the effects of the bite of venomous serpents and reptiles. She procured specimens of all these animals, and tried them upon her prisoners, causing the men to be stung and bitten by them, and then watching the effects. These investigations were made, not directly with a view to any practical use, which she was to make of the knowledge thus acquired, but rather as an agreeable occupation, to divert her mind, and to amuse Antony and her guests. The variety in the forms and expressions which the agony of her poisoned victims assumed,—their writhings, their cries, their convulsions, and the distortions of their features when struggling with death, furnished exactly the kind and degree of excitement which she needed to occupy and amuse her mind.
Antony was not entirely at ease, however, during the progress of these terrible experiments. His foolish and childish fondness for Cleopatra was mingled with jealousy, suspicion, and distrust; and he was so afraid that Cleopatra might secretly poison him, that he would never take any food or wine without requiring that she should taste it before him. At length, one day, Cleopatra caused the petals of some flowers to be poisoned, and then had the flowers woven into the chaplet which Antony was to wear at supper. In the midst of the feast, she pulled off the leaves of the flowers from her own chaplet and put them playfully into her wine, and then proposed that Antony should do the same with his chaplet, and that they should then drink the wine, tinctured, as it would be, with the color and the perfume of the flowers. Antony entered very readily into this proposal, and when he was about to drink the wine, she arrested his hand, and told him that it was poisoned. "You see now," said she, "how vain it is for you to watch against me. If it were possible for me to live without you, how easy it would be for me to devise ways and means to kill you." Then, to prove that her words were true, she ordered one of the servants to drink Antony's wine. He did so, and died before their sight in dreadful agony.
The experiments which Cleopatra thus made on the nature and effects of poison were not, however, wholly without practical result. Cleopatra learned from them, it is said, that the bite of the asp was the easiest and least painful mode of death. The effect of the venom of that animal appeared to her to be the lulling of the sensorium into a lethargy or stupor, which soon ended in death, without the intervention of pain. This knowledge she seems to have laid up in her mind for future use.
The thoughts of Cleopatra appear, in fact, to have been much disposed, at this time, to flow in gloomy channels, for she occupied herself a great deal in building for herself a sepulchral monument in a certain sacred portion of the city. This monument had, in fact, been commenced many years ago, in accordance with a custom prevailing among Egyptian sovereigns, of expending a portion of their revenues during their life-time in building and decorating their own tombs. Cleopatra now turned her mind with new interest to her own mausoleum. She finished it, provided it with the strongest possible bolts and bars, and, in a word, seemed to be preparing it in all respects for occupation.
In the mean time, Octavius, having made himself master of all the countries which had formerly been under Antony's sway, now advanced, meeting none to oppose him, from Asia Minor into Syria, and from Syria toward Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra made one attempt, while he was thus advancing toward Alexandria, to avert the storm which was impending over them, by sending an embassage to ask for some terms of peace. Antony proposed, in this embassage, to give up every thing to his conqueror on condition that he might be permitted to retire unmolested with Cleopatra to Athens, and allowed to spend the remainder of their days there in peace; and that the kingdom of Egypt might descend to their children. Octavius replied that he could not make any terms with Antony, though he was willing to consent to any thing that was reasonable in behalf of Cleopatra. The messenger who came back from Octavius with this reply spent some time in private interviews with Cleopatra. This aroused Antony's jealousy and anger. He accordingly ordered the unfortunate messenger to be scourged and then sent back to Octavius, all lacerated with wounds, with orders to say to Octavius that if it displeased him to have one of his servants thus punished, he might revenge himself by scourging a servant of Antony's who was then, as it happened, in Octavius's power.
The news at length suddenly arrived at Alexandria that Octavius had appeared before Pelusium, and that the city had fallen into his hands. The next thing Antony and Cleopatra well knew would be, that they should see him at the gates of Alexandria. Neither Antony nor Cleopatra had any means of resisting his progress, and there was no place to which they could fly. Nothing was to be done but to await, in consternation and terror, the sure and inevitable doom which was now so near.
