Excerpt on Cleopatra from Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar


Caesar, as a memorial of his victory, gave the Thessalians their freedom, and then went in pursuit of

       Pompey. When he was come into Asia, to gratify Theopompus, the author of the collection of fables, he

       enfranchised the Cnidians, and remitted one-third of their tribute to all the people of the province of Asia.

       When he came to Alexandria, where Pompey was already murdered, he would not look upon Theodotus,

       who presented him with his head, but taking only his signet, shed tears. Those of Pompey's friends who

       had been arrested by the King of Egypt, as they were wandering in those parts, he relieved, and offered them

       his own friendship. In his letter to his friends at Rome, he told them that the greatest and most signal

       pleasure his victory had given him was to be able continually to save the lives of fellow-citizens who had

       fought against him. As to the war in Egypt, some say it was at once dangerous and dishonourable, and

       noways necessary, but occasioned only by his passion for Cleopatra. Others blame the ministers of the king,

       and especially the eunuch Pothinus, who was the chief favourite and had lately killed Pompey, who had

       banished Cleopatra, and was now secretly plotting Caesar's destruction (to prevent which, Caesar from that

       time began to sit up whole nights, under pretence of drinking, for the security of his person), while openly

       he was intolerable in his affronts to Caesar, both by his words and actions. For when Caesar's soldiers had

       musty and unwholesome corn measured out to them, Pothinus told them they must be content with it, since

       they were fed at another's cost. He ordered that his table should be served with wooden and earthen dishes,

       and said Caesar had carried off all the gold and silver plate, under pretence of arrears of debt. For the present

       king's father owed Caesar one thousand seven hundred and fifty myriads of money. Caesar had formerly

       remitted to his children the rest, but thought fit to demand the thousand myriads at that time to maintain his

       army. Pothinus told him that he had better go now and attend to his other affairs of greater consequence, and

       that he should receive his money at another time with thanks. Caesar replied that he did not want Egyptians

       to be his counsellors, and soon after privately sent for Cleopatra from her retirement.


       She took a small boat, and one only of her confidants, Apollodorus, the Sicilian, along with her, and in the

       dusk of the evening landed near the palace. She was at a loss how to get in undiscovered, till she thought of

       putting herself into the coverlet of a bed and lying at length, whilst Apollodorus tied up the bedding and

       carried it on his back through the gates to Caesar's apartment. Caesar was first captivated by this proof of

       Cleopatra's bold wit, and was afterwards so overcome by the charm of her society that he made a

       reconciliation between her and her brother, on the condition that she should rule as his colleague in the

       kingdom. A festival was kept to celebrate this reconciliation, where Caesar's barber, a busy listening fellow,

       whose excessive timidity made him inquisitive into everything, discovered that there was a plot carrying on

       against Caesar by Achillas, general of the king's forces, and Pothinus, the eunuch. Caesar, upon the first

       intelligence of it, set a guard upon the hall where the feast was kept and killed Pothinus. Achillas escaped to

       the army, and raised a troublesome and embarrassing war against Caesar, which it was not easy for him to

       manage with his few soldiers against so powerful a city and so large an army. The first difficulty he met with

       was want of water, for the enemies had turned the canals. Another was, when the enemy endeavoured to cut

       off his communication by sea, he was forced to divert that danger by setting fire to his own ships, which,

       after burning the docks, thence spread on and destroyed the great library. A third was, when in an

       engagement near Pharos, he leaped from the mole into a small boat to assist his soldiers who were in danger,

       and when the Egyptians pressed him on every side, he threw himself into the sea, and with much difficulty

       swam off. This was the time when, according to the story, he had a number of manuscripts in his hand,

       which, though he was continually darted at, and forced to keep his head often under water, yet he did not let

       go, but held them up safe from wetting in one hand, whilst he swam with the other. His boat in the

       meantime, was quickly sunk. At last, the king having gone off to Achillas and his party, Caesar engaged and

       conquered them. Many fell in that battle, and the king himself was never seen after. Upon this, he left

       Cleopatra queen of Egypt, who soon after had a son by him, whom the Alexandrians called Caesarion, and

       then departed for Syria.


