Chapter 10: Cleopatra and Antony
How far Cleopatra was influenced, in her determination to espouse the cause of Antony rather than that of Brutus and Cassius, in the civil war described in the last chapter, by gratitude to Caesar, and how far, on the other hand, by personal interest in Antony, the reader must judge.
Cleopatra had seen Antony, it will be recollected, some years before, during his visit to Egypt, when she was a young girl. She was doubtless well acquainted with his character. It was a character peculiarly fitted, in some respects, to captivate the imagination of a woman so ardent, and impulsive, and bold as Cleopatra was fast becoming.
Antony had, in fact, made himself an object of universal interest throughout the world, by his wild and eccentric manners and reckless conduct, and by the very extraordinary vicissitudes which had marked his career. In moral character he was as utterly abandoned and depraved as it was possible to be. In early life, as has already been stated, he plunged into such a course of dissipation and extravagance that he became utterly and hopelessly ruined; or, rather, he would have been so, had he not, by the influence of that magic power of fascination which such characters often possess, succeeded in gaining a great ascendency over a young man of immense fortune, named Curio, who for a time upheld him by becoming surety for his debts. This resource, however, soon failed, and Antony was compelled to abandon Rome, and to live for some years as a fugitive and exile, in dissolute wretchedness and want.
During all the subsequent vicissitudes through which he passed in the course of his career, the same habits of lavish expenditure continued, whenever he had funds at his command. This trait of character took the form sometimes of a noble generosity. In his campaigns, the plunder which he acquired he usually divided among his soldiers, reserving nothing for himself. This made his men enthusiastically devoted to him, and led them to consider his prodigality as a virtue, even when they did not themselves derive any direct advantage from it. A thousand stories were always in circulation in camp of acts on his part illustrating his reckless disregard of the value of money, some ludicrous, and all eccentric and strange.
In his personal habits, too, he was as different as possible from other men. He prided himself on being descended from Hercules, and he affected a style of dress and a general air and manner in accordance with the savage character of this his pretended ancestor. His features were sharp, his nose was arched and prominent, and he wore his hair and beard very long--as long, in fact, as he could make them grow. These peculiarities imparted to his countenance a very wild and ferocious expression. He adopted a style of dress, too, which, judged of with reference to the prevailing fashions of the time, gave to his whole appearance a rough, savage, and reckless air. His manner and demeanor corresponded with his dress and appearance. He lived in habits of the most unreserved familiarity with his soldiers. He associated freely with them, ate and drank with them in the open air, and joined in their noisy mirth and rude and boisterous hilarity. His commanding powers of mind, and the desperate recklessness of his courage, enabled him to do all this without danger. These qualities inspired in the minds of the soldiers a feeling of profound respect for their commander; and this good opinion he was enabled to retain, notwithstanding such habits of familiarity with his inferiors as would have been fatal to the influence of an ordinary man.
In the most prosperous portion of Antony's career--for example, during the period immediately preceding the death of Caesar--he addicted himself to vicious indulgences of the most open, public, and shameless character. He had around him a sort of court, formed of jesters, tumblers, mountebanks, play-actors, and other similar characters of the lowest and most disreputable class. Many of these companions were singing and dancing girls, very beautiful, and very highly accomplished in the arts of their respective professions, but all totally corrupt and depraved. Public sentiment, even in that age and nation, strongly condemned this conduct. The people were pagans, it is true, but it is a mistake to suppose that the formation of a moral sentiment in the community against such vices as these is a work which Christianity alone can perform. There is a law of nature, in the form of an instinct universal in the race, imperiously enjoining that the connection of the sexes shall consist of the union of one man with one woman, and that woman his wife, and very sternly prohibiting every other. So that there has probably never been a community in the world so corrupt, that a man could practice in it such vices as those of Antony, without not only violating his own sense of right and wrong, but also bringing upon himself the general condemnation of those around him.
Still, the world is prone to be very tolerant in respect to the vices of the great. Such exalted personages as Antony seem to be judged by a different standard from common men. Even in the countries where those who occupy high stations of trust or of power are actually selected, for the purpose of being placed there, by the voices of their fellow-men, all inquiry into the personal character of a candidate is often suppressed, such inquiry being condemned as wholly irrelevant and improper, and they who succeed in attaining to power enjoy immunities in their elevation which are denied to common men.
But, notwithstanding the influence of Antony's rank and power in shielding him from public censure, he carried his excesses to such an extreme that his conduct was very loudly and very generally condemned.
He would spend all the night in carousals, and then, the next day, would appear in public, staggering in the streets. Sometimes he would enter the tribunals for the transaction of business when he was so intoxicated that it would be necessary for friends to come to his assistance to conduct him away. In some of his journeys in the neighborhood of Rome, he would take a troop of companions with him of the worst possible character, and travel with them openly and without shame. There was a certain actress, named Cytheride, whom he made his companion on one such occasion. She was borne upon a litter in his train, and he carried about with him a vast collection of gold and silver plate, and of splendid table furniture, together with an endless supply of luxurious articles of food and of wine, to provide for the entertainments and banquets which he was to celebrate with her on the journey. He would sometimes stop by the road side, pitch his tents, establish his kitchens, set his cooks at work to prepare a feast, spread his tables, and make a sumptuous banquet of the most costly, complete, and ceremonious character--all to make men wonder at the abundance and perfection of the means of luxury which he could carry with him wherever he might go. In fact, he always seemed to feel a special pleasure in doing strange and extraordinary things in order to excite surprise. Once on a journey he had lions harnessed to his carts to draw his baggage, in order to create a sensation.