Cleopatra gathered together all her treasures and sent them to her tomb. These treasures consisted of great and valuable stores of gold, silver, precious stones, garments of the highest cost, and weapons, and vessels of exquisite workmanship and great value, the hereditary possessions of the Egyptian kings. She also sent to the mausoleum an immense quantity of flax, tow, torches, and other combustibles. These she stored in the lower apartments of the monument, with the desperate determination of burning herself and her treasures together rather than to fall into the hands of the Romans.
In the mean time, the army of Octavius steadily continued its march across the desert from Pelusium to Alexandria. On the way, Octavius learned, through the agents in communication with him from within the city what were the arrangements which Cleopatra had made for the destruction of her treasure whenever the danger should become imminent of its falling into his hands. He was extremely unwilling that this treasure should be lost. Besides its intrinsic value, it was an object of immense importance to him to get possession of it for the purpose of carrying it to Rome as a trophy of his triumph. He accordingly sent secret messengers to Cleopatra, endeavoring to separate her from Antony, and to infuse her mind with the profession that he felt only friendship for her, and did not mean to do her any injury, being in pursuit of Antony only. These negotiations were continued from day to day while Octavius was advancing. At last the Roman army reached Alexandria, and invested it on every side.
As soon as Octavius was established in his camp under the walls of the city, Antony planned a sally, and he executed it, in fact, with considerable energy and success. He issued suddenly from the gates, at the head of as strong a force as he could command, and attacked a body of Octavius's horsemen. He succeeded in driving these horsemen away from their position, but he was soon driven back in his turn, and compelled to retreat to the city, fighting as he fled, to beat back his pursuers. He was extremely elated at the success of this skirmish. He came to Cleopatra with a countenance full of animation and pleasure, took her in his arms and kissed her, all accoutered for battle as he was, and boasted greatly of the exploit which he had performed. He praised, too, in the highest terms, the valor of one of the officers who had gone out with him to the fight, and whom he had now brought to the palace to present to Cleopatra. Cleopatra rewarded the faithful captain's prowess with a magnificent suit of armor made of gold. Notwithstanding this reward, however, the man deserted Antony that very night, and went over to the enemy. Almost all of Antony's adherents were in the same state of mind. They would have gladly gone over to the camp of Octavius, if they could have found an opportunity to do so.
In fact, when the final battle was fought, the fate of it was decided by a grand defection in the fleet, which went over in a body to the side of Octavius. Antony was planning the operations of the day, and reconnoitering the movements of the enemy from an eminence which he occupied at the head of a body of foot soldiers—all the land forces that now remained to him—and looking off, from the eminence on which he stood, toward the harbor, he observed a movement among the galleys. They were going out to meet the ships of Octavius, which were lying at anchor not very far from them. Antony supposed that his vessels were going to attack those of the enemy, and he looked to see what exploits they would perform. They advanced toward Octavius's ships, and when they met them, Antony observed, to his utter amazement, that, instead of the furious combat that he had expected to see, the ships only exchanged friendly salutations, by the use of the customary naval signals; and then his ships, passing quietly round, took their positions in the lines of the other fleet. The two fleets had thus become merged and mingled into one.
Antony immediately decided that this was Cleopatra's treason. She had made peace with Octavius, he thought, and surrendered the fleet to him as one of the conditions of it. Antony ran through the city, crying out that he was betrayed, and in a frensy of rage sought the palace. Cleopatra fled to her tomb. She took in with her one or two attendants, and bolted and barred the doors, securing the fastenings with the heavy catches and springs that she had previously made ready. She then directed her women to call out through the door that she had killed herself within the tomb.
The tidings of her death were borne to Antony. It changed his anger to grief and despair. His mind, in fact, was now wholly lost to all balance and control, and it passed from the dominion of one stormy passion to another with the most capricious facility. He cried out with the most bitter expressions of sorrow, mourning, he said, not so much Cleopatra's death, for he should soon follow and join her, as the fact that she had proved herself so superior to him in courage at last, in having thus anticipated him in the work of self-destruction.