Excerpts on Cleopatra from Plutarch's Life of Antony


1. He gave up his former courses, and took a wife, Fulvia, the widow of Clodius the demagogue, a woman not born for spinning or housewifery, nor one that could be content with ruling a private husband, but prepared to govern a first

magistrate, or give orders to a commander-in-chief. So that Cleopatra had great obligations to her for having taught Antony to be so good a servant, he coming to her hands tame and broken into entire obedience to the commands of a mistress.


2. Such being his temper, the last and crowning mischief that could befall him came in the love of Cleopatra, to

       awaken and kindle to fury passions that as yet lay still and dormant in his nature, and to stifle and finally

       corrupt any elements that yet made resistance in him of goodness and a sound judgment. He fell into the

       snare thus. When making preparation for the Parthian war, he sent to command her to make her personal

       appearance in Cilicia, to answer an accusation that she had given great assistance, in the late wars, to

       Cassius. Dellius, who was sent on this message, had no sooner seen her face, and remarked her adroitness

       and subtlety in speech, but he felt convinced that Antony would not so much as think of giving any

       molestation to a woman like this; on the contrary, she would be the first in favour with him. So he set

       himself at once to pay his court to the Egyptian, and gave her his advice, "to go," in the Homeric style, to

       Cilicia, "in her best attire," and bade her fear nothing from Antony, the gentlest and kindest of soldiers. She

       had some faith in the words of Dellius, but more in her own attractions; which, having formerly

       recommended her to Caesar and the young Cnaeus Pompey, she did not doubt might prove yet more

       successful with Antony. Their acquaintance was with her when a girl, young and ignorant of the world, but

       she was to meet Antony in the time of life when women's beauty is most splendid, and their intellects are in

       full maturity. She made great preparation for her journey, of money, gifts, and ornaments of value, such as

       so wealthy a kingdom might afford, but she brought with her her surest hopes in her own magic arts and



       She received several letters, both from Antony and from his friends, to summon her, but she took no account

       of these orders; and at last, as if in mockery of them, she came sailing up the river Cydnus, in a barge with

       gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and

       harps. She herself lay all along under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful

       young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like sea nymphs

       and graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes. The perfumes diffused themselves from

       the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either

       bank, part running out of the city to see the sight. The market-place was quite emptied, and Antony at last

       was left alone sitting upon the tribunal; while the word went through all the multitude, that Venus was come

       to feast with Bacchus, for the common good of Asia. On her arrival, Antony sent to invite her to supper. She

       thought it fitter he should come to her; so, willing to show his good-humour and courtesy, he complied, and

       went. He found the preparations to receive him magnificent beyond expression, but nothing so admirable as

       the great number of lights; for on a sudden there was let down altogether so great a number of branches with

       lights in them so ingeniously disposed, some in squares, and some in circles, that the whole thing was a

       spectacle that has seldom been equalled for beauty.


       The next day, Antony invited her to supper, and was very desirous to outdo her as well in magnificence as

       contrivance; but he found he was altogether beaten in both, and was so well convinced of it that he was

       himself the first to jest and mock at his poverty of wit and his rustic awkwardness. She, perceiving that his

       raillery was broad and gross, and savoured more of the soldier than the courtier, rejoined in the same taste,

       and fell into it at once, without any sort of reluctance or reserve. For her actual beauty, it is said, was not in

       itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck

       by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person,

       joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something

       bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many

       strings, she could pass from one language to another; so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she

       answered by an interpreter; to most of them she spoke herself, as to the Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews,

       Arabians, Syrians, Medes, Parthians, and many others, whose language she had learnt; which was all the

       more surprising because most of the kings, her predecessors, scarcely gave themselves the trouble to acquire

       the Egyptian tongue, and several of them quite abandoned the Macedonian.


