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Chapter XII
This webpage reproduces part of
The House of Ptolemy

by E. R. Bevan

published by Methuen Publishing, London,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Cleopatra VI, Ptolemy XII, Ptolemy XIII, Ptolemy XIV (51‑30 B.C.)

On the death of Ptolemy in 51 B.C. his eldest surviving daughter, Cleopatra VI, began her reign as queen of Egypt. In Cleopatra VI the dynasty founded by the shrewd Macedonian marshal in Egypt, nearly three hundred years before, was destined to come to its end. When she came to the throne it seemed on the point of extinction. The dependencies, Coele-Syria, Cyrene, Cyprus, were gone; the dignity of the royal house had never been brought so low — the king a lackey of the Romans, Egypt almost a Roman province. The Ptolemaic dynasty, it seemed, was going to peter out, in a few years, like the Seleucid. But destiny had determined that the fortune of the house of Ptolemy, before going out, should blaze up in a manner dramatic and astonishing. The reign of the last sovereign would be the reign which men afterwards would remember more than any other. When everything seemed lost, the heirs of the house of Ptolemy would suddenly have almost put within their grasp a dominion stretching not only over the lost ancestral lands, but over wider territories than Ptolemy I or Ptolemy II or Ptolemy III had ever dreamed of. Those kings, being men, had based their dominion on the power of their arms; but now, when the military power of Egypt had become contemptible beside that of Rome, the sovereign of Egypt would bring to the contest power of a wholly different kind — the power of a fascinating woman. The strength of Rome was so great that no king of Egypt could hope to save the falling kingdom by any power a king could command, but a queen of Egypt, with this power of a different order, might actually convert the very strength of Rome to be the instrument of her purposes. At no other moment of history do we see the attraction exercised by woman upon man made so definitely a determining force in the political and military field, used  p360 so deliberately by a woman amid the clash of great armies to achieve the ends of her own imperialist ambition. And Cleopatra came very near ultimate success.

The last of a whole series of Cleopatras, Berenices, Arsinoes, presented in this history, she shows a family resemblance to those other queens and princesses of Macedonian blood — the same precocious masculine purpose, passion for power, ruthlessness in killing. But we have to remember that Cleopatra VI perhaps had added qualities which those others did not have. She was probably only half-Macedonian; the other half of her blood was probably drawn from her grandmother, the mistress of Ptolemy Soter II, who, as we saw, is likely to have been some beauti­ful and accomplished Greek demi-mondaine.​1 If Cleopatra's Macedonian blood gave her her masculine energy and hard cruelty, the blood of her Greek grandmother may have given her not only a physical seductiveness which fired men's blood, but a wit which captivated their minds. She had the versatile cleverness which might be expected in a courtesan chosen to be a king's mistress, and astonished her contemporaries, we are told, by her ability to pick up other languages (a thing which Greeks very seldom did) — not only Egyptian, the language of her native subjects, but Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Ethiopian, Somali. She was not, Plutarch says, exceptionally beauti­ful, but extraordinarily amusing, vital, and attractive, not above quickening her talk with lubricity, when it was a case of ensnaring the coarse, master­ful Roman.

Cleopatra found herself queen of Egypt at the age of seventeen or eighteen. By the custom of the house, and according to the will and testament of Ptolemy Auletes, the elder of her two brothers, then only nine or ten, was associated with her, as king (Ptolemy XII). They probably had, as a pair, the style of "Father-loving Gods" (Theoi Philopatores), though neither during the reign of Cleopatra with Ptolemy XII, nor during her reign, later on, with the younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, do the coins bear any head or name but that of the queen, Κλεοπάτρας Βασιλίσσης, and in  p361 Egyptian sepulchral inscriptions put up during the reign of Cleopatra with her younger brother (regnal years 5, 6, and 7 of Cleopatra) the regnal year of the boy-king is ignored.​2 The chief power at court was engrossed by the eunuch Pothinus,​3 by the tropheus of the young king, the Greek Theodotus of Chios, responsible for teaching him rhetoric, and by the commander-in‑chief, Achillas, called an "Egyptian,"​4 that is, probably, a man of native, or mixed Greek and native, blood. The army of occupation left by Gabinius, composed mainly of Gauls and Germans, was still encamped near Alexandria. These foreign troops showed a disposition to settle permanently upon the soil of Egypt, marrying with the inhabitants of the country, whether native Egyptians or descendants of the earlier bands of settlers — Macedonians, Greeks, Thracians, Asiatics — a new class of katoikoi. When the proconsul of Syria, Marcus Bibulus, sent two of his sons to Egypt to summon the "Gabinian" army to return to Syria, the troops incontinently murdered them. The Mediterranean world generally was on the eve of a new convulsion — the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar. In 49 B.C. Pompey's son, the younger Gnaeus Pompeius, appeared at Alexander, to procure ships, troops, and money from Egypt. The eastern princes and peoples held as a whole by the great Pompey in the coming struggle, and the children of Ptolemy Auletes, who had been restored by Pompey's man, Gabinius, were under special obligations to Pompey. The young Pompeius succeeded in getting from Egypt a squadron of some fifty ships, a supply of cornº and five hundred men of the "Gabinians." The son of Pompey was the Roman of highest standing upon whom the young queen of Egypt had yet tried the power of her eyes. It was afterwards said that more than diplomatic intercourse had passed between them, and that the woman who could put the names of Caesar and Antonius in the roll of her lovers could also put the great name Pompeius. We cannot hope now to separate fact from scandal.

In Egypt itself there was probably, after the death of Auletes, a recrudescence of native revolts. Caesar mentions, amongst the wars in which the royal troops who confronted  p362 his legions in 49 had seen active service, "wars against the Egyptians."​5 The wars may, of course, have occurred still earlier, when Auletes was still alive, but Caesar mentions them after the murder of the sons of Bibulus, and it is likely that his enumeration follows chronological sequence. No troubles in Upper Egypt are mentioned during the reign of Auletes, and if things were quiet there, we may conjecture that it was due to the government there being in the hands of some one whom, by our broken records, we may conjecture to have been a man of great consideration and influence, Callimachus the epistrategos. Our first record of him in this office belongs to July 78​6 (year 3, Epiph 1), and our last to February 51,​7 so that he must have ruled the Thebaid practically through the whole of Auletes' reign. He combines with his other titles that of "Commander of the Red Sea and the Indian Sea" — that is, the Arabian and Indian trade and the stations on the coast away to the south would have been under his authority. If he is identical (as seems likely) with the father of Callimachus the epistates, then he must at the beginning of the reign of Cleopatra have been raised to the post of epistolographos at Alexandria.