He was at this time in one of the chambers of the palace, whither he had fled in despair, and was standing by a fire, for the morning was cold. He had a favorite servant named Eros, whom he greatly trusted, and whom he had made to take an oath long before, that whenever it should become necessary for him to die, Eros should kill him. This Eros he now called to him, and telling him that the time was come, ordered him to take the sword and strike the blow.
Eros took the sword while Antony stood up before him. Eros turned his head aside as if wishing that his eyes should not see the deed which his hands were about to perform. Instead, however, of piercing his master with it, he plunged it into his own breast, fell down at Antony's feet, and died.
Antony gazed a moment at the shocking spectacle, and then said, "I thank thee for this, noble Eros. Thou hast set me an example. I must do for myself what thou couldst not do for me." So saying, he took the sword from his servant's hands, plunged it into his body, and staggering to a little bed that was near, fell over upon it in a swoon. He had received a mortal wound.
The pressure, however, which was produced by the position in which he lay upon the bed, stanched the wound a little, and stopped the flow of blood. Antony came presently to himself again, and then began to beg and implore those around him to take the sword and put him out of his misery. But no one would do it. He lay for a time suffering great pain, and moaning incessantly, until, at length, an officer came into the apartment and told him that the story which he had heard of Cleopatra's death was not true; that she was still alive, shut up in her monument, and that she desired to see him there. This intelligence was the source of new excitement and agitation. Antony implored the by-standers to carry him to Cleopatra, that he might see her once more before he died. They shrank from the attempt; but, after some hesitation and delay, they concluded to undertake to remove him. So, taking him in their arms, they bore him along, faint and dying, and marking their track with his blood, toward the tomb.
Cleopatra would not open the gates to let the party in. The city was all in uproar and confusion through the terror of the assault which Octavius was making upon it, and she did not know what treachery might be intended. She therefore went up to a window above, and letting down ropes and chains, she directed those below to fasten the dying body to them, that she and the two women with her might draw it up. This was done. Those who witnessed it said that it was a most piteous sight to behold,—Cleopatra and her women above exhausting their strength in drawing the wounded and bleeding sufferer up the wall, while he, when he approached the window, feebly raised his arms to them, that they might lift him in. The women had hardly strength sufficient to draw the body up. At one time it seemed that the attempt would have to be abandoned; but Cleopatra reached down from the window as far as she could to get hold of Antony's arms, and thus, by dint of great effort, they succeeded at last in taking him in. They bore him to a couch which was in the upper room from which the window opened, and laid him down, while Cleopatra wrung her hands and tore her hair, and uttered the most piercing lamentations and cries. She leaned over the dying Antony, crying out incessantly with the most piteous exclamations of grief. She bathed his face, which was covered with blood, and vainly endeavored to stanch his wound.
Antony urged her to be calm, and not to mourn his fate. He asked for some wine. They brought it to him and he drank it. He then entreated Cleopatra to save her life, if she possibly could do so, and to make some terms or other with Octavius, so as to continue to live. Very soon after this he expired.
In the mean time, Octavius had heard of the mortal wound which Antony had given himself; for one of the by-standers had seized the sword the moment that the deed was done, and had hastened to carry it to Octavius, and to announce to him the death of his enemy. Octavius immediately desired to get Cleopatra into his power. He sent a messenger, therefore, to the tomb, who attempted to open a parley there with her. Cleopatra talked with the messenger through the keyholes or crevices, but could not be induced to open the door. The messenger reported these facts to Octavius. Octavius then sent another man with the messenger, and while one was engaging the attention of Cleopatra and her women at the door below, the other obtained ladders, and succeeded in gaining admission into the window above. Cleopatra was warned of the success of this stratagem by the shrieks of her women, who saw the officer coming down the stairs. She looked around, and observing at a glance that she was betrayed, and that the officer was coming to seize her, she drew a little dagger from her robe, and was about to plunge it into her breast, when the officer grasped her arm just in time to prevent the blow. He took the dagger from her, and then examined her clothes to see that there were no other secret weapons concealed there.
