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Of all love stories that are known to human history, the love

story of Antony and Cleopatra has been for nineteen centuries the

most remarkable. It has tasked the resources of the plastic and

the graphic arts. It has been made the theme of poets and of prose

narrators. It has appeared and reappeared in a thousand forms, and

it appeals as much to the imagination to-day as it did when Antony

deserted his almost victoriou
troops and hastened in a swift

galley from Actium in pursuit of Cleopatra.

The wonder of the story is explained by its extraordinary nature.

Many men in private life have lost fortune and fame for the love

of woman. Kings have incurred the odium of their people, and have

cared nothing for it in comparison with the joys of sense that

come from the lingering caresses and clinging kisses. Cold-blooded

statesmen, such as Parnell, have lost the leadership of their

party and have gone down in history with a clouded name because of

the fascination exercised upon them by some woman, often far from

beautiful, and yet possessing the mysterious power which makes the

triumphs of statesmanship seem slight in comparison with the

swiftly flying hours of pleasure.

But in the case of Antony and Cleopatra alone do we find a man

flinging away not merely the triumphs of civic honors or the

headship of a state, but much more than these--the mastery of what

was practically the world--in answer to the promptings of a

woman's will. Hence the story of the Roman triumvir and the

Egyptian queen is not like any other story that has yet been told.

The sacrifice involved in it was so overwhelming, so

instantaneous, and so complete as to set this narrative above all

others. Shakespeare's genius has touched it with the glory of a

great imagination. Dryden, using it in the finest of his plays,

expressed its nature in the title "All for Love."

The distinguished Italian historian, Signor Ferrero, the author of

many books, has tried hard to eliminate nearly all the romantic

elements from the tale, and to have us see in it not the triumph

of love, but the blindness of ambition. Under his handling it

becomes almost a sordid drama of man's pursuit of power and of

woman's selfishness. Let us review the story as it remains, even

after we have taken full account of Ferrero's criticism. Has the

world for nineteen hundred years been blinded by a show of

sentiment? Has it so absolutely been misled by those who lived and

wrote in the days which followed closely on the events that make

up this extraordinary narrative?

In answering these questions we must consider, in the first place,

the scene, and, in the second place, the psychology of the two

central characters who for so long a time have been regarded as

the very embodiment of unchecked passion.

As to the scene, it must be remembered that the Egypt of those

days was not Egyptian as we understand the word, but rather Greek.

Cleopatra herself was of Greek descent. The kingdom of Egypt had

been created by a general of Alexander the Great after that

splendid warrior's death. Its capital, the most brilliant city of

the Greco-Roman world, had been founded by Alexander himself, who

gave to it his name. With his own hands he traced out the limits

of the city and issued the most peremptory orders that it should

be made the metropolis of the entire world. The orders of a king

cannot give enduring greatness to a city; but Alexander's keen eye

and marvelous brain saw at once that the site of Alexandria was

such that a great commercial community planted there would live

and flourish throughout out succeeding ages. He was right; for

within a century this new capital of Egypt leaped to the forefront

among the exchanges of the world's commerce, while everything that

art could do was lavished on its embellishment.

Alexandria lay upon a projecting tongue of land so situated that

the whole trade of the Mediterranean centered there. Down the Nile

there floated to its gates the barbaric wealth of Africa. To it

came the treasures of the East, brought from afar by caravans--

silks from China, spices and pearls from India, and enormous

masses of gold and silver from lands scarcely known. In its harbor

were the vessels of every country, from Asia in the East to Spain

and Gaul and even Britain in the West.

When Cleopatra, a young girl of seventeen, succeeded to the throne

of Egypt the population of Alexandria amounted to a million souls.

The customs duties collected at the port would, in terms of modern

money, amount each year to more than thirty million dollars, even

though the imposts were not heavy. The people, who may be

described as Greek at the top and Oriental at the bottom, were

boisterous and pleasure-loving, devoted to splendid spectacles,

with horse-racing, gambling, and dissipation; yet at the same time

they were an artistic people, loving music passionately, and by no

means idle, since one part of the city was devoted to large and

prosperous manufactories of linen, paper, glass, and muslin.