As Cleopatra grew in experience and ambition, she became intractable to the palace-cabal, Pothinus, Theodotus, and Achillas. They accused her of wishing to oust her brother, and the mob rose against her. But when she fled from the city, this girl of twenty-one set about collecting an army, as her predecessor Cleopatra IV had done in 113 B.C. She recruited it probably amongst the Arab tribes beyond the eastern frontier, and was presently on the march to invade Egypt. The cabal gathered a force and went with the boy king to bar her way near Pelusium.

While the dynastic war was coming to a head in Egypt, the great Roman civil war between Pompey and Caesar was decided by the battle of Pharsalus. Pompey fled to Egypt, hoping that the old ties which bound the royal family to him would secure him here a refuge in his fall. He directed his course not to Alexandria, but to the coast near Pelusium, where the boy-king was encamped. And then came the great act of treachery — the assassination of Pompey in the little boat by which he was being conveyed from his ship to the shore, by the hand of the "Gabinian" officer, Septimius, by the order of the palace-cabal — Achillas present himself in  p363 the boat to supervise the murder — under the eyes of the boy Ptolemy, who watched the deed, arrayed in his purple chlamys, from the shore (September 48 B.C.).

By assassinating Pompey, the palace-cabal hoped, no doubt, to demonstrate to the victor of the day that they had repudiated all association with his enemies, and thus to give him no reason for invading Egypt as a stronghold for the senatorial cause. But Caesar, following hard on the fugitive, arrived with his squadron off Alexandria a few days after Pompey had been murdered near Pelusium. Theodotus of Chios brought Pompey's head to Caesar's ship, but the sight of it did not make Caesar sail away. He determined to enter Alexandria with the little force he carried on his squadron — 3200 men and 800 horse. He landed, marched through the streets with the insignia of a Roman consul, preceded by his lictors, and took up his abode in the palace of the Ptolemies. Mahaffy strangely found it strange "that the Alexandrine populace, accustomed to royal state, should take umbrage at this display of power." As if it made no difference that the power was displayed this time by a Roman intruder! Incidents soon occurred to show that Alexandria was in an ugly temper — street brawls, assassinations of isolated soldiers belonging to Caesar's force.

The king and queen were absent, encamped against each other, on the frontier. Caesar, as representing Rome, claimed the right to summon them both to disband their armies and submit to his arbitration. In his will Auletes had besought the Roman People to give effect to his dispositions. In answer to Caesar's summons, Pothinus returned to Alexandria with the young Ptolemy, but he did not disband the king's army. He left it in being near Pelusium, under the command of Achillas. For Cleopatra the difficulty was how to get from the frontier to Caesar without being murdered by the palace-gang on the way. It was for this reason that her adherent, Apollodorus of Sicily, conveyed her by boat to Alexandria and then smuggled her into the palace, concealed in a roll of carpet. For the charming queen of Egypt to emerge suddenly from a carpet in Caesar's presence was also an admirable way of putting their relations on a gay informal footing from the outset.

Caesar had now both the king and queen in his hands, and with the queen his relations soon became those of lover with mistress. He brought about in public a reconciliation  p364 between Ptolemy and his sister; they were once more joint-sovereigns, according to their father's will. But in Alexandria, ill-will against the stranger, fomented by Pothinus, continued, and presently the royal army — Achillas acting in concert with Pothinus — moved upon the city. This army, some 20,000 in numbers, consisted of men who had practical experience of fighting and a large proportion of whom had undergone Roman discipline, and were officered by Romans. Beside the troops of Gabinius (mainly, as we have seen, Gauls and Germans) it included a considerable number of refugees and escaped slaves from Italy and the West, and also a considerable number of bandits and pirates from Asia Minor and Syria — relics of the great pirate power broken by Pompey. Two courtiers, dispatched from the palace to parley, were, by the order of Achillas, one killed and the other very nearly done to death. This meant for Caesar another war — the "Alexandrine War," it was afterwards called — in which Caesar was fighting at the head of a force vastly inferior in numbers in the labyrinth of a Levantine city. Others of his legions were on the march to Egypt through Syria, but meantime his position was an awkward one. With his little army in a barricaded quarter of the city adjoining the Great Harbour, he might keep the enemy at bay, but he could not attempt to re-embark his army without putting it, during the operation, at the enemy's mercy. He saved his communications by sea from being cut, by burning the Alexandrine fleet which had been left undefended in the Great Harbour. It was on this occasion that some warehouses near the Harbour, containing corn and papyrus rolls (books probably prepared in Alexandria for export), caught fire, and a large number of precious volumes — 40,000, Livy says — were destroyed. This probably gave rise to the legend, current a few generations later, that the great Alexandrine Library had been burnt.​8 Caesar also threw a detachment into the island of Pharos to prevent the passage between the Harbour and the sea from being closed.

The royal palace, with the king and queen and the two younger children of Ptolemy Auletes, remained in Caesar's possession. The queen was no doubt altogether on the side of her great lover, but her younger sister Arsinoe, a girl then  p365 of about fifteen, had the precocious ambition and will we have learnt to expect in Macedonian princesses. She escaped from the palace with the eunuch under whose care she had been brought up, Ganymedes, and took up her position as the representative of the royal house, with the army of Achillas (late autumn? 48 B.C.). This change in the situation was soon followed by another — the removal of the two men who had held the chief power in Egypt a few months before, and had contrived the murder of Pompey. In the attacking army, jealousy broke out between Achillas and Ganymedes, and Achillas was put to death by order of Arsinoe. About the same time in the palace, Pothinus, convicted of being in correspondence with the enemy, was put to death by Caesar — ostensibly no doubt by order of Cleopatra.

The attacking army, now commanded by Ganymedes, pressed Caesar's little force hard. At one time it seemed to have succeeded in depriving it of the fresh water which had been brought in conduits from Lake Mareotis, but Caesar sunk wells. In an attempt to get possession of the mole connecting Pharos with the mainland Caesar lost four hundred of his legionaries, and only saved his own life by swimming to his ship. Then the Alexandrines opened negotiations, promising that if Caesar would send them the young king, they would throw over Arsinoe and accept the orders of Ptolemy. Caesar thought it good policy to let the boy of thirteen go, though he had no confidence in Ptolemy's promises. As soon as the boy joined the Alexandrine army, he put himself at the head of the fight against the invading Romans.

At last, the reinforcements expected by Caesar reached Egypt. It was a force commanded by a man of mixed Greek and Gaulish parentage, Mithridates of Pergamon, a devoted adherent of Caesar's, and included a contingent of three thousand Jews under the Idumaean Antipater. Mithridates crossed the desert from Palestine, stormed Pelusium, moved up the eastern branch of the Nile to Memphis, and from Memphis down the western branch on Alexandria. The Alexandrine army tried to intercept him before he could form a junction with the legions of Caesar, but Caesar, going by forced marches round Lake Mareotis, moved too quickly, and the combined force attacked the Alexandrine position on the river. On the second day the position was taken, and a great part of the Alexandrine army — Gauls, Germans,  p366 Asiatics, Romans, Italians, beside Egyptian Greeks and natives — was put to the sword. When the massacre was over, the boy-king was nowhere to be found. It was reported that the boat in which he had tried to escape across the river had been overcrowded with fugitives and had gone down.