3. To return to Cleopatra; Plato admits four sorts of flattery, but she had a thousand. Were Antony serious or

       disposed to mirth, she had at 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 disturb and torment people at their doors and windows, dressed like a servant-woman, for

       Antony also went in servant's disguise, and from these expeditions he often 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-humouredly and kindly in his frolic and

       play, saying they were much obliged to Antony for acting his tragic parts at Rome, and keeping comedy for

       them. It would be trifling without end to be particular in 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 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 give, drew up the prey, and when, as may be imagined, great laughter ensued,

       "Leave," said Cleopatra, "the fishing-rod, general, to us poor sovereigns of Pharos and Canopus; your game

       is cities, provinces, and kingdoms."


4. But the mischief that thus long had lain still, the passion for Cleopatra, which better thoughts had seemed to

       have lulled and charmed into oblivion, upon his approach to Syria gathered strength again, and broke out

       into a flame. And, in fine, like Plato's restive and rebellious horse of the human soul, flinging off all good

       and wholesome counsel, and breaking fairly loose, he sends Fonteius Capito to bring Cleopatra into Syria.

       To whom at her arrival he made no small or trifling present, Phoenicia, Coele-Syria, Cyprus, great part of

       Cilicia, that side of Judaea which produces balm, that part of Arabia where the Nabathaeans extend to the

       outer sea; profuse gifts which much displeased the Romans. For although he had invested several private

       persons in great governments and kingdoms, and bereaved many kings of theirs, as Antigonus of Judaea,

       whose head he caused to be struck off (the first example of that punishment being inflicted on a king), yet

       nothing stung the Romans like the shame of these honours paid to Cleopatra. Their dissatisfaction was

       augmented also by his acknowledging as his own the twin children he had by her, giving them the name of

       Alexander and Cleopatra, and adding, as their surnames, the titles of Sun and Moon. But he, who knew how

       to put a good colour on the most dishonest action, would say that the greatness of the Roman empire

       consisted more in giving than in taking kingdoms, and that the way to carry noble blood through the world

       was by begetting in every place a new line and series of kings; his own ancestor had thus been born of

       Hercules; Hercules had not limited his hopes of progeny to a single womb, nor feared any law like Solon's

       or any audit of procreation, but had freely let nature take her will in the foundation and first commencement

       of many families.


5. For the present, marching his army in great haste in the depth of winter through continual storms of snow, he lost eight thousand of his men, and came with much diminished numbers to a place called the White Village, between Sidon and Berytus, on the sea-coast, where he waited for the arrival of Cleopatra. And, being impatient of the delay she made, he bethought himself of shortening the time wine and drunkenness, and yet could not endure the tediousness of a meal, but would start from table and run to see if she were coming. Till at last she came into port, and brought with her clothes and

money for the soldiers. Though some say that Antony only received the clothes from her and distributed his own money in her name.


6. Nor was the division he made among his sons at Alexandria less unpopular; it seemed a theatrical piece of insolence

       and contempt of his country. For assembling the people in the exercise ground, and causing two golden

       thrones to be placed on a platform of silver, the one for him and the other for Cleopatra, and at their feet

       lower thrones for their children, he proclaimed Cleopatra Queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya, and Coele-Syria,

       and with her conjointly Caesarion, the reputed son of the former Caesar, who left Cleopatra with child. His

       own sons by Cleopatra were to have the style of king of kings; to Alexander he gave Armenia and Media,

       with Parthia, so soon as it should be overcome; to Ptolemy, Phoenicia, Syria, and Cilicia. Alexander was

       brought out before the people in Median costume, the tiara and upright peak, and Ptolemy, in boots and

       mantle and Macedonian cap done about with the diadem; for this was the habit of the successors of

       Alexander, as the other was of the Medes and Armenians. And as soon as they had saluted their parents, the

       one was received by a guard of Macedonians, the other by one of Armenians. Cleopatra was then, as at other

       times when she appeared in public, dressed in the habit of the goddess Isis, and gave audience to the people

       under the name of the New Isis.