Notwithstanding the heedlessness with which Antony abandoned himself to these luxurious pleasures when at Rome, no man could endure exposure and hardship better when in camp or on the field. In fact, he rushed with as much headlong precipitation into difficulty and danger when abroad, as into expense and dissipation when at home. During his contests with
Octavius and Lepidus, after Caesar's death, he once had occasion to pass the Alps, which, with his customary recklessness, he attempted to traverse without any proper supplies of stores or means of transportation. He was reduced, on the passage, together with the troops under his command, to the most extreme destitution and distress. They had to feed on roots and herbs, and finally on the bark of trees; and they barely preserved themselves, by these means, from actual starvation. Antony seemed, however, to care nothing for all this, but pressed on through the difficulty and danger, manifesting the same daring and determined unconcern to the end. In the same campaign he found himself at one time reduced to extreme destitution in respect to men. His troops had been gradually wasted away until his situation had become very desperate. He conceived, under these circumstances, the most extraordinary idea of going over alone to the camp of Lepidus and enticing away his rival's troops from under the very eyes of their commander. This bold design was successfully executed. Antony advanced alone, clothed in wretched garments, and with his matted hair and beard hanging about his breast and shoulders, up to Lepidus's lines. The men, who knew him well, received him with acclamations; and pitying the sad condition to which they saw that he was reduced, began to listen to what he had to say. Lepidus, who could not attack him, since he and Antony were not at that time in open hostility to each other, but were only rival commanders in the same army, ordered the trumpeters to sound in order to make a noise which should prevent the words of Antony from being heard. This interrupted the negotiation; but the men immediately disguised two of their number in female apparel, and sent them to Antony to make arrangements with him for putting themselves under his command, and offering, at the same time, to murder Lepidus, if he would but speak the word. Antony charged them to do Lepidus no injury. He, however, went over and took possession of the camp, and assumed the command of the army. He treated Lepidus himself, personally, with extreme politeness, and retained him as a subordinate under his command.
Not far from the time of Caesar's death, Antony was married. The name of the lady was Fulvia. She was a widow at the time of her marriage with
Antony, and was a woman of very marked and decided character. She had led a wild and irregular life previous to that time, but she conceived a very strong attachment to her new husband and devoted herself to him from the time of her marriage with the most constant fidelity. She soon acquired a very great ascendency over him, and was the means of effecting a very considerable reform in his conduct and character. She was an ambitious and aspiring woman, and made many very efficient and successful efforts to promote the elevation and aggrandizement of her husband. She appeared, also, to take a great pride and pleasure in exercising over him, herself, a great personal control. She succeeded in these attempts in a manner that surprised every body. It seemed astonishing to all mankind that such a tiger as he had been could be subdued by any human power. Nor was it by gentleness and mildness that
Fulvia gained such power over her husband. She was of a very stern and masculine character, and she seems to have mastered Antony by surpassing him in the use of his own weapons. In fact, instead of attempting to soothe and mollify him, she reduced him, it seems, to the necessity of resorting to various contrivances to soften and propitiate her. Once, for example, on his return from a campaign in which he had been exposed to great dangers, he disguised himself and came home at night in the garb of a courier bearing dispatches. He caused himself to be ushered, muffled and disguised as he was, into Fulvia's apartments, where he handed her some pretended letters, which, he said, were from her husband; and while Fulvia was opening them in great excitement and trepidation, he threw off his disguise, and revealed himself to her by clasping her in his arms and kissing her in the midst of her amazement.
Antony's marriage with Fulvia, besides being the means of reforming his morals in some degree, softened and civilized him in respect to his manners. His dress and appearance now assumed a different character. In fact, his political elevation after Caesar's death soon became very exalted, and the various democratic arts by which he had sought to raise himself to it, being now no longer necessary, were, as usual in such cases, gradually discarded. He lived in great style and splendor when at
Rome, and when absent from home, on his military campaigns, he began to exhibit the same pomp and parade in his equipage and in his arrangements as were usual in the camps of other Roman generals.
After the battle of Philippi, described in the last chapter, Antony--who, with all his faults, was sometimes a very generous foe--as soon as the tidings of Brutus's death were brought to him, repaired immediately to the spot, and appeared to be quite shocked and concerned at the sight of the body. He took off his own military cloak or mantle--which was a very magnificent and costly garment, being enriched with many expensive ornaments--and spread it over the corpse. He then gave directions to one of the officers of his household to make arrangements for funeral ceremonies of a very imposing character, as a testimony of his respect for the memory of the deceased. In these ceremonies it was the duty of the officer to have burned the military cloak which Antony had appropriated to the purpose of a pall, with the body. He did not, however, do so. The cloak being very valuable, he reserved it; and he withheld, also, a considerable part of the money which had been given him for the expenses of the funeral. He supposed that Antony would probably not inquire very closely into the details of the arrangements made for the funeral of his most inveterate enemy.