Caesar returned to Alexandria, master of the situation (January 4 B.C.). Although Cleopatra was now hated by her subjects — at any rate, by the Greeks and Macedonians of Egypt — because she had given herself to the Roman, they had to see her established as queen by the invincible Caesar. Her official boy-husband, Ptolemy XII, having vanished, Caesar replaced him by her still younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, then about twelve. The official style Theos Philopator, which had presumably belonged to the elder brother in association with Cleopatra, was taken by the younger as well.​9 Arsinoe was sent to Rome, in order that, later on, this princess of the great Macedonian house might walk in chains behind Caesar's triumphal chariot. Caesar himself, although senatorial armies were still afoot overseas, and the world situation seemed crying for his immediate departure, would not give up his pleasant winter season in Egypt with Cleopatra. He made an expedition up the Nile with her, in the magnificent royal pleasure-boat, as far as the Ethiopian frontier. So these two, representing one the conquering power of Macedon, and the other the conquering power of Rome, visited together, as a pair of lovers, the stupendous monuments of the ancient Theban kings — temples where the old worship was still in those days being carried on by throngs of white-robed native priests. It was not till April that Caesar sailed from Alexandria for Syria. He left three legions under Rufinus in Egypt to secure Cleopatra upon the throne. It was possibly at this time that Caesar retroceded Cyprus to Ptolemaic rule. Cyprus was, at any rate, a Ptolemaic dependency again at Caesar's death in 44.

On Payni 23 (June 23, 47 B.C.) Cleopatra bore a son — her son, she declared, and Caesar's. To acknowledge have a son of Caesar's was to stamp him a bastard and display the queen's dishonour in the eyes of those Greeks and Macedonians who took pride in the house of Ptolemy. But Cleopatra, without any shame, gave the child the name of Caesar. The Alexandrines nicknamed him Caesarion (a diminutive). The native priesthood at Hermonthis celebrated the birth of the child  p368 by figures and hieroglyphics still to be seen on their temple walls, in which it was declared that his true father was the god Ra, manifested under the form of Caesar.​10 For her Greek subjects Cleopatra was represented on the coins as Aphrodite with the infant Eros. As the boy grew older, some of the Greeks believed they could detect in his movements something characteristic of Julius Caesar.

When Caesar returned to Rome in 46, triumphant Dictator of the Roman world, Cleopatra took up her residence there, in Caesar's gardens on the other side of the Tiber. She had brought her brother, Ptolemy XIII, with her from Egypt, and a great retinue. To the high society of Rome, which frequented her salon, she assumed royal airs, which many resented. She was spoken of as "the Queen" (regina), without further addition. "I hate the Queen," Cicero writes in one of his letters,​11 though he had got from her a promise of some books or other things from Alexandria, which might be of interest to a man of letters. Caesar recognized the infant Caesar as his son. He dedicated a golden statue of Cleopatra in his new temple of Venus Genetrix, the divinity from whom the Julian house claimed to have sprung.

In the eyes of the Romans, the Queen was still the mistress only, not the wife, of the Dictator, who had all the time his legitimate Roman wife, Calpurnia, though he had no legitimate children. But for Cleopatra at this moment the future must have held giddy possibilities. Things seemed rapidly moving to a great dénouement, in which Julius Caesar, who despised the traditions of the Republic, would boldly convert the Roman world into a monarchy of the Hellenistic type, with himself as king, exalted above the narrow Roman exclusiveness, one in whom all the races of that world — Italian, Greek, Macedonian, Gaulish, Spanish, Egyptian, Asiatic — would see their common sovereign. And, as a signal of his throwing off the narrow Roman tradition, of the universal character of the new monarchy, what could be more striking than if he took as his queen the surviving representative of the Macedonian empire, of the house of Ptolemy? For Cleopatra, too, the three‑centuries-long association of her house with Egypt must now have seemed only a transient connexion,  p369 a stage on its way to the throne of the world. She saw herself the empress of a realm, in which Egypt would be a mere province. And to that realm the boy Caesar would be heir, the boy in whom the Macedonian blood of Ptolemy and the Roman blood of Caesar mingled.

But the Roman aristocrats, who also felt that things were moving to such a dénouement, regarded the prospect with abhorrence and alarm. The idea of their being subject, they, Romans, to a queen whom they contemptuously, if incorrectly, described as "an Egyptian," stung them to rage. And that was only one intolerable feature in what they suspected to be projects of Caesar. On the Ides of March 44 B.C., the daggers of Brutus and his fellows put an abrupt end to Cleopatra's dream. The assassination of Caesar made her own position in Rome one of extreme peril. "The Queen" fled about a fortnight later. She must get back, while she could, to her old narrow kingdom on the Nile, and hope to be safe in Egypt through the coming convulsions in the Roman world, as her ancestor the first Ptolemy had been safe there through the convulsions which followed the death of Alexander.

Cleopatra must have brought back her young brother, Ptolemy XIII, with her to Egypt, since a document at Oxyrhyncus of July 26, 44, is still dated by Cleopatra and Ptolemy together.​12 But he died shortly after her return.​13 Porphyry says that Cleopatra contrived his death, and Josephus says that she poisoned him — which is likely enough, since he would naturally appear as a rival to the boy Caesar. According to Dio Cassius,​14 Cleopatra, soon after her return to Egypt, associated her son with herself upon the throne, and the temple at Denderah shows the colossal figure of Cleopatra, depicted as the Egyptian goddess Hathor, together with the boy Caesar, habited as an ancient Pharaoh. A Fayûm Greek about this time dedicates a stele on behalf of queen Cleopatra and king Ptolemy Caesar "and of their ancestors" [of the house of Ptolemy and of the gens Julia?] to the Egyptian crocodile god, whom he declares to be the young king's "great-grandfather."​15 The inscription on the stele in Turin begins: "In the reign of Cleopatra, Father-loving  p370 goddess, and of Ptolemy who is also Caesar, Father-loving, Mother-loving God. . . ." Unfortunately the inscription is broken and the date can be restored only by conjecture.16

The stele in question throws a chance light upon internal conditions in Upper Egypt at this moment. It was put up by the priests of Amen‑Ra-Sonther at Thebes and other heads of the native community in the city in honour of Callimachus, the chief magistrate (epistates) of the Theban division of the Pathyrite nome. He had been devoted, we are told, in his paternal care for the city of Thebes, "ruined by a variety of grievous circumstances" — an allusion probably to the treatment inflicted upon Thebes by Soter II in 88 B.C. — and had laboured for the city's revival. Again, in the recent year of famine and the following year of pestilence, he had done all that was possible to relieve the terrible distress. Above all, he had taken pains to secure that the rites of religion in the Egyptian temples should be carried out in the  p371 proper manner. Various things may be gathered from the inscription. One is that the officials in Upper Egypt were acting independently of the court in a new way — a consequence of the distractions of the royal family, and perhaps of the prolonged absence of Cleopatra in Rome. The eulogy of the Thebans is piled upon the divisional magistrate, and not a word is said of the queen except in the dating. Further, we may gather that the destruction of the old Egyptian capital by Soter II had not been complete: Thebes, if sadly reduced and battered, continued to exist.

