Cleopatra - Jacob Abbott

Cleopatra and Cęsar

In the mean time, while the events related in the last chapter were taking place at Alexandria, Cleopatra remained anxious and uneasy in her camp, quite uncertain, for a time, what it was best for her to do. She wished to be at Alexandria. She knew very well that Cæsar's power in controlling the course of affairs in Egypt would necessarily be supreme. She was, of course, very earnest in her desire to be able to present her cause before him. As it was, Ptolemy and Pothinus were in communication with the arbiter, and, for aught she knew, assiduously cultivating his favor, while she was far away, her cause unheard, her wrongs unknown, and perhaps even her existence forgotten. Of course, under such circumstances, she was very earnest to get to Alexandria.

But how to accomplish this purpose was a source of great perplexity. She could not march thither at the head of an army, for the army of the king was strongly intrenched at Pelueium, and effectually barred the way. She could not attempt to pass alone, or with few attendants, through the country, for every town and village was occupied with garrisons and officers under the orders of Pothinus, and she would be certainly intercepted. She had no fleet, and could not, therefore, make the passage by sea. Besides, even if she could by any means reach the gates of Alexandria, how was she to pass safely through the streets of the city to the palace where Cęsar resided, since the pity, except in Cęsar's quarters, was wholly in the hands of Pothinus's government? The difficulties in the way of accomplishing her object seemed thus almost insurmountable.

She was, however, resolved to make the attempt. She sent a message to Cęsar, asking permission to appear before him and plead her own cause. Cęsar replied, urging her by all means to come. She took a single boat, and with the smallest number of attendants possible, made her way along the coast to Alexandria. The man on whom she principally relied in this hazardous expedition was a domestic named Apollodorus. She had, however, some other attendants besides. When the party reached Alexandria, they waited until night, and then advanced to the foot of the walls of the citadel. Here Apollodorus rolled the queen up in a piece of carpeting, and, covering the whole package with a cloth, he tied it with a thong, so as to give it the appearance of a bail of ordinary merchandise, and then throwing the load across his shoulder, he advanced into the city. Cleopatra was at this time about twenty-one years of age, but she was of a slender and graceful form, and the burden was, consequently, not very heavy. Apollodorus came to the gates of the palace where Cęsar was residing. The guards at the gates asked him what it was that he was carrying. He said that it was a present for Cęsar. So they allowed him to pass, and the pretended porter carried his package safely in.

Cleopatra and Caesar


When it was unrolled, and Cleopatra came out to view, Cęsar was perfectly charmed with the spectacle. In fact, the various conflicting emotions which she could not but feel under such circumstances as these, imparted a double interest to her beautiful and expressive face, and to her naturally bewitching manners. She was excited by the adventure through which she had passed, and yet pleased with her narrow escape from its dangers. The curiosity and interest which she felt on the one hand, in respect to the great personage into whose presence she had been thus strangely ushered, was very strong; but then, on the other, it was chastened and subdued by that feeling of timidity which, in new and unexpected situations like these, and under a consciousness of being the object of eager observation to the other sex, is inseparable from the nature of woman.

The conversation which Cęsar held with Cleopatra deepened the impression which her first appearance had made upon him. Her intelligence and animation, the originality of her ideas, and the point and pertinency of her mode of expressing them, made her, independently of her personal charms, an exceedingly entertaining and agreeable companion. She, in fact, completely won the great conqueror's heart; and, through the strong attachment to her which he immediately formed, he became wholly disqualified to act impartially between her and her brother in regard to their respective rights to the crown. We call Ptolemy Cleopatra's brother; for, though he was also, in fact, her husband, still, as he was only ten or twelve years of age at the time of Cleopatra's expulsion from Alexandria, the marriage had been probably regarded, thus far, only as a mere matter of form. Cęsar was now about fifty-two. He had a wife, named Calpurnia, to whom he had been married about ten years. She was living, at this time, in an unostentatious and quiet manner at Rome. She was a lady of an amiable and gentle character, devotedly attached to her husband, patient and forbearing in respect to his faults, and often anxious and unhappy at the thought of the difficulties and dangers in which his ardent and unbounded ambition so often involved him.