7. This over, he gave Priene to his players for a habitation, and set sail for Athens, where fresh sports and

       play-acting employed him. Cleopatra, jealous of the honours Octavia had received at Athens (for Octavia was

       much beloved by the Athenians), courted the favour of the people with all sorts of attentions. The Athenians,

       in requital, having decreed her public honours, deputed several of the citizens to wait upon her at her house;

       amongst whom went Antony as one, he being an Athenian citizen, and he it was that made the speech. He

       sent orders to Rome to have Octavia removed out of his house. She left it, we are told, accompanied by all

       his children, except the eldest by Fulvia, who was then with his father, weeping and grieving that she must

       be looked upon as one of the causes of the war. But the Romans pitied, not so much her, as Antony himself,

       and more particularly those who had seen Cleopatra, whom they could report to have no way the advantage

       of Octavia either in youth or in beauty....

Caesar specially pressed what Antony said in his will about his burial; for he had ordered that even if he died in the city of

       Rome, his body, after being carried in state through the forum, should be sent to Cleopatra at Alexandria.

       Calvisius, a dependant of Caesar's, urged other charges in connection with Cleopatra against Antony; that he

       had given her the library of Pergamus, containing two hundred thousand distinct volumes; that at a great

       banquet, in the presence of many guests, he had risen up and rubbed her feet, to fulfil some wager or

       promise; that he had suffered the Ephesians to salute her as their queen; that he had frequently at the public

       audience of kings and princes received amorous messages written in tablets made of onyx and crystal, and

       read them openly on the tribunal; that when Furnius, a man of great authority and eloquence among the

       Romans, was pleading, Cleopatra happening to pass by in her chair, Antony started up and left them in the

       middle of their cause, to follow at her side and attend her home.


       Calvisius, however, was looked upon as the inventor of most of these stories.


8. But the fortune of the day was still undecided, and the battle equal, when on a sudden Cleopatra's

       sixty ships were seen hoisting sail and making out to sea in full flight, right through the ships that were

       engaged. For they were placed behind the great ships, which, in breaking through, they put into disorder.

       The enemy was astonished to see them sailing off with a fair wind towards Peloponnesus. Here it was that

       Antony showed to all the world that he was no longer actuated by the thoughts and motives of a commander

       or a man, or indeed by his own judgment at all, and what was once said as a jest, that the soul of a lover

       lives in some one else's body, he proved to be a serious truth. For, as if he had been born part of her, and

       must move with her wheresoever she went, as soon as he saw her ship sailing away, he abandoned all that

       were fighting and spending their lives for him, and put himself aboard a galley of five banks of oars, taking

       with him only Alexander of Syria and Scellias, to follow her that had so well begun his ruin and would

       hereafter accomplish it.


9. But Cleopatra was busied in making a collection of all varieties of poisonous drugs, and, in order to see which of them were the least painful in the operation, she had them tried upon prisoners condemned to die. But, finding that the quick poisons always worked with sharp pains, and that the less painful were slow. She next tried venomous animals, and watching with her own eyes whilst they were applied, one creature to the body of another. This was her daily practice, and she pretty well satisfied herself that nothing was comparable to the bite of the asp, which, without convulsion or

groaning, brought on a heavy drowsiness and lethargy, with a gentle sweat on the face, the senses being stupefied by degrees; the patient, in appearance, being sensible of no pain but rather troubled to be disturbed or awakened like those that are in a profound natural sleep.


10. Of Antony's children, Antyllus, his son by Fulvia, being betrayed by his tutor, Theodorus, was put to death;

       and while the soldiers were cutting off his head, his tutor contrived to steal a precious jewel which he wore

       about his neck, and put it in his pocket, and afterwards denied the fact, but was convicted and crucified.