Another inscription belonging to the year 11 of Cleopatra has been found at Heracleopolis, embodying a decree issued by Cleopatra and Ptolemy Caesar on a date corresponding to April 13, 41 B.C.17 The purport of the edict is to enforce the privileges of Alexandrines residing in Egypt for agricultural work outside Alexandria. The local officials had been harassing Alexandrines for the payment of dues and taxes which the ordinary inhabitants had to pay, but from which Alexandrines were immune. A delegation of these Alexandrines had presented themselves before the queen in person on March 15 (the Ides of March! — an anniversary Cleopatra would remember) to submit their case, and the promulgation of the decree a month later was the consequence. It was addressed individually to the strategoi of different nomes, and it was ordered that a copy of it should be put up in the nome-capital, in Greek and in Egyptian. Chance has preserved for us the slab on which it was inscribed at Heracleopolis.

"Queen Cleopatra, Father-loving Goddess, and king Ptolemy, who is also Caesar, Father-loving, Mother-loving God, to the strategos of the Heracleopolite nome, greeting. Let the subjoined decree, with the present royal letter, be transcribed in Greek and in native letters, and let it be put up publicly in the metropolis and in the principal places of the nome, and let all else be done according to our commands. Farewell. Year 11. Daisios 13, which is Pharmuthi 13.

"To Theon [the dioiketes?]. Whereas those from the City who do agricultural work in the Prosopite and Bubastite nomes have addressed a petition to us in audience on the 15th of Phamenoth against the officials of the Ten Nomes,​18 setting forth how these, contrary to our will and to the orders  p372 repeatedly sent out in accordance with our decision, by those over the administration [the dioiketai], to the effect that no one should demand of them anything above the essential royal dues (τὰ γνήσια βασιλικά), essay to act wrongfully and to include them amongst those of whom rural and provincial dues, which concern them not, are exacted, we, being exceedingly indignant and judging it well to issue a general and universal ordinance regarding the whole matter,​19 have decreed that all those from the City, who carry on agricultural work in the country, shall not be subjected, as others are, to demands for stephanoi and epigraphai such as may be made from time to time, and on special occasions, in the nomes, nor shall their goods be distrained for such contributions, nor shall any new tax be required of them, but when they have once paid the essential dues, in kind or in money, for corn-land and for vine-land, which have regularly in the past been assigned to the royal treasury, they shall not be molested for anything further, on any pretext whatever. Let it be done accordingly, and let this be put up publicly, according to law."

The last decree we know of issued by a sovereign of the house of Ptolemy!

From Egypt Cleopatra watched the great struggle in the Roman world which followed Caesar's death. Till Antony and Octavianus Caesar, standing for the cause of the dead Dictator, could intervene effectively in the Eastern Mediterranean, the senatorial forces in those countries, commanded by Brutus and Cassius, ruled the field. Caesar's cause was represented in the East by the hot-headed and inefficient Dolabella, and the Roman legions, which had ever since the spring of 47 been left as a garrison in Egypt, marched out under Allienus to join him in Asia, but in Syria they changed sides and joined Cassius instead. In July 43 Dolabella committed suicide in the Syrian Laodicea, to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy. Cleopatra had given Dolabella no help, though her sentiments, so far as she had any apart from her policy, must have been on the side of the Caesarians. The applications from Cassius for the help of the Egyptian fleet, which was considered formidable, she steadily evaded.  p373 When at last Antony and Octavian stood on the field of Philippi as victors (autumn, 42 B.C.) the queen of Egypt had done nothing to help either the victorious or the defeated side. Her policy of inactivity, so long as the issue was undecided, may have seemed safe and prudent, but it left her now exposed to the resentment of the victors, who might not unreasonably have expected her to have shown a warmer interest in the cause of her great dead lover. But Cleopatra had her own way of mingling in the world-conflict — to mark the man in the ascendant, attach herself to him, and subjugate him to her purposes.

By the victory of Philippi, Mark Antony became ruler of the eastern part of the Roman world. At Ephesus, a few months after the battle, he was already hailed as a manifestation of the god Dionysos. Cleopatra took no step to communicate with him, or justify herself, till Antony, provoked by her reserve, sent his friend, the dissolute Quintus Dellius,​20 to suggest her coming to meet him in Cilicia.

Then Cleopatra went forth to conquer, with her own weapons of warfare. A gorgeous ship sailed up the river Cydnus, bearing the new Aphrodite with a pageantry of little Cupids and Nereids and Graces, to meet the new Dionysos. The pageantry, as Mahaffy points out, and as we should expect, was all Greek, not Egyptian. At Tarsus Cleopatra was as completely victorious as Antony and Octavian had been at Philippi. She was once more the mistress of the most power­ful man — or one of the two most power­ful men — in the world. Antony would use all that power of his to further her purposes. Yet it would be a mistake to read into Antony's liaison that quality of romance and chivalry which the modern world associates with love. In "that hard Pagan world," as may be seen by the frank brutality with which Antony himself spoke of his relation to Cleopatra in one of his letters to Octavian,​21 these things had no such transfiguring halo. Antony seems even to have taken a vulgar pride in having as the instrument of his pleasures a real queen; his first Roman wife had been a freedman's daughter, his present Roman wife, the terrible Fulvia, was of humble origin, and his host of vagrant amours had been with mimes and  p374 common trulls. But he would do almost anything that Cleopatra wished; and that was the important thing from her point of view.

He did indeed ask for some explanation of her failure to give any help to the Caesarian cause before Philippi. And Cleopatra had an explanation ready — a feminine explanation, much more effective, no doubt, than any grave political argument could have been. She really had tried to come to the help of the cause. She had sailed out herself with the Egyptian fleet, but the weather had been atrocious, and she had been so dreadfully ill.​22 And then Antony began doing the things she asked. It was, in the first instance, to have a number of people killed, killed or delivered up to her — her sister Arsinoe, who, since she had been led a captive through the streets of Rome, had taken refuge in the precinct of Artemis at Ephesus, where she was now murdered to gratify Cleopatra's undying hatred; a young man at Aradus, who professed to be her vanished brother Ptolemy XII; Serapion, the Ptolemaic governor of Cyprus, who had given help to Cassius.