Cęsar immediately began to take a very strong interest in Cleopatra's cause. He treated her personally with the fondest attention, and it was impossible for her not to reciprocate in some degree the kind feeling with which he regarded her. It was, in fact, something altogether new to her to have a warm and devoted friend, espousing her cause, tendering her protection, and seeking in every way to promote her happiness. Her father had all his life neglected her. Her brother, of years and understanding totally inferior to hers, whom she had been compelled to make her husband, had become her mortal enemy. It is true that, in depriving her of her inheritance and expelling her from her native land, he had been only the tool and instrument of more designing men. This, however, far from improving the point of view from which she regarded him, made him appear not only hateful, but contemptible too. All the officers of government, also, in the Alexandrian court had turned against her because they had supposed that they could control her brother more easily if she were away. Thus she had always been surrounded by selfish, mercenary, and implacable foes. Now, for the first time, she seemed to have a friend. A protector had suddenly arisen to support and defend her—a man of very alluring person and manners, of a very noble and generous spirit, and of the very highest station. He loved her, and she could not refrain from loving him in return. She committed her cause entirely into his hands, confided to him all her interests, and gave herself up wholly into his power.

Nor was the unbounded confidence which she reposed in him undeserved, so far as related to his efforts to restore her to her throne. The legions which Cęsar had sent for into Syria had not yet arrived, and his situation in Alexandria was still very defenseless and very precarious. He did not, however, on this account, abate in the least degree the loftiness and self-confidence of the position which he had assumed, but he commenced immediately the work of securing Cleopatra's restoration. This quiet assumption of the right and power to arbitrate and decide such a question as that of the claim to the throne, in a country where he had accidentally landed and found rival claimants disputing for the succession, while he was still wholly destitute of the means of enforcing the superiority which he so coolly assumed, marks the immense ascendency which the Roman power had attained at this time in the estimation of mankind, and is, besides, specially characteristic of the genius and disposition of Cęsar.

Very soon after Cleopatra had come to him, Cęsar sent for the young Ptolemy, and urged upon him the duty and expediency of restoring Cleopatra. Ptolemy was beginning now to attain an age at which he might be supposed to have some opinion of his own on such a question. He declared himself utterly opposed to any such design. In the course of the conversation he learned that Cleopatra had arrived at Alexandria, and that she was then concealed in Cęsar's palace. This intelligence awakened in his mind the greatest excitement and indignation. He went away from Cęsar's presence in a rage. He tore the diadem which he was accustomed to wear from his head in the streets, threw it down, and trampled it under his feet. He declared to the people that he was betrayed, and displayed the most violent indications of vexation and chagrin. The chief subject of his complaint, in the attempts which he made to awaken the popular indignation against Cęsar and the Romans, was the disgraceful impropriety of the position which his sister had assumed in surrendering herself as she had done to Cęsar. It is most probable, however, unless his character was very different from that of every other Ptolemy in the line, that what really awakened his jealousy and anger was fear of the commanding influence and power to which Cleopatra was likely to attain through the agency of so distinguished a protector, rather than any other consequences of his friendship, or any real considerations of delicacy in respect to his sister's good name or his own marital honor.

However this may be, Ptolemy, together with Pothinus and Achillas, and all his other friends and adherents, who joined him in the terrible outcry that he made against the coalition which he had discovered between Cleopatra and Cęsar, succeeded in producing a very general and violent tumult throughout the city. The populace were aroused, and began to assemble in great crowds, and full of indignation and anger. Some knew the facts, and acted under something like an understanding of the cause of their anger. Others only knew that the aim of this sudden outbreak was to assault the Romans, and were ready, on any pretext, known or unknown, to join in any deeds of violence directed against these foreign intruders. There were others still, and these, probably, far the larger portion, who knew nothing and understood nothing but that there was to be tumult and a riot in and around the palaces, and were, accordingly, eager to be there.

Ptolemy and his officers had no large body of troops in Alexandria; for the events which had thus far occurred since Cęsar's arrival had succeeded each other so rapidly, that a very short time had yet elapsed, and the main army remained still at Pelusium. The main force, therefore, by which Cęsar was now attacked, consisted of the population of the city, headed, perhaps, by the few guards which the young king had at his command.

