Cleopatra - Jacob Abbott

Cleopatra a Queen

The war by which Cęsar reinstated Cleopatra upon the throne was not one of very long duration. Cęsar arrived in Egypt in pursuit of Pompey about the 1st of August; the war was ended and Cleopatra established in secure possession by the end of January; so that the conflict, violent as it was while it continued, was very brief, the peaceful and commercial pursuits of the Alexandrians having been interrupted by it only for a few months.

Nor did either the war itself, or the derangements consequent upon it, extend very far into the interior of the country. The city of Alexandria itself and the neighboring coasts were the chief scenes of the contest until Mithradates arrived at Pelusium. He, it is true, marched across the Delta, and the final battle was fought in the interior of the country. It was, however, after all, but a very small portion of the Egyptian territory that was directly affected by the war. The great mass of the people, occupying the rich and fertile tracts which bordered the various branches of the Nile, and the long and verdant valley which extended so far into the heart of the continent, knew nothing of the conflict but by vague and distant rumors. The pursuits of the agricultural population went on, all the time, as steadily and prosperously as ever; so that when the conflict was ended, and Cleopatra entered upon the quiet and peaceful possession of her power, she found that the resources of her empire were very little impaired.

She availed herself, accordingly, of the revenues which poured in very abundantly upon her, to enter upon a career of the greatest luxury, magnificence, and splendor. The injuries which had been done to the palaces and other public edifices of Alexandria by the fire, and by the military operations of the siege, were repaired. The bridges which had been broken down were rebuilt. The canals which had been obstructed were opened again. The sea-water was shut off from the palace cisterns; the rubbish of demolished houses was removed; the barricades were cleared from the streets; and the injuries which the palaces had suffered, either from the violence of military engines or the rough occupation of the Roman soldiery, were repaired. In a word, the city was speedily restored once more, so far as was possible, to its former order and beauty. The five hundred thousand manuscripts of the Alexandrian library, which had been burned, could not, indeed, be restored; but, in all other respects, the city soon resumed in appearance all its former splendor. Even in respect to the library, Cleopatra made an effort to retrieve the loss. She repaired the ruined buildings, and afterward, in the course of her life, she brought together, it was said, in a manner hereafter to be described, one or two hundred thousand rolls of manuscripts, as the commencement of a new collection. The new library, however, never acquired the fame and distinction that had pertained to the old.

The former sovereigns of Egypt, Cleopatra's ancestors, had generally, as has already been shown, devoted the immense revenues which they extorted from the agriculturalists of the valley of the Nile to purposes of ambition. Cleopatra seemed now disposed to expend them in luxury and pleasure. They, the Ptolemies, had employed their resources in erecting vast structures, or founding magnificent institutions at Alexandria, to add to the glory of the city, and to widen and extend their own fame. Cleopatra, on the other hand, as was, perhaps, naturally to be expected of a young, beautiful, and impulsive woman, suddenly raised to so conspicuous a position, and to the possession of such unbounded wealth and power, expended her royal revenues in plans of personal display, and in scenes of festivity, gayety, and enjoyment. She adorned her palaces, built magnificent barges for pleasure excursions on the Nile, and expended enormous sums for dress, for equipages, and for sumptuous entertainments. In fact, so lavish were her expenditures for these and similar purposes during the early years of her reign, that she is considered as having carried the extravagance of sensual luxury and personal display and splendor beyond the limits that had ever before or have ever since been attained.

Whatever of simplicity of character, and of gentleness and kindness of spirit she might have possessed in her earlier years, of course gradually disappeared under the influences of such a course of life as she now was leading. She was beautiful and fascinating still, but she began to grow selfish, heartless, and designing. Her little brother—he was but eleven years of age, it will be recollected, when Cęsar arranged the marriage between them—was an object of jealousy to her. He was now, of course, too young to take any actual share in the exercise of the royal power, or to interfere at all in his sister's plans or pleasures. But then he was growing older. In a few years he would be fifteen—which was the period of life fixed upon by Cęsar's arrangements, and, in fact, by the laws and usages of the Egyptian kingdom—when he was to come into possession of power as king, and as the husband of Cleopatra. Cleopatra was extremely unwilling that the change in her relations to him and to the government, which this period was to bring, should take place. Accordingly, just before the time arrived, she caused him to be poisoned. His death released her, as she had intended, from all restraints, and thereafter she continued to reign alone. During the remainder of her life, so far as the enjoyment of wealth and power, and of all other elements of external prosperity could go, Cleopatra's career was one of uninterrupted success. She had no conscientious scruples to interfere with the most full and unrestrained indulgence of every propensity of her heart, and the means of indulgence were before her in the most unlimited profusion. The only bar to her happiness was the impossibility of satisfying the impulses and passions of the human soul, when they once break over the bounds which the laws both of God and of nature ordain for restraining them.