Antony spent the winter season of 41‑40 in Egypt, and gave himself up, with Cleopatra, to the life of pleasure and riotous festivity which Plutarch has described. A convivial association of the Greek type, the synodos of the "Inimitable Livers" (amimētobioi), was formed with the queen and her Roman lover, habited now as a Greek, for its moving spirits.​23 And all the time events were taking place in the world outside which must profoundly affect Antony's position — in Italy a quarrel, which came to actual war, between Octavian and Antony's family, his wife Fulvia and his brother Lucius; in Syria and Asia Minor, an invasion of the Parthians, led by the Roman renegade Labienus. In the spring of 40, Antony at last left Egypt and met Fulvia in Athens, but he was relieved of this difficult element in his life by Fulvia dying a few weeks later at Sicyon. When Antony reached Italy, friendship was patched up between him and Octavian, and the agreement was sealed by the marriage of Octavian's widowed sister, Octavia, to Antony. The eastern provinces were recognized as Antony's special sphere of power, but he remained himself in Italy till the end of 39, ordering their  p375 affairs through his legates, who succeeded in recovering Asia Minor and Syria from the Parthians.

After Antony left Egypt in 40, Cleopatra was delivered of twins, a boy and a girl, assimilated to the twin deities of Sun and Moon, the children of Leto. They were given the names of Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. Antony left Italy at the end of 39, but it was to make Athens his place of residence, with Octavia. He did not set foot again in the provinces farther east till 36, when he came to Syria, without Octavia, in order to conduct in person from that country a great expedition against the Parthians. By this time the desire for Cleopatra again possessed him. He also needed, for his expedition, to draw upon the resources of Egypt. He summoned the Queen to meet him in Syria, and their old relation was resumed. Another son was born to them, Ptolemy Philadelphus. Palestine, the lost province of the house of Ptolemy, was now the kingdom of Herod, the Idumaean king of the Jews, and this man, a protégé of Antony's, was too important a vassal for Antony to oust him, on the eve of a Parthian war, even in favour of Cleopatra. But he could momentarily still Cleopatra's territorial appetite by scraps of country here and there in Asia and the islands. Lysanias, the petty king of the region called Chalcis at the foot of the Lebanon, was put to death on charges brought against him by Cleopatra, and his kingdom assigned to her. The Phoenician coast from the mouth of the Eleutherus to Sidon, once within the Ptolemaic sphere of power, was given to her — also an estate rich in cedar-woods in Cilicia, also an estate in Crete. The balsam woods near Jericho, of great commercial value, were given to her, and Herod appointed to act in this region as her agent.

Cleopatra accompanied Antony on his expedition as far as the Euphrates, and then returned through Syria, visiting her new domains on the way. Herod escorted her as far as the Egyptian frontier. These two had a murderous hatred for each other, but outward civilities were necessary for the time being. In Egypt, the head of Antony now began to appear on the coinage — not as king, probably — the title given him on a coin is one defining his position in the Roman world, αυτοκράτωρ τρίων ἀνδρῶν ("Imperator, one of the Triumvirs") — but, according to the phrase of an inscription referred to just now, as "god and benefactor."

Antony's Parthian expedition was a dismal failure. He  p376 regained Syria with only the wrecks of his army. Cleopatra met him, with comforts for his draggled troops, in her new Phoenician domain, and he returned with her to Egypt (early in 35 B.C.). In the course of 35 Antony set out from Egypt on a second expedition against the Parthians, and Cleopatra accompanied him to Syria. Meanwhile Octavia was on her way from Rome, bringing reinforcements and supplies for her husband's army, and had got as far as Athens when she received a letter from Antony ordering her to proceed no farther. It was a sign that the Queen, her rival, daily present to Antony's senses, had greater power over him than the absent spouse. The public slight inflicted upon Octavia made war between Caesar Octavianus and Antony practically certain in the near future. From Syria Antony, instead of proceeding with his eastern expedition, returned again with Cleopatra to Egypt. Whether the deferment of the expedition was due to the influence of Cleopatra, or to changes in the situation which made a deferment advisable for military reasons, is a question. In 34 Antony set out once more, and this time he directed his attack, not against the Parthian kingdom, but against Armenia. He was more success­ful than he had been two years before, and returned to Alexandria with a quantity of spoils and the king of Armenia a captive. No Roman triumph had hitherto ever gone except, by consecrated custom, along the Sacred Way in Rome, but now the Roman ruler of the East, to the scandal of the Roman aristocracy, led his triumphal procession down the long broad street of Alexandria, before the queen of Egypt sitting high on her golden throne and receiving homage as a goddess. A few days later a still more ominous ceremony took place in the precincts of the Gymnasium. On a platform of silver Antony and Cleopatra sat upon two thrones of gold, Cleopatra now in Egyptian dress, habited as the goddess Isis. The royal children sat on thrones a little below — first Ptolemy Caesar, joint-king with his mother, then the children of Antony, Alexander Helios in the garb of a Median king, Ptolemy Philadelphus in Macedonian royal dress — kausia, chlamys, krepides — and Cleopatra Selene. It was proclaimed that Cleopatra would henceforth have the title "Queen of Kings," and the boy Caesar, declared to be the legitimate issue of Julius Caesar, the title "King of Kings." Alexander Helios was proclaimed "Great King" of Armenia and of all the eastern provinces of the great Alexander's empire which  p377 might in the future be recovered from the Parthians as far as India, Ptolemy Philadelphus was proclaimed king of Syria and Asia Minor, the little Cleopatra queen of the Cyrenaica.

Cleopatra from this time played the goddess more conspicuously than before. Not content with the style of Thea Philopator which she had used from the outset, according to the regular custom of the dynasty, she now assumed that of Nea Isis, used already by Cleopatra III, or of Thea Neotera (as a class of her later coins have it), which means the same thing — an ancient goddess come back to the earth in the person of a modern woman, or a modern woman analogous to an ancient goddess. She made a practice of appearing on state occasions in the garb of Isis.24

After such a disappointment as had come to Cleopatra by the assassination of Julius Caesar — a fall from such a height so nearly won — it might have seemed improbable that another chance like that would ever occur again in one woman's life. Yet now again, ten years later, Cleopatra saw herself within measurable distance of becoming Empress of the world. Antony had resumed Julius Caesar's idea of creating a Roman-Hellenistic monarchy. Already all the eastern part of Alexander's empire had been marked out as the heritage of Cleopatra's sons, the living representatives of the house of Ptolemy, and if, in the inevitable struggle now at hand between Antony and Octavianus — the young man who bore the name of Caesar by a legal fiction and was not, like Ptolemy Caesar, the actual flesh and blood of the great Julius — if in that struggle Antony, with all the resources of the East at his command, came out victor, then the western part of the Roman empire, too, would be united with the East under the sceptre of Antony and Cleopatra.