Cęsar, on his part, had but a small portion of his forces at the palace where he was attacked. The rest were scattered about the city. He, however, seems to have felt no alarm. He did not even confine himself to acting on the defensive. He sent out a detachment of his soldiers with orders to seize Ptolemy and bring him in a prisoner. Soldiers trained, disciplined, and armed as the Roman veterans were, and nerved by the ardor and enthusiasm which seemed always to animate troops which were under Cęsar's personal command, could accomplish almost any undertaking against a mere populace, however numerous or however furiously excited they might be. The soldiers sallied out, seized Ptolemy, and brought him in.

The populace were at first astounded at the daring presumption of this deed, and then exasperated at the indignity of it, considered as a violation of the person of their sovereign. The tumult would have greatly increased, had it not been that Cęsar—who had now attained all his ends in thus having brought Cleopatra and Ptolemy both within his power—thought it most expedient to allay it. He accordingly ascended to the window of a tower, or of some other elevated portion of his palace, so high that missiles from the mob below could not reach him, and began to make signals expressive of his wish to address them.

When silence was obtained, he made them a speech well calculated to quiet the excitement. He told them that he did not pretend to any right to judge between Cleopatra and Ptolemy as their superior, but only in the performance of the duty solemnly assigned by Ptolemy Auletes, the father, to the Roman people, whose representative he was. Other than this he claimed no jurisdiction in the case; and his only wish, in the discharge of the duty which devolved upon him to consider the cause, was to settle the question in a manner just and equitable to all the parties concerned, and thus arrest the progress of the civil war, which, if not arrested, threatened to involve the country in the most terrible calamities. He counseled them, therefore, to disperse, and no longer disturb the peace of the city. He would immediately take measures for trying the question between Cleopatra and Ptolemy, and he did not doubt but that they would all be satisfied with his decision.

This speech, made, as it was, in the eloquent and persuasive, and yet dignified and imposing manner for which Cęsar's harangues to turbulent assemblies like these were so famed, produced a great effect. Some were convinced, others were silenced; and those whose resentment and anger were not appeased, found themselves deprived of their power by the pacification of the rest. The mob was dispersed, and Ptolemy remained with Cleopatra in Cęsar's custody.

The next day, Cęsar, according to his promise, convened an assembly of the principal people of Alexandria and officers of state, and then brought out Ptolemy and Cleopatra, that he might decide their cause. The original will which Ptolemy Auletes had executed had been deposited in the public archives of Alexandria, and carefully preserved there. An authentic copy of it had been sent to Rome. Cæsar caused the original will to be brought out and read to the assembly. The provisions of it were perfectly explicit and clear. It required that Cleopatra and Ptolemy should be married, and then settled the sovereign power upon them jointly, as king and queen. It recognized the Roman commonwealth as the ally of Egypt, and constituted the Roman government the executor of the will, and the guardian of the king and queen. In fact, so clear and explicit was this document, that the simple reading of it seemed to be of itself a decision of the question. When, therefore, Cęsar announced that, in his judgment, Cleopatra was entitled to share the supreme power with Ptolemy, and that it was his duty, as the representative of the Roman power and the executor of the will, to protect both the king and the queen in their respective rights, there seemed to be nothing that could be said against his decision.

Besides Cleopatra and Ptolemy, there were two other children of Ptolemy Auletes in the royal family at this time. One was a girl, named Arsinoė. The other, a boy, was, singularly enough, named, like his brother, Ptolemy. These children were quite young, but Cęsar thought that it would perhaps gratify the Alexandrians, and lead them to acquiesce more readily in his decision, if he were to make some royal provision for them. He accordingly proposed to assign the island of Cyprus as a realm for them. This was literally a gift, for Cyprus was at this time a Roman possession.

The whole assembly seemed satisfied with this decision except Pothinus. He had been so determined and inveterate an enemy to Cleopatra, that, as he was well aware, her restoration must end in his downfall and ruin. He went away from the assembly moodily determining that he would not submit to the decision, but would immediately adopt efficient measures to prevent its being carried into effect.