To the outward eye Alexandria was extremely beautiful. Through its

entire length ran two great boulevards, shaded and diversified by

mighty trees and parterres of multicolored flowers, amid which

fountains plashed and costly marbles gleamed. One-fifth of the

whole city was known as the Royal Residence. In it were the

palaces of the reigning family, the great museum, and the famous

library which the Arabs later burned. There were parks and gardens

brilliant with tropical foliage and adorned with the masterpieces

of Grecian sculpture, while sphinxes and obelisks gave a

suggestion of Oriental strangeness. As one looked seaward his eye

beheld over the blue water the snow-white rocks of the sheltering

island, Pharos, on which was reared a lighthouse four hundred feet

in height and justly numbered among the seven wonders of the

world. Altogether, Alexandria was a city of wealth, of beauty, of

stirring life, of excitement, and of pleasure. Ferrero has aptly

likened it to Paris--not so much the Paris of to-day as the Paris

of forty years ago, when the Second Empire flourished in all its

splendor as the home of joy and strange delights.

Over the country of which Alexandria was the capital Cleopatra

came to reign at seventeen. Following the odd custom which the

Greek dynasty of the Ptolemies had inherited from their Egyptian

predecessors, she was betrothed to her own brother. He, however,

was a mere child of less than twelve, and was under the control of

evil counselors, who, in his name, gained control of the capital

and drove Cleopatra into exile. Until then she had been a mere

girl; but now the spirit of a woman who was wronged blazed up in

her and called out all her latent powers. Hastening to Syria, she

gathered about herself an army and led it against her foes.

But meanwhile Julius Caesar, the greatest man of ancient times,

had arrived at Alexandria backed by an army of his veterans.

Against him no resistance would avail. Then came a brief moment

during which the Egyptian king and the Egyptian queen each strove

to win the favor of the Roman imperator. The king and his advisers

had many arts, and so had Cleopatra. One thing, however, she

possessed which struck the balance in her favor, and this was a

woman's fascination.

According to the story, Caesar was unwilling to receive her. There

came into his presence, as he sat in the palace, a group of slaves

bearing a long roll of matting, bound carefully and seeming to

contain some precious work of art. The slaves made signs that they

were bearing a gift to Caesar. The master of Egypt bade them

unwrap the gift that he might see it. They did so, and out of the

wrapping came Cleopatra--a radiant vision, appealing,

irresistible. Next morning it became known everywhere that

Cleopatra had remained in Caesar's quarters through the night and

that her enemies were now his enemies. In desperation they rushed

upon his legions, casting aside all pretense of amity. There

ensued a fierce contest, but the revolt was quenched in blood.

This was a crucial moment in Cleopatra's life. She had sacrificed

all that a woman has to give; but she had not done so from any

love of pleasure or from wantonness. She was queen of Egypt, and

she had redeemed her kingdom and kept it by her sacrifice. One

should not condemn her too severely. In a sense, her act was one

of heroism like that of Judith in the tent of Holofernes. But

beyond all question it changed her character. It taught her the

secret of her own great power. Henceforth she was no longer a mere

girl, nor a woman of the ordinary type. Her contact with so great

a mind as Caesar's quickened her intellect. Her knowledge that, by

the charms of sense, she had mastered even him transformed her

into a strange and wonderful creature. She learned to study the

weaknesses of men, to play on their emotions, to appeal to every

subtle taste and fancy. In her were blended mental power and that

illusive, indefinable gift which is called charm.

For Cleopatra was never beautiful. Signor Ferrero seems to think

this fact to be discovery of his own, but it was set down by

Plutarch in a very striking passage written less than a century

after Cleopatra and Antony died. We may quote here what the Greek

historian said of her:

Her actual beauty was far from being so remarkable that none could

be compared with her, nor was it such that it would strike your

fancy when you saw her first. Yet the influence of her presence,

if you lingered near her, was irresistible. Her attractive

personality, joined with the charm of her conversation, and the

individual touch that she gave to everything she said or did, were

utterly bewitching. It was delightful merely to hear the music of

her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she

could pass from one language to another.

Caesar had left Cleopatra firmly seated on the throne of Egypt.

For six years she reigned with great intelligence, keeping order

in her dominions, and patronizing with discrimination both arts

and letters. But ere long the convulsions of the Roman state once

more caused her extreme anxiety. Caesar had been assassinated, and

there ensued a period of civil war. Out of it emerged two striking

figures which were absolutely contrasted in their character. One

was Octavian, the adopted son of Caesar, a man who, though still

quite young and possessed of great ability, was cunning, cold-

blooded, and deceitful. The other was Antony, a soldier by

training, and with all a soldier's bluntness, courage, and


The Roman world was divided for the time between these two men,

Antony receiving the government of the East, Octavian that of the

West. In the year which had preceded this division Cleopatra had

wavered between the two opposite factions at Rome. In so doing she

had excited the suspicion of Antony, and he now demanded of her an


One must have some conception of Antony himself in order to

understand the events that followed. He was essentially a soldier,

of excellent family, being related to Caesar himself. As a very

young man he was exceedingly handsome, and bad companions led him

into the pursuit of vicious pleasure. He had scarcely come of age

when he found that he owed the enormous sum of two hundred and

fifty talents, equivalent to half a million dollars in the money

of to-day. But he was much more than a mere man of pleasure, given

over to drinking and to dissipation. Men might tell of his

escapades, as when he drove about the streets of Rome in a common

cab, dangling his legs out of the window while he shouted forth

drunken songs of revelry. This was not the whole of Antony.