Antony, however, did inquire into them, and when he learned what the officer had done, he ordered him to be killed.
The various political changes which occurred, and the movements which took place among the several armies after the battle of Philippi, can not be here detailed. It is sufficient to say that Antony proceeded to the eastward through Asia Minor, and in the course of the following year came into Cilicia. From this place he sent a messenger to Egypt to Cleopatra, summoning her to appear before him. There were charges, he said, against her of having aided Cassius and Brutus in the late war instead of rendering assistance to him. Whether there really were any such charges, or whether they were only fabricated by Antony as pretexts for seeing Cleopatra, the fame of whose beauty was very widely extended, does not certainly appear. However this may be, he sent to summon the queen to come to him. The name of the messenger whom Antony dispatched on this errand was Dellius. Fulvia, Antony's wife, was not with him at this time. She had been left behind at Rome.
Dellius proceeded to Egypt and appeared at Cleopatra's court. The queen was at this time about twenty-eight, but more beautiful, as was said, than ever before. Dellius was very much struck with her beauty and with a certain fascination in her voice and conversation, of which her ancient biographers often speak as one of the most irresistible of her charms. He told her that she need have no fear of Antony. It was of no consequence, he said, what charges there might be against her. She would find that, in a very few days after she had entered into Antony's presence, she would be in great favor. She might rely, in fact, he said, on gaining, very speedily, an unbounded ascendency over the general. He advised her, therefore, to proceed to Cilicia without fear; and to present herself before Antony in as much pomp and magnificence as she could command. He would answer, he said, for the result.
Cleopatra determined to follow this advice. In fact, her ardent and impulsive imagination was fired with the idea of making, a second time, the conquest of the greatest general and highest potentate in the world.
She began immediately to make provision for the voyage. She employed all the resources of her kingdom in procuring for herself the most magnificent means of display, such as expensive and splendid dresses, rich services of plate, ornaments of precious stones and of gold, and presents in great variety and of the most costly description for Antony.
She appointed, also, a numerous retinue of attendants to accompany her, and, in a word, made all the arrangements complete for an expedition of the most imposing and magnificent character. While these preparations were going forward, she received new and frequent communications from Antony, urging her to hasten her departure; but she paid very little attention to them. It was evident that she felt quite independent, and was intending to take her own time.
At length, however, all was ready, and Cleopatra set sail. She crossed the Mediterranean Sea, and entered the mouth of the River Cydnus. Antony was at Tarsus, a city upon the Cydnus, a small distance above its mouth.
When Cleopatra's fleet had entered the river, she embarked on board a most magnificent barge which she had constructed for the occasion, and had brought with her across the sea. This barge was the most magnificent and highly-ornamented vessel that had ever been built. It was adorned with carvings and decorations of the finest workmanship, and elaborately gilded. The sails were of purple, and the oars were inlaid and tipped with silver. Upon the deck of this barge Queen Cleopatra appeared, under a canopy of cloth of gold. She was dressed very magnificently in the costume in which Venus, the goddess of Beauty, was then generally represented. She was surrounded by a company of beautiful boys, who attended upon her in the form of Cupids, and fanned her with their wings, and by a group of young girls representing the Nymphs and the
Graces. There was a band of musicians stationed upon the deck. This music guided the oarsmen, as they kept time to it in their rowing; and, soft as the melody was, the strains were heard far and wide over the water and along the shores, as the beautiful vessel advanced on its way.
The performers were provided with flutes, lyres, viols, and all the other instruments customarily used in those times to produce music of a gentle and voluptuous kind.
In fact, the whole spectacle seemed like a vision of enchantment.
Tidings of the approach of the barge spread rapidly around, and the people of the country came down in crowds to the shores of the river to gaze upon it in admiration as it glided slowly along. At the time of its arrival at Tarsus, Antony was engaged in giving a public audience at some tribunal in his palace, but everybody ran to see Cleopatra and the barge, and the great triumvir was left consequently alone, or, at least, with only a few official attendants near him. Cleopatra, on arriving at the city, landed, and began to pitch her tents on the shores. Antony sent a messenger to bid her welcome, and to invite her to come and sup with him. She declined the invitation, saying that it was more proper that he should come and sup with her. She would accordingly expect him to come, she said, and her tents would be ready at the proper hour.
Antony complied with her proposal, and came to her entertainment. He was received with a magnificence and splendor which amazed him. The tents and pavilions where the entertainment was made were illuminated with an immense number of lamps. These lamps were arranged in a very ingenious and beautiful manner, so as to produce an illumination of the most surprising brilliancy and beauty. The immense number and variety, too, of the meats and wines, and of the vessels of gold and silver, with which the tables were loaded, and the magnificence and splendor of the dresses worn by Cleopatra and her attendants, combined to render the whole scene one of bewildering enchantment.