Cleopatra, it is said, adopted as a form of asseveration, "So surely as one day I shall give judgment in the Roman Capitol." And if then the united Roman power accomplished what Julius Caesar had projected, what Antony had failed to do in 36 — crushed the Parthians and won back for Hellenism the lost eastern provinces of Alexander's empire — then the realm over which the daughter of the Ptolemies  p378 would sit as queen would stretch farther than Alexander's — from India and Central Asia to Britain and the Atlantic.

But first Octavianus Caesar must be met and annihilated. At Rome itself feeling was divided between the two rivals, and the street-boys fought, some for Antony and some for Caesar. In the winter 33‑32 Antony and Cleopatra resided in Ephesus, which was made the point of concentration for Antony's army. Thence in 32 they moved to Samos and Athens. From Athens Antony sent to Octavia in Italy a letter of divorcement. So long as he had a legal wife beside Cleopatra, it was impossible for the Graeco-Roman world to regard Cleopatra as more than his mistress. The divorce of Octavia was meant to give Cleopatra's position legal regularity. Octavian responded by forcibly taking away Antony's will and testament from the custody of the Vestal Virgins and making it public, so that Antony's dispositions in favour of Cleopatra and her children might inflame Roman opinion against him. Then he formally declared war against the queen of Egypt in the name of Rome.25

A number of the great Romans had chosen the side of Antony and were to be found in his entourage and the queen's, in Ephesus or Greece. Many of them believed that it was essential to Antony's chances in the coming struggle that he should be temporarily detached from Cleopatra, and they said openly that it would be well if the Queen left the theatre of war and returned to Egypt. To express such an opinion was to make Cleopatra furious. Her behaviour at this time was such that more than one friend of Antony despaired of his cause and deserted to Caesar. It is surprising that so clever a woman did not show greater skill in conciliating men whose help it was important to retain. One must suppose that her judgment had at this time been overborne by the intoxication of power — her cleverness didº go far enough to stand the strain of so tremendous a success. One must also bear in mind that continuous carousals with Antony and his boon-companions may well in the long run have blunted her acumen and diminished her power of restraint. Horace may have been going by first-hand information when he described Cleopatra's mind in these days as "disordered by Mareotic wine." This Levantine woman of thirty-seven,  p379 whose life had been one of riotous indulgence, must have been something altogether grosser, less pleasant to contemplate, than the fascinating girl of twenty-one who had made a conquest of the great Julius.

The decisive shock came in September 31 B.C. — the naval battle of Actium. In the fleet of Antony there was a contingent of sixty swift-sailing Egyptian galleys with the queen on board. For Antony, with his forces concentrated in the Gulf of Ambracia, it was a question of breaking the blockade to which Caesar's fleet, commanding the sea outside, subjected him. The battle was fought at the mouth of the Gulf, the Egyptian galleys being held in reserve in the rear of Antony's lines. Virgil later on pictures the queen summoning her forces "with the sistrum of her native land" — the sacred rattle which the goddess Isis regularly carried in her hand — and the fight is for him a fight between the half-animal gods of Egypt — the dog Anubis and the rest — and the noble deities of Rome — Neptune, Venus, and Minerva. It is indeed true that September 2, 31 B.C., was the last occasion in history when the old Egypt, the Egypt which worshipped Amen‑Ra and Ptah, Osiris and Isis, Anubis and Thoth, was represented as a sovereign state upon a field of battle. Its forces were led by a queen not of Egyptian blood, and the fighting men on board must have been largely composed, like the Ptolemaic armies generally, of men of Macedonian and Greek origin, but the crews will have been mainly native Egyptian, and even the Egyptian Greeks now commonly invoked the old gods of the land. Cries to Horus and Mentu, in the native tongue of Egypt, may well have sounded upon the air, as the sixty galleys took their place in the battle formation — such cries as had sounded in a thousand fights through the forty centuries past, but would no more be heard in the battles of mankind.

In the middle of the battle the Egyptian galleys sailed out through Antony's front, but, instead of engaging the enemy, made off, with canvas crowded, to the south. Immediately afterwards Antony in his single ship left the battle and followed in their wake. According to the traditional view, derived from Plutarch, it was, on Cleopatra's part, an act of black treachery — she saw that the battle was going against Antony and deserted his cause, whilst she might still hope to make favourable terms with the victor and, on Antony's part, an act of mad infatuation — when he saw Cleopatra  p380 departing, his passion for her made him fling every other consideration to the winds. Modern writers argue from the account of the battle given by Dio Cassius,º that the evasion was really a plan concerted beforehand between Antony and the queen. Antony saw that the position of his land army had become hopeless, that the one chance was for him to break away to the open sea with what naval force he could, and regain Egypt, where he might have breathing-space and get together a fresh power.

If he nourished such hopes, the event proved them vain. Antony and Cleopatra re-entered the harbour of Alexandria, the sixty galleys garlanded as if for a great victory, in order to deceive the people till their troops had again got possession of the city. They resumed the old life of revelry, but under the felt imminence of doom. The club of the "Inimitable Livers" was changed into the club of the Synapothanoumenoi, "Those who are going to die together." The forces of Antony in the neighbouring countries — in the Cyrenaica, in Syria — declared for Caesar. Wild plans were discussed — landing with a force in Spain and raising the West against Caesar, seeking refuge in the recesses of the south, in Ethiopia, in the elephant country far up the Red Sea.

Cleopatra actually got so far as to have a number of vessels transported from the Mediterranean across the Isthmus of Suez for the flight up the Red Sea; but the Roman governor of Syria, who had deserted the cause of Antony for that of Caesar, induced the Nabataeans of Petra to fall upon the ships and burn them, so frustrating the adventurous plan. One thing which the story seems incidentally to show is that the canal made by Ptolemy II, connecting the Nile with the Red Sea, was impassable for larger vessels, or had been allowed by later kings to fall out of repair, possibly, as Mahaffy suggests, because they found the route up the Nile to Coptos, and thence by land over the desert to Berenice or Myos Hormos, more practical and safer than the route which went all the way by the Red Sea.

In 30 B.C. Caesar Octavianus entered Egypt with his army from Syria. The frontier which had been an impassable barrier to Perdiccas and Antigonus had this time offered small difficulties. Antony had no trustworthy force with which to defend it. Caesar took Pelusium; it was believed that the Ptolemaic commandant, Seleucus, made no real opposition. When Caesar's army lay outside Alexandria, the queen barricaded  p381 herself with a quantity of treasure and with her two women — Charmion, her manicurist, and Iras,​26 her hair-dresser — in a solidly built monument somewhere in Alexandria, and gave Antony to understand that she had committed suicide. Then Antony thrust his sword into his body, but bungled it, and was drawn up, badly wounded, into the monument by Cleopatra and her women. What happened inside the monument could never, of course, be known, except by what Cleopatra and her women chose afterwards to say. When the Romans broke into the monument, they found Antony's corpse. Plutarch gives a pathetic account of the last words of the lovers, but one must remember that Cleopatra's chances of making good terms with Caesar might seem to be increased, if Antony were got out of the way, and that she had apparently tried by a trick to induce him to take his own life.