The capture of the queen being reported to Octavius, he appointed an officer to take her into close custody. This officer was charged to treat her with all possible courtesy, but to keep a close and constant watch over her, and particularly to guard against allowing her any possible means or opportunity for self-destruction.
In the mean time, Octavius took formal possession of the city, marching in at the head of his troops with the most imposing pomp and parade. A chair of state, magnificently decorated, was set up for him on a high elevation in a public square; and here he sat, with circles of guards around him, while the people of the city, assembled before him in the dress of suppliants, and kneeling upon the pavement, begged his forgiveness, and implore him to spare the city. These petitions the great conqueror graciously condescended to grant.
Many of the princes and generals who had served under Antony came next to beg the body of their commander, that they might give it an honorable burial. These requests, however, Octavius would not accede to, saying that he could not take the body away from Cleopatra. He, however, gave Cleopatra leave to make such arrangements for the obsequies as she thought fit, and allowed her to appropriate such sums of money from her treasures for this purpose as she desired. Cleopatra accordingly made the necessary arrangements, and superintended the execution of them; not, however, with any degree of calmness and composure, but in a state, on the contrary, of extreme agitation and distress. In fact, she had been living now so long under the unlimited and unrestrained dominion of caprice and passion, that reason was pretty effectually dethroned, and all self-control was gone. She was now nearly forty years of age, and, though traces of her inexpressible beauty remained, her bloom was faded, and her countenance was wan with the effects of weeping, anxiety, and despair. She was, in a word, both in body and mind, only the wreck and ruin of what she once had been.
When the burial ceremonies were performed, and she found that all was over—that Antony was forever gone, and she herself hopelessly and irremediably ruined—she gave herself up to a perfect frensy of grief. She beat her breast, and scratched and tore her flesh so dreadfully, in the vain efforts which she made to kill herself, in the paroxysms of her despair, that she was soon covered with contusions and wounds, which, becoming inflamed and swelled, made her a shocking spectacle to see, and threw her into a fever. She then conceived the idea of pretending to be more sick than she was, and so refusing food and starving herself to death. She attempted to execute this design. She rejected every medical remedy that was offered her, and would not eat, and lived thus some days without food. Octavius, to whom every thing relating to his captive was minutely reported by her attendants, suspected her design. He was very unwilling that she should die, having set his heart on exhibiting her to the Roman people, on his return to the capital, in his triumphal procession. He accordingly sent her orders, requiring that she should submit to the treatment prescribed by the physician, and take her food, enforcing these his commands with a certain threat which he imagined might have some influence over her. And what threat does the reader imagine could possibly be devised to reach a mind so sunk, so desperate, so wretched as hers? Every thing seemed already lost but life, and life was only an insupportable burden. What interests, then, had she still remaining upon which a threat could take hold?
Octavius, in looking for some avenue by which he could reach her, reflected that she was a mother. Caesarion, the son of Julius Caesar, and Alexander, Cleopatra, and Ptolemy, Antony's children, were still alive. Octavius imagined that in the secret recesses of her wrecked and ruined soul there might be some lingering principle of maternal affection remaining which he could goad into life and action. He accordingly sent word to her that, if she did not yield to the physician and take her food, he would kill every one of her children.
The threat produced its effect. The crazed and frantic patient became calm. She received her food. She submitted to the physician. Under his treatment her wounds began to heal, the fever was allayed, and at length she appeared to be gradually recovering.