Joining the Roman army in Syria, he showed himself to be a soldier

of great personal bravery, a clever strategist, and also humane

and merciful in the hour of victory.

Unlike most Romans, Antony wore a full beard. His forehead was

large, and his nose was of the distinctive Roman type. His look

was so bold and masculine that people likened him to Hercules. His

democratic manners endeared him to the army. He wore a plain tunic

covered with a large, coarse mantle, and carried a huge sword at

his side, despising ostentation. Even his faults and follies added

to his popularity. He would sit down at the common soldiers' mess

and drink with them, telling them stories and clapping them on the

back. He spent money like water, quickly recognizing any daring

deed which his legionaries performed. In this respect he was like

Napoleon; and, like Napoleon, he had a vein of florid eloquence

which was criticized by literary men, but which went straight to

the heart of the private soldier. In a word, he was a powerful,

virile, passionate, able man, rough, as were nearly all his

countrymen, but strong and true.

It was to this general that Cleopatra was to answer, and with a

firm reliance on the charms which had subdued Antony's great

commander, Caesar, she set out in person for Cilicia, in Asia

Minor, sailing up the river Cydnus to the place where Antony was

encamped with his army. Making all allowance for the exaggeration

of historians, there can be no doubt that she appeared to him like

some dreamy vision. Her barge was gilded, and was wafted on its

way by swelling sails of Tyrian purple. The oars which smote the

water were of shining silver. As she drew near the Roman general's

camp the languorous music of flutes and harps breathed forth a

strain of invitation.

Cleopatra herself lay upon a divan set upon the deck of the barge

beneath a canopy of woven gold. She was dressed to resemble Venus,

while girls about her personated nymphs and Graces. Delicate

perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel; and at last, as she

drew near the shore, all the people for miles about were gathered

there, leaving Antony to sit alone in the tribunal where he was

dispensing justice.

Word was brought to him that Venus had come to feast with Bacchus.

Antony, though still suspicious of Cleopatra, sent her an

invitation to dine with him in state. With graceful tact she sent

him a counter-invitation, and he came. The magnificence of his

reception dazzled the man who had so long known only a soldier's

fare, or at most the crude entertainments which he had enjoyed in

Rome. A marvelous display of lights was made. Thousands upon

thousands of candles shone brilliantly, arranged in squares and

circles; while the banquet itself was one that symbolized the

studied luxury of the East.

At this time Cleopatra was twenty-seven years of age--a period of

life which modern physiologists have called the crisis in a

woman's growth. She had never really loved before, since she had

given herself to Caesar, not because she cared for him, but to

save her kingdom. She now came into the presence of one whose

manly beauty and strong passions were matched by her own subtlety

and appealing charm.

When Antony addressed her he felt himself a rustic in her

presence. Almost resentful, he betook himself to the coarse

language of the camp. Cleopatra, with marvelous adaptability, took

her tone from his, and thus in a moment put him at his ease.

Ferrero, who takes a most unfavorable view of her character and

personality, nevertheless explains the secret of her fascination:

Herself utterly cold and callous, insensitive by nature to the

flame of true devotion, Cleopatra was one of those women gifted

with an unerring instinct for all the various roads to men's

affections. She could be the shrinking, modest girl, too shy to

reveal her half-unconscious emotions of jealousy and depression

and self-abandonment, or a woman carried away by the sweep of a

fiery and uncontrollable passion. She could tickle the esthetic

sensibilities of her victims by rich and gorgeous festivals, by

the fantastic adornment of her own person and her palace, or by

brilliant discussions on literature and art; she could conjure up

all their grossest instincts with the vilest obscenities of

conversation, with the free and easy jocularity of a woman of the


These last words are far too strong, and they represent only

Ferrero's personal opinion; yet there is no doubt that she met

every mood of Antony's so that he became enthralled with her at

once. No such woman as this had ever cast her eyes on him before.