In the mean time, while Cleopatra was spending the early years of her reign in all this luxury and splendor, Cęsar was pursuing his career, as the conqueror of the world, in the most successful manner. On the death of Pompey, he would naturally have succeeded at once to the enjoyment of the supreme power; but his delay in Egypt, and the extent to which it was known that he was entangled with Cleopatra, encouraged and strengthened his enemies in various parts of the world. In fact, a revolt which broke out in Asia Minor, and which it was absolutely necessary that he should proceed at once to quell, was the immediate cause of his leaving Egypt at last. Other plans for making head against Cęsar's power were formed in Spain, in Africa, and in Italy. His military skill and energy, however, were so great, and the ascendency which he exercised over the minds of men by his personal presence was so unbounded, and so astonishing, moreover, was the celerity with which he moved from continent to continent, and from kingdom to kingdom, that in a very short period from the time of his leaving Egypt, he had conducted most brilliant and successful campaigns in all the three quarters of the world then known, had put down effectually all opposition to his power, and then had returned to Rome the acknowledged master of the world. Cleopatra, who had, of course, watched his career during all this time with great pride and pleasure, concluded, at last, to go to Rome and make a visit to him there.

The people of Rome were, however, not prepared to receive her very cordially. It was an age in which vice of every kind was regarded with great indulgence, but the moral instincts of mankind were too strong to be wholly blinded to the true character of so conspicuous an example of wickedness as this. Arsinoė was at Rome, too, during this period of Cęsar's life. He had brought her there, it will be recollected, on his return from Egypt, as a prisoner, and as a trophy of his victory. His design was, in fact, to reserve her as a captive to grace his triumph.

A triumph, according to the usages of the ancient Romans, was a grand celebration decreed by the senate to great military commanders of the highest rank, when they returned from distant campaigns in which they had made great conquests or gained extraordinary victories. Cęsar concentrated all his triumphs into one. They were celebrated on his return to Rome for the last time, after having completed the conquest of the world. The processions of this triumph occupied four days. In fact, there were four triumphs, one on each day for the four days. The wars and conquests which these ovations were intended to celebrate were those of Gaul, of Egypt, of Asia, and of Africa; and the processions on the several days consisted of endless trains of prisoners, trophies, arms, banners, pictures, images, convoys of wagons loaded with plunder, captive princes and princesses, animals, wild and tame, and every thing else which the conqueror had been able to bring home with him from his campaigns, to excite the curiosity or the admiration of the people of the city, and illustrate the magnitude of his exploits. Of course, the Roman generals, when engaged in distant foreign wars, were ambitious of bringing back as many distinguished captives and as much public plunder as they were able to obtain, in order to add to the variety and splendor of the triumphal procession by which their victories were to be honored on their return. It was with this view that Cęsar brought Arsinoė from Egypt; and he had retained her as his captive at Rome until his conquests were completed and the time for his triumph arrived. She, of course, formed a part of the triumphal train on the Egyptian  day. She walked immediately before the chariot in which Cęsar rode. She was in chains, like any other captive, though her chains, in honor of her lofty rank, were made of gold.



The effect, however, upon the Roman population of seeing the unhappy princess, overwhelmed as she was with sorrow and chagrin, as she moved slowly along in the train, among the other emblems and trophies of violence and plunder, proved to be by no means favorable to Cęsar. The populace were inclined to pity her, and to sympathize with her in her sufferings. The sight of her distress recalled, too, to their minds the dereliction from duty of which Cęsar had been guilty of in his yielding to the enticements of Cleopatra, and remaining so long in Egypt to the neglect of his proper duties as a Roman minister of state. In a word, the tide of admiration for Cęsar's military exploits which had been setting so strongly in his favor, seemed inclined to turn, and the city was filled with murmurs against him even in the midst of his triumphs

In fact, the pride and vainglory which led Cęsar to make his triumphs more splendid and imposing than any former conqueror had ever enjoyed, caused him to overact his part so as to produce effects the reverse of his intentions. The case of Arsinoė was one example of this. Instead of impressing the people with a sense of the greatness of his exploits in Egypt, in deposing one queen and bringing her captive to Rome, in order that he might place another upon the throne in her stead, it only reproduced anew the censures and criminations which he had deserved by his actions there, but which, had it not been for the pitiable spectacle of Arsinoė in the train, might have been forgotten.

There were other examples of a similar character. There were the feasts, for instance. From the plunder which Cęsar had obtained in his various campaigns, he expended the most enormous sums in making feasts and spectacles for the populace at the time of his triumph. A large portion of the populace was pleased, it is true, with the boundless indulgences thus offered to them; but the better part of the Roman people were indignant at the waste and extravagance which were every where displayed. For many days the whole city of Rome presented to the view nothing but one wide-spread scene of riot and debauchery. The people, instead of being pleased with this abundance, said that Cęsar must have practiced the most extreme and lawless extortion to have obtained the vast amount of money necessary to enable him to supply such unbounded and reckless waste.