Cęsar made arrangements for a series of festivals and celebrations, to commemorate and confirm the re-establishment of a good understanding between the king and the queen, and the consequent termination of the war. Such celebrations, he judged, would have great influence in removing any remaining animosities from the minds of the people, and restore the dominion of a kind and friendly feeling throughout the city. The people fell in with these measures, and cordially co-operated to give them effect; but Pothinus and Achillas, though they suppressed all outward expressions of discontent, made incessant efforts in secret to organize a party, and to form plans for overthrowing the influence of Cęsar, and making Ptolemy again the sole and exclusive sovereign.

Pothinus represented to all whom he could induce to listen to him that Cęsar's real design was to make Cleopatra queen alone, and to depose Ptolemy, and urged them to combine with him to resist a policy which would end in bringing Egypt under the dominion of a woman. He also formed a plan, in connection with Achillas, for ordering the army back from Pelusium. The army consisted of thirty thousand men. If that army could be brought to Alexandria and kept under Pothinus's orders, Cęsar and his three thousand Roman soldiers would be, they thought, wholly at their mercy.

There was, however, one danger to be guarded against in ordering the army to march toward the capital, and that was, that Ptolemy, while under Cęsar's influence, might open communications with the officers, and so obtain command of its movements, and thwart all the conspirators' designs. To prevent this, it was arranged between Pothinus and Achillas that the latter should make his escape from Alexandria, proceed immediately to the camp at Pelusium, resume the command of the troops there, and conduct them himself to the capital; and that in all these operations, and also subsequently on his arrival, he should obey no orders unless they came to him through Pothinus himself.

Although sentinels and guards were probably stationed at the gates and avenues leading from the city, Achillas contrived to effect his escape and to join the army. He placed himself at the head of the forces, and commenced his march toward the capital. Pothinus remained all the time within the city as a spy, pretending to acquiesce in Cęsar's decision, and to be on friendly terms with him, but really plotting for his overthrow, and obtaining all the information which his position enabled him to command, in order that he might co-operate with the army and Achillas when they should arrive.

All these things were done with the utmost secrecy, and so cunning and adroit were the conspirators in forming and executing their plots, that Cęsar seems to have had no knowledge of the measures which his enemies were taking, until he suddenly heard that the main body of Ptolemy's army was approaching the city, at least twenty thousand strong. In the mean time, however, the forces which he had sent for from Syria had not arrived, and no alternative was left but to defend the capital and himself as well as he could with the very small force which he had at his disposal.

He determined, however, first, to try the effect of orders sent out in Ptolemy's name to forbid the approach of the army to the city. Two officers were accordingly intrusted with these orders, and sent out to communicate them to Achillas. The names of these officers were Dioscorides and Serapion.

It shows in a very striking point of view to what an incredible exaltation the authority and consequence of a sovereign king rose in those ancient days, in the minds of men, that Achillas, at the moment when these men made their appearance in the camp, bearing evidently some command from Ptolemy in the city, considered it more prudent to kill them at once, without hearing their message, rather than to allow the orders to be delivered and then take the responsibility of disobeying them. If he could succeed in marching to Alexandria and in taking possession of the city, and then in expelling Cęsar and Cleopatra and restoring Ptolemy to the exclusive possession of the throne, he knew very well that the king would rejoice in the result, and would overlook all irregularities on his part in the means by which he had accomplished it, short of absolute disobedience of a known command. Whatever might be the commands that these messengers were bringing him, he supposed that they doubtless originated, not in Ptolemy's own free will, but that they were dictated by the authority of Cęsar. Still, they would be commands coming in Ptolemy's name, and the universal experience of officers serving under the military despots of those ancient days showed that, rather than to take the responsibility of directly disobeying a royal order once received, it was safer to avoid receiving it by murdering the messengers.

Achillas therefore directed the officers to be seized and slain. They were accordingly taken off and speared by the soldiers, and then the bodies were borne away. The soldiers, however, it was found, had not done their work effectually. There was no interest for them in such a cold-blooded assassination, and perhaps something like a sentiment of compassion restrained their hands. At any rate, though both the men were desperately wounded, one only died. The other lived and recovered.