When Octavius learned that Cleopatra had become composed, and seemed to be in some sense convalescent, he resolved to pay her a visit. As he entered the room where she was confined, which seems to have been still the upper chamber of her tomb, he found her lying on a low and miserable bed, in a most wretched condition, and exhibiting such a spectacle of disease and wretchedness that he was shocked at beholding her. She appeared, in fact, almost wholly bereft of reason. When Octavius came in, she suddenly leaped out of the bed, half naked as she was, and covered with bruises and wounds, and crawled miserably along to her conqueror's feet in the attitude of a suppliant. Her hair was torn from her head, her limbs were swollen and disfigured, and great bandages appeared here and there, indicating that there were still worse injuries than these concealed. From the midst of all this squalidness and misery there still beamed from her sunken eyes a great portion of their former beauty, and her voice still possessed the same inexpressible charm that had characterized it so strongly in the days of her prime. Octavius made her go back to her bed again and lie down.
Cleopatra then began to talk and excuse herself for what she had done, attributing all the blame of her conduct to Antony. Octavius, however, interrupted her, and defended Antony from her criminations, saying to her that it was not his fault so much as hers. She then suddenly changed her tone, and acknowledging her sins, piteously implored mercy. She begged Octavius to pardon and spare her, as if now she were afraid of death and dreaded it, instead of desiring it as a boon. In a word, her mind, the victim and the prey alternately of the most dissimilar and inconsistent passions, was now overcome by fear. To propitiate Octavius, she brought out a list of all her private treasures, and delivered it to him as a complete inventory of all that she had. One of her treasurers, however, named Zeleucus, who was standing by, said to Octavius that that list was not complete. Cleopatra had, he alleged, reserved several things of great value, which she had not put down upon it.
This assertion, thus suddenly exposing her duplicity, threw Cleopatra into a violent rage. She sprang from her bed and assaulted her secretary in a most furious manner. Octavius and the others who were here interposed, and compelled Cleopatra to lie down again, which she did, uttering all the time the most grievous complaints at the wretched degradation to which she was reduced, to be insulted thus by her own servant at such a time. If she had reserved any thing, she said, of her private treasures, it was only for presents to some of her faithful friends, to induce them the more zealously to intercede with Octavius in her behalf. Octavius replied by urging her to feel no concern on the subject whatever. He freely gave her, he said, all that she had reserved, and he promised in other respects to treat her in the most honorable and courteous manner.
Octavius was much pleased at the result of this interview. It was obvious, as it appeared to him, that Cleopatra had ceased to desire to die; that she now, on the contrary, wished to live, and that he should accordingly succeed in his desire of taking her him to grace his triumph at Rome. He accordingly made his arrangements for departure, and Cleopatra was notified that in three days she was to set out, together with her children, to go into Syria. Octavius said Syria, as he did not wish to alarm Cleopatra by speaking of Rome. She, however, understood well where the journey, if once commenced, would necessarily end, and she was fully determined in her own mind that she would never go there.
She asked to be allowed to pay one parting visit to Antony's tomb. This request was granted; and she went to the tomb with a few attendants, carrying with her chaplets and garlands of flowers. At the tomb her grief broke forth anew, and was as violent as ever. She bewailed her lover's death with loud cries and lamentations, uttered while she was placing the garlands upon the tomb, and offering the oblations and incense, which were customary in those days, as expressions of grief. "These," said she, as she made the offerings, "are the last tributes of affection that I can ever pay thee, my dearest, dearest lord. I can not join thee, for I am a captive and a prisoner, and they will not let me die. They watch me every hour, and are going to bear me far away, to exhibit me to thine enemies, as a badge and trophy of their triumph over thee. Oh intercede, dearest Antony, with the gods where thou art now, since those that reign here on earth have utterly forsaken me; implore them to save me from this fate, and let me die here in my native land, and be buried by thy side in this tomb."
When Cleopatra returned to her apartment again after this melancholy ceremony, she seemed to be more composed than she had been before. She went to the bath, and then she attired herself handsomely for supper. She had ordered supper that night to be very sumptuously served. She was at liberty to make these arrangements, for the restrictions upon her movements, which had been imposed at first, were now removed, her appearance and demeanor having been for some time such as to lead Octavius to suppose that there was no longer any danger that she would attempt self-destruction. Her entertainment was arranged, therefore, according to her directions, in a manner corresponding with the customs of her court when she had been a queen. She had many attendants, and among them were two of her own women. These women were long-tried and faithful servants and friends.