       Cleopatra's children, with their attendants, had a guard set on them, and were treated very honourably.

       Caesarion, who was reputed to be the son of Caesar the Dictator, was sent by his mother, with a great sum

       of money, through Ethiopia, to pass into India; but his tutor, a man named Rhodon, about as honest as

       Theodorus, persuaded him to turn back, for that Caesar designed to make him king. Caesar consulting what

       was best to be done with him, Areius we are told, said,


       "Too many Caesars are not well." So, afterwards, when Cleopatra was dead he was killed.


       Many kings and great commanders made petition to Caesar for the body of Antony, to give him his funeral

       rites; but he would not take away his corpse from Cleopatra by whose hands he was buried with royal

       splendour and magnificence, it being granted to her to employ what she pleased on his funeral. In this

       extremity of grief and sorrow, and having inflamed and ulcerated her breasts with beating them, she fell into

       a high fever, and was very glad of the occasion, hoping, under this pretext, to abstain from food, and so to

       die in quiet without interference. She had her own physician, Olympus, to whom she told the truth, and

       asked his advice and help to put an end to herself, as Olympus himself has told us, in a narrative which he

       wrote of these events. But Caesar, suspecting her purpose, took to menacing language about her children,

       and excited her fears for them, before which engines her purpose shook and gave way, so that she suffered

       those about her to give her what meat or medicine they pleased.


       Some few days after, Caesar himself came to make her a visit and comfort her. She lay then upon her

       pallet-bed in undress, and, on his entering, sprang up from off her bed, having nothing on but the one

       garment next her body, and flung herself at his feet, her hair and face looking wild and disfigured, her voice

       quivering, and her eyes sunk in her head. The marks of the blows she had given herself were visible about

       her bosom, and altogether her whole person seemed no less afflicted than her soul. But, for all this, her old

       charm, and the boldness of her youthful beauty, had not wholly left her, and, in spite of her present

       condition, still sparkled from within, and let itself appear in all the movements of her countenance. Caesar,

       desiring her to repose herself, sat down by her; and, on this opportunity, she said something to justify her

       actions, attributing what she had done to the necessity she was under, and to her fear of Antony; and when

       Caesar, on each point, made his objections, and she found herself confuted, she broke off at once into

       language of entreaty and deprecation, as if she desired nothing more than to prolong her life. And at last,

       having by her a list of her treasure, she gave it into his hands; and when Seleucus, one of her stewards, who

       was by, pointed out that various articles were omitted, and charged her with secreting them, she flew up and

       caught him by the hair, and struck him several blows on the face. Caesar smiling and withholding her, "Is it

       not very hard, Caesar," said she, "when you do me the honour to visit me in this condition I am in, that I

       should be accused by one of my own servants of laying by some women's toys, not meant to adorn, be

       sure, my unhappy self, but that I might have some little present by me to make your Octavia and your Livia,

       that by their intercession I might hope to find you in some measure disposed to mercy?" Caesar was pleased

       to hear her talk thus, being now assured that she was desirous to live. And, therefore, letting her know that

       the things she had laid by she might dispose of as she pleased, and his usage of her should be honourable

       above her expectation, he went away, well satisfied that he had overreached her, but, in fact, was himself



       There was a young man of distinction among Caesar's companions named Cornelius Dolabella. He was not

       without a certain tenderness for Cleopatra and sent her word privately, as she had besought him to do, that

       Caesar was about to return through Syria, and that she and her children were to be sent on within three days.