There was another way, too, by which Cęsar turned public opinion strongly against himself, by the very means which he adopted for creating a sentiment in his favor. The Romans, among the other barbarous amusements which were practiced in the city, were specially fond of combats. These combats were of various kinds. They were fought sometimes between ferocious beasts of the same or of different species, as dogs against each other, or against bulls, lions, or tigers. Any animals, in fact, were employed for this purpose, that could be teased or goaded into anger and ferocity in a fight. Sometimes men were employed in these combats—captive soldiers, that had been taken in war, and brought to Rome to fight in the amphitheaters there as gladiators. These men were compelled to contend sometimes with wild beasts, and sometimes with one another. Cęsar, knowing how highly the Roman assemblies enjoyed such scenes, determined to afford them the indulgence on a most magnificent scale, supposing, of course, that the greater and the more dreadful the fight, the higher would be the pleasure which the spectators would enjoy in witnessing it. Accordingly, in making preparations for the festivities attending his triumph, he caused a large artificial lake to be formed at a convenient place in the vicinity of Rome, where it could be surrounded by the populace of the city, and there he made arrangements for a naval battle. A great number of galleys were introduced into the lake. They were of the usual size employed in war. These galleys were manned with numerous soldiers. Tyrian captives were put upon one side, and Egyptian upon the other; and when all was ready, the two squadrons were ordered to approach and fight a real naval battle for the amusement of the enormous throngs of spectators that were assembled around. As the nations from which the combatants in this conflict were respectively taken were hostile to each other, and as the men fought, of course, for their lives, the engagement was attended with the usual horrors of a desperate naval encounter. Hundreds were slain. The dead bodies of the combatants fell from the galleys into the lake, and the waters of it were dyed with their blood.

There were land combats, too, on the same grand scale. In one of them five hundred foot soldiers, twenty elephants, and a troop of thirty horse were engaged on each side. This combat, therefore, was an action greater, in respect to the number of the combatants, than the famous battle of Lexington, which marked the commencement of the American war; and in respect to the slaughter which took place, it was very probably ten times greater. The horror of these scenes proved to be too much even for the populace, fierce and merciless as it was, which they were intended to amuse. Cęsar, in his eagerness to outdo all former exhibitions and shows, went beyond the limits within which the seeing of men butchered in bloody combats and dying in agony and despair would serve for a pleasure and a pastime. The people were shocked; and condemnations of Cęsar's cruelty were added to the other suppressed reproaches and criminations which every where arose.

Cleopatra, during her visit to Rome, lived openly with Cęsar at his residence, and this excited very general displeasure. In fact, while the people pitied Arsinoė, Cleopatra, notwithstanding her beauty and her thousand personal accomplishments and charms, was an object of general displeasure, so far as public attention was turned toward her at all. The public mind was, however, much engrossed by the great political movements made by Cęsar and the ends toward which he seemed to be aiming. Men accused him of designing to be made a king. Parties were formed for and against him; and though men did not dare openly to utter their sentiments, their passions became the more violent in proportion to the external force by which they were suppressed. Mark Antony was at Rome at this time. He warmly espoused Cęsar's cause, and encouraged his design of making himself king. He once, in fact, offered to place a royal diadem upon Cęsar's head at some public celebration; but the marks of public disapprobation which the act elicited caused him to desist.

At length, however, the time arrived when Cęsar determined to cause himself to be proclaimed king. He took advantage of a certain remarkable conjuncture of public affairs, which can not here be particularly described, but which seemed to him specially to favor his designs, and arrangements were made for having him invested with the regal power by the senate. The murmurs and the discontent of the people at the indications that the time for the realization of their fears was drawing nigh, became more and more audible, and at length a conspiracy was formed to put an end to the danger by destroying the ambitious aspirant's life. Two stern and determined men, Brutus and Cassius, were the leaders of this conspiracy. They matured their plans, organized their band of associates, provided themselves secretly with arms, and when the senate convened, on the day in which the decisive vote was to have been passed, Cęsar himself presiding, they came up boldly around him in his presidential chair, and murdered him with their daggers.

Antony, from whom the plans of the conspirators had been kept profoundly secret, stood by, looking on stupefied and confounded while the deed was done, but utterly unable to render his friend any protection.

Cleopatra immediately fled from the city and returned to Egypt.

Arsinoė had gone away before. Cęsar, either taking pity on her misfortunes, or impelled, perhaps, by the force of public sentiment, which seemed inclined to take part with her against him, set her at liberty immediately after the ceremonies of his triumph were over. He would not, however, allow her to return into Egypt, for fear, probably, that she might in some way or other be the means of disturbing the government of Cleopatra. She proceeded, accordingly, into Syria, no longer as a captive, but still as an exile from her native land. We shall hereafter learn what became of her there.

Calpurnia mourned the death of her husband with sincere and unaffected grief. She bore the wrongs which she suffered as a wife with a very patient and unrepining spirit, and loved her husband with the most devoted attachment to the end. Nothing can be more affecting than the proofs of her tender and anxious regard on the night immediately preceding the assassination. There were certain slight and obscure indications of danger which her watchful devotion to her husband led her to observe, though they eluded the notice of all Cęsar's other friends, and they filled her with apprehension and anxiety; and when at length the bloody body was brought home to her from the senate-house, she was overwhelmed with grief and despair.

She had no children. She accordingly looked upon Mark Antony as her nearest friend and protector, and in the confusion and terror which prevailed the next day in the city, she hastily packed together the money and other valuables contained in the house, and all her husband's books and papers, and sent them to Antony for safe keeping.