While she was at supper, a man tame to the door with a basket, and wished to enter. The guards asked him what he had in his basket. He opened it to let them see; and, lifting up some green leaves which were laid over the top, he showed the soldiers that the basket was filled with figs. He said that they were for Cleopatra's supper. The soldiers admired the appearance of the figs, saying that they were very fine and beautiful. The man asked the soldiers to take some of them. This they declined, but allowed the man to pass in. When the supper was ended, Cleopatra sent all of her attendants away except the two women. They remained. After a little time, one of these women came out with a letter for Octavius, which Cleopatra had written, and which she wished to have immediately delivered. One of the soldiers from the guard stationed at the gates was accordingly dispatched to carry the letter. Octavius, when it was given to him, opened the envelope at once and read the letter, which was written, as was customary in those days, on a small tablet of metal. He found that it was a brief but urgent petition from Cleopatra, written evidently in agitation and excitement, praying that he would overlook her offense, and allow her to be buried with Antony. Octavius immediately inferred that she had destroyed herself. He sent off some messengers at once, with orders to go directly to her place of confinement and ascertain the truth, intending to follow them himself immediately.
The messengers, on their arrival at the gates, found the sentinels and soldiers quietly on guard before the door, as if all were well. On entering Cleopatra's room, however, they beheld a shocking spectacle. Cleopatra was lying dead upon a couch. One of her women was upon the floor, dead too. The other, whose name was Charmian, was sitting over the body of her mistress, fondly caressing her, arranging flowers in her hair, and adorning her diadem. The messengers of Octavius, on witnessing this spectacle, were overcome with amazement, and demanded of Charmian what it could mean. "It is all right," said Charmian. "Cleopatra has acted in a manner worthy of a princess descended from so noble a line of kings." As Charmian said this, she began to sink herself, fainting, upon the bed, and almost immediately expired.
The by-standers were not only shocked at the spectacle which was thus presented before them, but they were perplexed and confounded in their attempts to discover by what means Cleopatra and her women had succeeded in effecting their design. They examined the bodies, but no marks of violence were to be discovered. They looked all around the room, but no weapons, and no indication of any means of poison, were to be found. They discovered something that appeared like the slimy track of an animal on the wall, toward a window, which they thought might have been produced by an asp; but the reptile itself was nowhere to be seen. They examined the body with great care, but no marks of any bite or sting were to be found, except that there were two very slight and scarcely discernible punctures on the arm, which some persons fancied might have been so caused. The means and manner of her death seemed to be involved in impenetrable mystery.
There were various rumors on the subject subsequently in circulation both at Alexandria and at Rome, though the mystery was never fully solved. Some said that there was an asp concealed among the figs which the servant man brought in in the basket; that he brought it in that manner, by a preconcerted arrangement between him and Cleopatra, and that, when she received it, she placed the creature on her arm. Others say that she had a small steel instrument like a needle, with a poisoned point, which she had kept concealed in her hair, and that she killed herself with that, without producing any visible wound. Another story was, that she had an asp in a box somewhere in her apartment, which she had reserved for this occasion, and when the time finally came, that she pricked and teased it with a golden bodkin to make it angry, and then placed it upon her flesh and received its sting. Which of these stones, if either of them, was true, could never be known. It has, however, been generally believed among mankind that Cleopatra died in some way or other by the self-inflicted sting of the asp, and paintings and sculptures without number have been made to illustrate and commemorate the scene.
This supposition in respect to the mode of her death is, in fact, confirmed by the action of Octavius himself on his return to Rome, which furnishes a strong indication of his opinion of the manner in which his captive at last eluded him. Disappointed in not being able to exhibit the queen herself in his triumphal train, he caused a golden statue representing her to be made, with an image of an asp upon the arm of it, and this sculpture he caused to be borne conspicuously before him in his grand triumphal entry into the capital, as the token and trophy of the final downfall of the unhappy Egyptian queen.