       When she understood this, she made her request to Caesar that he would be pleased to permit her to make

       oblations to the departed Antony; which being granted, she ordered herself to be carried to the place where he

       was buried, and there, accompanied by her women, she embraced his tomb with tears in her eyes, and spoke

       in this manner: "O, dearest Antony," said she, "it is not long since that with these hands I buried you; then

       they were free, now I am a captive, and pay these last duties to you with a guard upon me, for fear that my

       just griefs and sorrows should impair my servile body, and make it less fit to appear in their triumph over

       you. No further offerings or libations expect from me; these are the last honours that Cleopatra can pay your

       memory, for she is to be hurried away far from you. Nothing could part us whilst we lived, but death seems

       to threaten to divide us. You, a Roman born, have found a grave in Egypt; I, an Egyptian, am to seek that

       favour, and none but that, in your country. But if the gods below, with whom you now are, either can or

       will do anything (since those above have betrayed us), suffer not your living wife to be abandoned; let me

       not be led in triumph to your shame, but hide me and bury me here with you since, amongst all my bitter

       misfortunes, nothing has afflicted me like this brief time that I have lived away from you."


       Having made these lamentations, crowning the tomb with garlands and kissing it, she gave orders to prepare

       her a bath, and, coming out of the bath, she lay down and made a sumptuous meal. And a country fellow

       brought her a little basket, which the guards intercepting and asking what it was the fellow put the leaves

       which lay uppermost aside, and showed them it was full of figs; and on their admiring the largeness and

       beauty of the figs, he laughed, and invited them to take some, which they refused, and, suspecting nothing,

       bade him carry them in. After her repast, Cleopatra sent to Caesar a letter which she had written and sealed;

       and, putting everybody out of the monument but her two women, she shut the doors. Caesar, opening her

       letter, and finding pathetic prayers and entreaties that she might be buried in the same tomb with Antony,

       soon guessed what was doing. At first he was going himself in all haste, but, changing his mind, he sent

       others to see. The thing had been quickly done. The messengers came at full speed, and found the guards

       apprehensive of nothing; but on opening the doors they saw her stone-dead, lying upon a bed of gold, set

       out in all her royal ornaments. Iras, one of her women, lay dying at her feet, and Charmion, just ready to

       fall, scarce able to hold up her head, was adjusting her mistress's diadem. And when one that came in said

       angrily, "Was this well done of your lady, Charmion?" "Extremely well," she answered, "and as became the

       descendant of so many kings;" and as she said this, she fell down dead by the bedside.


       Some relate that an asp was brought in amongst those figs and covered with the leaves, and that Cleopatra

       had arranged that it might settle on her before she knew, but, when she took away some of the figs and saw

       it, she said, "So here it is," and held out her bare arm to be bitten. Others say that it was kept in a vase, and

       that she vexed and pricked it with a golden spindle till it seized her arm. But what really took place is known

       to no one, since it was also said that she carried poison in a hollow bodkin, about which she wound her hair;

       yet there was not so much as a spot found, or any symptom of poison upon her body, nor was the asp seen

       within the monument; only something like the trail of it was said to have been noticed on the sand by the sea,

       on the part towards which the building faced and where the windows were. Some relate that two faint

       puncture-marks were found on Cleopatra's arm, and to this account Caesar seems to have given credit; for in

       his triumph there was carried a figure of Cleopatra, with an asp clinging to her. Such are the various

       accounts. But Caesar, though much disappointed by her death, yet could not but admire the greatness of her

       spirit, and gave order that her body should be buried by Antony with royal splendour and magnificence. Her

       women, also, received honourable burial by his directions. Cleopatra had lived nine-and-thirty years, during

       twenty-two of been she had reigned as queen, and for fourteen had been Antony's partner in his empire.

       Antony, according to some authorities, was fifty-three, according to others, fifty-six years old. His statues

       were all thrown down, but those of Cleopatra were left untouched; for Archibius, one of her friends, gave

       Caesar two thousand talents to save them from the fate of Antony's.


       Antony left by his three wives seven children, of whom only Antyllus, the eldest, was put to death by

       Caesar; Octavia took the rest, and brought them up with her own. Cleopatra, his daughter by Cleopatra, was

       given in marriage to Juba, the most accomplished of kings;