Achillas continued to advance toward the city. Cęsar, finding that the crisis which was approaching was becoming very serious in its character, took, himself, the whole command within the capital, and began to make the best arrangements possible under the circumstances of the case to defend himself there. His numbers were altogether too small to defend the whole city against the overwhelming force which was advancing to assail it. He accordingly intrenched his troops in the palaces and in the citadel, and in such other parts of the city as it seemed practicable to defend. He barricaded all the streets and avenues leading to these points, and fortified the gates. Nor did he, while thus doing all in his power to employ the insufficient means of defense already in his hands to the best advantage, neglect the proper exertions for obtaining succor from abroad. He sent off galleys to Syria, to Cyprus, to Rhodes, and to every other point accessible from Alexandria where Roman troops might be expected to be found, urging the authorities there to forward re-enforcements to him with the utmost possible dispatch.

During all this time Cleopatra and Ptolemy remained in the palace with Cęsar, both ostensibly co-operating with him in his councils and measures for defending the city from Achillas. Cleopatra, of course, was sincere and in earnest in this co-operation; but Ptolemy's adhesion to the common cause was very little to be relied upon. Although, situated as he was, he was compelled to seem to be on Cęsar's side, he must have secretly desired that Achillas should succeed and Cęsar's plans be overthrown. Pothinus was more active, though not less cautious in his hostility to them. He opened a secret communication with Achillas, sending him information, from time to time, of what took place within the walls, and of the arrangements made there for the defense of the city against him, and gave him also directions how to proceed. He was very wary and sagacious in all these movements, feigning all the time to be on Cęsar's side. He pretended to be very zealously employed in aiding Cęsar to secure more effectually the various points where attacks were to be expected, and in maturing and completing the arrangements for defense.

But, notwithstanding all his cunning, he was detected in his double dealing, and his career was suddenly brought to a close, before the great final conflict came on. There was a barber in Cęsar's household, who, for some cause or other, began to suspect Pothinus; and, having little else to do, he employed himself in watching the eunuch's movements and reporting them to Cęsar. Cęsar directed the barber to continue his observations. He did so; his suspicions were soon confirmed, and at length a letter, which Pothinus had written to Achillas, was intercepted and brought to Cęsar. This furnished the necessary proof of what they called his guilt, and Cęsar ordered him to be beheaded.

This circumstance produced, of course, a great excitement within the palace, for Pothinus had been for many years the great ruling minister of state—the king, in fact, in all but in name. His execution alarmed a great many others, who, though in Cęsar's power, were secretly wishing that Achillas might prevail. Among those most disturbed by these fears was a man named Ganymede. He was the officer who had charge of Arsinoė, Cleopatra's sister. The arrangement which Cęsar had proposed for establishing her in conjunction with her brother Ptolemy over the island of Cyprus had not gone into effect; for, immediately after the decision of Cęsar, the attention of all concerned had been wholly engrossed by the tidings of the advance of the army, and by the busy preparations which were required on all hands for the impending contest. Arsinoė, therefore, with her governor Ganymede, remained in the palace. Ganymede had joined Pothinus in his plots; and when Pothinus was beheaded, he concluded that it would be safest for him to fly.

He accordingly resolved to make his escape from the city, taking Arsinoė with him. It was a very hazardous attempt, but he succeeded in accomplishing it. Arsinoė was very willing to go, for she was now beginning to be old enough to feel the impulse of that insatiable and reckless ambition which seemed to form such an essential element in the character of every son and daughter in the whole Ptolemaic line. She was insignificant and powerless where she was, but at the head of the army she might become immediately a queen.

It resulted, in the first instance, as she had anticipated. Achillas and his army received her with acclamations. Under Ganymede's influence they decided that, as all the other members of the royal family were in durance, being held captive by a foreign general, who had by chance obtained possession of the capital, and were thus incapacitated for exercising the royal power, the crown devolved upon Arsinoė; and they accordingly proclaimed her queen.

Every thing was now prepared for a desperate and determined contest for the crown between Cleopatra, with Cęsar for her minister and general, on the one side, and Arsinoė, with Ganymede and Achillas for her chief officers on the other. The young Ptolemy, in the mean time, remained Cęsar's prisoner, confused with the intricacies in which the quarrel had become involved, and scarcely knowing now what to wish in respect to the issue of the contest. It was very difficult to foresee whether it would be best for him that Cleopatra or that Arsinoė should succeed.