Caesar made his entry as conqueror into Alexandria on August 1, 30 B.C. He had an interview with the queen, who had now returned from the monument to the palace of the Ptolemies. It was afterwards said that Cleopatra, in her fortieth year, tried to repeat a third time her success in captivating the ruler of the Roman world, but failed against the cold prudence of the young Caesar, though Octavian was no saint. But that may well be later invention, when legend worked up the story of Cleopatra according to the established idea of her as the magnificent harlot. All we can say for certain is that when these two came into contact, it was a case of two deep actors each trying to impose upon the other. That Caesar desired to exhibit the notorious Queen to the Roman crowd, led a captive behind his triumphal chariot, is likely enough, and that for this reason he tried to prevent her from killing herself. Her end must always be enveloped in mystery. All that is certain is that she was discovered one day dead in her royal robes — perhaps the garb she wore as the New Isis. The story which became established within a few weeks​27 in Rome was that she had had an asp, or two  p382 asps,​28 secretly conveyed to her, and caused herself to be bitten. Iras too, the story said, was found dead at her mistress' feet, and Charmion at the point of death. No snake was ever seen, but it was said that some small marks discovered upon the queen's body proved the manner of her death. Later on, her body-physician, Olympus, published an account of her last days, and from this book the story, as we have it, may, in most of its details, be derived. But one cannot know whether Olympus wrote to tell the truth, or to make a dramatic narrative, or to please the Romans.29

There was still a boy of seventeen alive, who bore combined the great names of Ptolemy and Caesar — the heir by his mother of Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, and the one acknowledged son of Julius Caesar. He had already the status of king of Egypt, Ptolemy XIV. Before Cleopatra's death, he had been sent with his Greek tutor to escape to Berenice on the Red Sea coast. The man who bore the name of Caesar by right of adoption sent messengers after the pair, decoyed them back to Alexandria — whether by the tutor's  p383 treachery or stupidity we cannot say — and then quickly put his inconvenient cousin to death. So the history of the Ptolemies which begins with the only acknowledged son of Alexander the Great, murdered in his thirteenth year, ends with the only acknowledged son of Julius Caesar, murdered in his eighteenth year, whilst they seem both to have a far-off analogue in the only legitimate son of the third great conqueror, in the Aiglon, who died in what was practically captivity in his twenty-second year.

Cleopatra's three children by Antony — Alexander surnamed the Sun, Cleopatra surnamed the Moon, and Ptolemy Philadelphus — were sent to Italy, to be brought up by Octavia, who took the children of any wife of Antony under her wing. Cleopatra the Moon was married, when she grew up, to the Numidian prince Juba, who not only had a good Greek education but obtained note in his time as a voluminous writer in Greek with a mass of uncritical bookish erudition. The Romans made him king of Mauretania (Morocco) when the throne of that country fell vacant, so that, from 25 B.C.  p384 till about the birth of Christ, there was a queen Cleopatra reigning at the opposite end of the North African seaboard to Egypt. Dio (LI.15.6) says that Octavian "gave Alexander and Ptolemy to Juba and Cleopatra," which probably does mean that Cleopatra took her two brothers with her to Morocco.​30 The son of Juba and Cleopatra, called Ptolemy, succeeded to the throne of Mauretania, probably in 23 A.D., but he fell a victim to the jealousy of Caligula in 40 A.D. because he had worn a purple mantle more conspicuous than the Emperor's in the amphitheatre at Rome. Caligula sent him into exile and had him assassinated on the road. The last king Ptolemy known to history left no issue. Though he was king, not of Egypt, but of Morocco, and on his father's side a Numidian, his name bore witness to the fact that through his mother he was a descendant of the Macedonian chief who three hundred years before his birth had embarked on the astounding adventure of founding a Greek kingdom in the wonderland of the Nile. Of Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus, after they were given to Juba and Cleopatra we hear no more. If they grew up and left issue, they were lost in the crowd of the obscure. Probably when king Ptolemy fell murdered by the roadside, the Ptolemaic stem ceased to have any branch in the world.

Egypt, after Ptolemy Caesar had been killed by Octavianus Caesar in 30 B.C., became a province of the Roman Empire. It reverted, that is to say, to the position it had had for a few years in the empire of Alexander the Great, the position from which it had been raised again for the last three hundred years, to the status of an independent kingdom — though a kingdom under an alien dynasty — by Ptolemy I. It became a province, though, in one way, unlike any other, inasmuch as Octavianus Caesar, known after January 27 B.C. as Augustus, took the rich country as his personal estate and forbade any member of the senatorial order to set foot in it without his special leave. The place of the kings of the house of Ptolemy was taken by the Roman Emperors, usually far away in Italy, though the natives continued for another three hundred years to portray upon their temple-walls their foreign rulers in the semblance of Egyptian kings offering homage to the old divinities of the land.

The Author's Notes:

1 That Cleopatra VI had any native Egyptian blood is exceedingly improbable. The Seleucid blood in her veins was Macedonian, with a slight Persian admixture, not Syrian. On the suppositions, all doubtful, (1) that the mother of Ptolemy Auletes was a pure Greek, (2) that his wife Tryphaena was his whole sister, (3) that Cleopatra was the daughter of Tryphaena, the proportion of elements in Cleopatra's blood would be — Greek, 32; Macedonian, 27; Persian, 5.

2 Strack, p212.

3 His name is Greek; his nationality is unknown. See p274.

4 Plutarch, Pomp. 77.

5 Bell. Civ. III.110.6.

6 Klio, X (1910), p55.

7 OGI 190.

8 See Bouché-Leclercq's note, II p199. Birt still believes that the great Library itself was destroyed in 46 B.C. ("Kritik und Hermeneutik,"º in I. von Müller's Handbuch, p339).

9 This is now proved by Oxy. XIV No. 1629.

10 Sir F. Petrie holds that, from the point of view of the native Egyptians, it was quite correct for their queen to marry the man who at any time was de facto ruler of Egypt.