He had a wife at home--a most disreputable wife--so that he cared

little for domestic ties. Later, out of policy, he made another

marriage with the sister of his rival, Octavian, but this wife he

never cared for. His heart and soul were given up to Cleopatra,

the woman who could be a comrade in the camp and a fount of

tenderness in their hours of dalliance, and who possessed the keen

intellect of a man joined to the arts and fascinations of a woman.

On her side she found in Antony an ardent lover, a man of vigorous

masculinity, and, moreover, a soldier whose armies might well

sustain her on the throne of Egypt. That there was calculation

mingled with her love, no one can doubt. That some calculation

also entered into Antony's affection is likewise certain. Yet this

does not affect the truth that each was wholly given to the other.

Why should it have lessened her love for him to feel that he could

protect her and defend her? Why should it have lessened his love

for her to know that she was queen of the richest country in the

world--one that could supply his needs, sustain his armies, and

gild his triumphs with magnificence?

There are many instances in history of regnant queens who loved

and yet whose love was not dissociated from the policy of state.

Such were Anne of Austria, Elizabeth of England, and the

unfortunate Mary Stuart. Such, too, we cannot fail to think, was


The two remained together for ten years. In this time Antony was

separated from her only during a campaign in the East. In

Alexandria he ceased to seem a Roman citizen and gave himself up

wholly to the charms of this enticing woman. Many stories are told

of their good fellowship and close intimacy. Plutarch quotes Plato

as saying that there are four kinds of flattery, but he adds that

Cleopatra had a thousand. She was the supreme mistress of the art

of pleasing.

Whether Antony were serious or mirthful, she had at the instant

some new delight or some new charm to meet his wishes. At every

turn she was with him both day and night. With him she threw dice;

with him she drank; with him she hunted; and when he exercised

himself in arms she was there to admire and applaud.

At night the pair would disguise themselves as servants and wander

about the streets of Alexandria. In fact, more than once they were

set upon in the slums and treated roughly by the rabble who did

not recognize them. Cleopatra was always alluring, always tactful,

often humorous, and full of frolic.

Then came the shock of Antony's final breach with Octavian. Either

Antony or his rival must rule the world. Cleopatra's lover once

more became the Roman general, and with a great fleet proceeded to

the coast of Greece, where his enemy was encamped. Antony had

raised a hundred and twelve thousand troops and five hundred

ships--a force far superior to that commanded by Octavian.

Cleopatra was there with sixty ships.

In the days that preceded the final battle much took place which

still remains obscure. It seems likely that Antony desired to

become again the Roman, while Cleopatra wished him to thrust Rome

aside and return to Egypt with her, to reign there as an

independent king. To her Rome was almost a barbarian city. In it

she could not hold sway as she could in her beautiful Alexandria,

with its blue skies and velvet turf and tropical flowers. At Rome

Antony would be distracted by the cares of state, and she would

lose her lover. At Alexandria she would have him for her very own.

The clash came when the hostile fleets met off the promontory of

Actium. At its crisis Cleopatra, prematurely concluding that the

battle was lost, of a sudden gave the signal for retreat and put

out to sea with her fleet. This was the crucial moment. Antony,

mastered by his love, forgot all else, and in a swift ship started

in pursuit of her, abandoning his fleet and army to win or lose as

fortune might decide. For him the world was nothing; the dark-

browed Queen of Egypt, imperious and yet caressing, was

everything. Never was such a prize and never were such great hopes

thrown carelessly away. After waiting seven days Antony's troops,

still undefeated, finding that their commander would not return to

them, surrendered to Octavian, who thus became the master of an


Later his legions assaulted Alexandria, and there Antony was twice

defeated. At last Cleopatra saw her great mistake. She had made

her lover give up the hope of being Rome's dictator, but in so

doing she had also lost the chance of ruling with him tranquilly

in Egypt. She shut herself behind the barred doors of the royal

sepulcher; and, lest she should be molested there, she sent forth

word that she had died. Her proud spirit could not brook the

thought that she might be seized and carried as a prisoner to

Rome. She was too much a queen in soul to be led in triumph up the

Sacred Way to the Capitol with golden chains clanking on her

slender wrists.

Antony, believing the report that she was dead, fell upon his

sword; but in his dying moments he was carried into the presence

of the woman for whom he had given all. With her arms about him,

his spirit passed away; and soon after she, too, met death,

whether by a poisoned draught or by the storied asp no one can


Cleopatra had lived the mistress of a splendid kingdom. She had

successively captivated two of the greatest men whom Rome had ever

seen. She died, like a queen, to escape disgrace. Whatever modern

critics may have to say concerning small details, this story still

remains the strangest love story of which the world has any