11 Ad Atticum, XV.15.

12 Oxy. XIV No. 1629.

13 Porphyry says he died in the fourth year of his reign (= the eighth year of Cleopatra), i.e. 45‑44 B.C.

14 XLVII.31.5.

15 Annales (1908), p241.

16 Dittenberger (OGI No. 194) follows the conjecture of Franz, "in the tenth year [of Cleopatra], which is also the second year [of Ptolemy Caesar], i.e. 43‑42 B.C." But when later on we find a system of double dating, it is the sixteenth year of Cleopatra (37‑36 B.C.) which corresponds with the first year of the other series, and the inscription of Heracleopolis has simply year 11. Strack, who takes the view that the series with lower numbers is that of the regnal years of Ptolemy Caesar, supposes that while Cleopatra made Ptolemy Caesar co‑king (Mitherrscher) in 44, in his dead uncle's room, she did not make him joint-king (Sammtherrscher) till 36 B.C., from which date his regnal years were reckoned. That seems a distinction without a difference. Letronne, in the article to which Dittenberger refers (Journal des Savants, 1842, p717), hardly bears out the view in support of which Dittenberger cites it. Letronne's view was that the series with lower numbers in the dating represented the regnal years of Mark Antony, as king of Egypt; but Strack is probably right in his contention that Antony never was king of Egypt. Letronne supposed that Ptolemy Caesar (associated with his mother in 44 B.C.) had no distinct regnal years of his own, and that there had therefore been no double date in the broken-off part of the Turin stele. Porphyry says that in the double dating both series were regnal years of Cleopatra — one her regnal years as queen of Egypt, the other her regnal years as queen of Chalcis in Syria, which she acquired in 36 B.C. This is probably correct. The double dates appear only on coins struck in Berytus, not on Egyptian coins, and in Syria and Phoenicia Cleopatra's years might well be reckoned from the time when her rule in these regions began, as well as from her accession to the throne of Egypt (Svoronos, p469). If the famine mentioned in the Turin stele is the famine of 44 and 43 B.C., Ptolemy Caesar must already, when he was four years old, have had the status of king. Bouché-Leclercq's attempt in vol. II to combine the view of Letronne with that of Porphyry, he himself revokes in vol. IV.

17 Published by Lefebvre in Mélanges Holleaux (1913), pp103 ff.

18 The nomes, probably, of Lower Egypt.

19 Lefebvre translates, applying the principle to the local officials, "par haine et dessein d'assouvir en une fois sur eux bonsº leur rancune"; but this surely is wrong; μισοπονηρία is "righteous indignation."

20 One of the best-known odes of Horace (II.3) is addressed to him. The poet urges him to indulgeº freely in the pleasures of life. "Horace aurait pu mieux placer ses conseils" (Bouché-Leclercq).

21 Suet. Aug. 69.º

22 Appian, B. C. V.8.

23 An inscription put up in honour of Antonius "his god" by a member of this fraternity (OGI, No. 195).

24 There is this slight justification for the representation of Cleopatra on the modern stage as an Egyptian. Yet it was on state occasions apparently, not in ordinary life, that she wore Egyptian dress, and that not as a woman, but as representing a goddess who was at this time widely venerated in the Greek world, as well as in Egypt.

25 A Roman officer in Egypt, probably a "praefectus fabrum" in this year (32 B.C.), visited Philae with a number of Greek friends and left a memorial of himself and them on the walls (OGI, No. 196).

26 The name of Charmion is unquestionably Greek, connected with χάρμη, "joy." But what of Iras (Εἴρας)? If Pape (Griech. Eigenname) is right in connecting it with εἶρος, "wool," and saying that it means "wool-head," one might conjecture that Iras was a negro slave-girl. But it may be questioned whether the name has anything to do with εἶρος, or, if it has, whether it means "wool-head," or whether it is Greek at all. It might be short for Irene as Lucas for Lucanus.

27 Horace, OdesI.37.

28 Virgil, Aen. VIII.697.

29 Professor Nöldeke (Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländ. Gesellsch., 1885, p349) has argued that the official Roman version of the death of Cleopatra is incredible on the following grounds: (1) Cleopatra is said to have chosen death by an asp-bite, because she had ascertained that this mode of death was the most painless possible, whereas death by asp-bite involves, for a short time at any rate, very great pain. (2) The bite of an asp produces discoloration, going much beyond a few small local marks. (3) A snake, when it has once ejected its poison in a bite, does not secrete more poison till after a considerable interval of time; if, therefore, Cleopatra's two attendants died together with her by asp-bite, we have to suppose that at least three asps were employed, though no snake was ever found. Professor Nöldeke concludes that Cleopatra was really put to death by Octavian, and the asp story concocted by the Romans and circulated as the official explanation of her end. This is certainly possible; we should have then to suppose that when Olympus described in his book how Cleopatra had been bent on suicide and had examined various ways of death, he was writing what the Roman government wished written. Yet Professor Nöldeke's objections to the common story are not sound. With regard to the third one, although Galen (De Ther. ad Pisonem) asserts that Charmion and Iras died by snake-bite, no one was present to see, and nothing in Plutarch's story forbids our supposing that they had taken poison at the same time that the queen had caused herself to be bitten by the asp. With regard to (1) and (2), Professor Nöldeke's assertions are at variance with the facts.

Professor Sydney Smith, the Principal Medico-Legal Expert to the Egyptian Government, has kindly supplied me with the most authoritative information which can be had on these points. The (p383)principal poisonous snakes in Egypt are the cobra (Naja Hajae), the horned viper (Cerastes), and the common viper (Echis). In viper-bites there is usually considerable burning pain at the site of the puncture, with swelling and oozing of blood, but in cobra-bites there is comparatively little local pain, discoloration, or swelling. "In fact, it is difficult on post-mortem examination to find the bite. Death may occur in about half an hour from respiratory failure associated with general paralysis." The cobra is the most common of all the poisonous snakes, "and its bite is much more likely to cause a fatal issue than that of the viper, which causes a mortality of about 20 per cent." The only difficulty Professor Smith sees in the story is that it is not likely, he thinks, that a cobra could be hidden in a basket of figs.

This difficulty does not seem to me insurmountable, since we are not told how large the basket was; I have seen snake-charmers carry about cobras in baskets of quite a moderate size. Poetic fitness would suggest that the queen of Egypt should choose the cobra, the royal snake of the Pharaohs, as the minister of her death. Aspis is the regular word in Greek for a cobra; the aspis in Nicander seems to be a cobra, and the royal crown with the cobra was called in Greek ἀσπιδοειδής (Canopus Decree). The name given in many modern books to the royal Egyptian snake, uraeus, is found only in Horapollon (about 500 A.D.), by whom it is given as a transcript in Greek of the Egyptian name ("uro," "king," in Coptic);​a it has nothing to do with the Greek adjective οὐραιος, and is not found in any Greek or Latin authors. Galen says that in Alexandria criminals whom it was desired to put to death in the most merci­ful way had a cobra applied to their chest, and that he himself had witnessed executions of this kind; death was very rapid (De Ther. ad Pisonem, 7)

30 Bouché-Leclercq in his note (II p364) seems to have over­looked Dio's statement; the affirmation of R. de la Blanchère would not rest solely upon the doubtful evidence of some coins.

Thayer's Note:

a For those with Coptic fonts: ⲟⲩⲣⲱⲟⲩ.

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