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Ancient Rome - Index

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Antony and Cleopatra

"Cleopatra’s Passion"
The Story of ANTONY & CLEOPATRA

adapted from http://www.love-story.com/story5.htm

When Cleopatra heard that the strapping red-haired general was waiting for her in the foray of her palace, she greeted the news with a smile. She had first met Marc Antony many years before in Egypt , when she was only a child. She had liked him from the start. Now he was one of her only friends in Rome . The two shared one compelling bond: Both were fiercely loyal to her lover, the great Julius Caesar.

The moment she laid eyes on Antony , her smile faded. His face gave her the grim news before his words. Julius Caesar was dead, murdered by his own “friends” in the Senate. Cleopatra and her son, Caesarion, were in terrible danger. There was no time to lose. They must get out of Rome immediately.

Cleopatra had married Caesar in Egypt . Though the marriage was not recognized in Rome , Caesarion was Caesar's only son. A child of only three years old, Caesarion would be a threat to those who wanted to rule in Caesar's place. Worse, the Roman citizens generally hated Cleopatra, his mother. Cleopatra was blamed for Caesar's excessive ambition, his desire to convert Rome from a republic to an empire with himself as emperor and Caesarion as his prince and heir. Some claimed she had bewitched Caesar with African magic.

Cleopatra In truth, Cleopatra was not really African. She was Macedonian (Greek), descended from the man Caesar admired most, Alexander the Great. Though blonde-haired and fair-skinned - she wore a dark wig in public as part of her ceremonial headdress - Cleopatra was hardly a classical beauty. But she possessed more than a prestigious ancestry and wealth. To present herself before Caesar for the first time, she rolled herself up in a Persian rug to avoid an assassin’s knife. She was bright, clever, resourceful and - most of all - original. There was little doubt that Caesar truly loved her.

Caesar was a serious thinker and philosopher, a man who nearly held the world in his hands - and knew it. He was a man who was destined to be remembered throughout history.

He had but one weakness, however. Since he was born, he had suffered occasional epileptic seizures. These seizures grew worse under stress, striking often at the worst possible times. Caesar was terribly embarrassed by these seizures, but in Cleopatra he discovered a partner who could nurse him through his illness, shield him from the public eye, and even make decisions when he was unable. In a sense, his weakness drew them closer, forming an unbreakable bond of trust.

Antony 's desire to help Cleopatra in this time of danger was probably based as much upon his loyalty to Caesar as anything else. There is no evidence that any relationship beyond friendship existed between Antony and Cleopatra before the assassination of Caesar. Still, Antony was taking a considerable risk in helping Cleopatra. As Caesar's favorite general, he would be part of the Second Triumvirate, chosen to rule in Caesar's place. Antony ’s alliance with the unpopular Cleopatra would strengthen Antony ’s enemies against him in Rome .

However, in the moments following Caesar's bloody murder, all Antony could think of was getting Cleopatra and young Caesarion out of Rome . Legend has it that Antony disguised himself as a pregnant beggar woman, strapping little Caesarion to his belly. The muscular Antony would have made a rather frighteningly large beggar woman, but the disguise apparently worked. In rags, Antony , Cleopatra, and Caesarion were smuggled aboard a merchant ship, eventually making their way safely back to Egypt .

In the majestic Egyptian capital, Alexandria , the romance of Antony and Cleopatra blossomed. They were married on the Nile , though Antony had not divorced his Roman wife. Of course, Cleopatra needed him to look after her son Caesarion, for her own safety, and for the plans she had made with Caesar.

Her love for him was as fiery as his red curly hair, and as difficult to control. He drank too much. He enjoyed the company of his soldier friends. The royal couple was known to engage in fierce shouting matches. But they produced three beautiful children: the heavenly twins Cleopatra Selene (the Moon) and Alexander Helios (the Sun) and the baby Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Antony was an intelligent man and a competent general, but he was no Caesar, a fact that weighed upon him - and his wife. In truth, both Antony and Cleopatra lived in Caesar's shadow. It would cost them their kingdoms.

After the death of Caesar, Octavian hunted down his uncle’s assassins and tried to consolidate power in the Second Triumvirate he shared with Antony and Lepidus. Much like his uncle Julius Caesar had done a few years earlier, Octavian eventually grew to rival his fellow members of the Triumvirate.

A crucial showdown between Antony and Octavian, who was Antony 's brother-in-law, was unavoidable. Cleopatra wanted Antony to lead an attack against Octavian’s approaching forces by sea, giving the glory to Egypt , which had a powerful navy. But Antony , who was more comfortable being a field commander, still had the loyalty of his old Roman legions. He wanted to be on the ground, leading the charge with his familiar troops.

The naval Battle of Actium took place on September 2, 31 BC , near the Roman colony of Actium in Greece . The fleet of Octavian was commanded by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. The fleets met outside the gulf of Actium , each side with perhaps over 200 ships.

The battle began well enough for Egypt , with the royal ship containing Cleopatra and Caesarion leading one flank and Antony 's ship leading the other. But the smaller Roman boats soon outmaneuvered the large Egyptian ships. As the battle began to turn in favor of Octavian, Cleopatra feared that her son Caesarion would be killed. He was 17 now. She had wanted him to experience the glory of his first great victory. Now, she just wanted to get him out of there alive.

She turned her ship to flee, wishing only to protect her son. Astonishingly, Antony followed. From the shore, Antony 's loyal troops watched their leader sail away from the raging battle, following the Queen of the Nile . Disheartened, Antony ’s troops surrendered to Octavian’s army.

Octavian reassured Antony ’s troops that their loyalty to Antony could be forgiven if they now pledge their loyalty to Octavian. Most of them did, and soon the united Roman legions were ready to march against the city of Alexandria .

Word was sent to Cleopatra. Egypt stood no chance against the combined Roman forces. Turn Antony over, Octavian wrote, and Egypt would be spared a costly battle. Furthermore, Octavian promised that Cleopatra could remain as Queen of Egypt. All that needed to be done was to turn Antony over to Octavian.

Octavian was not nearly as charmed by Cleopatra as Caesar and Antony had been. But he felt he knew her pretty well. Ambitious, but practical, he knew nothing had come easily to Cleopatra. Her own sister had tried to kill her. She had needed a keen survival instinct to get this far. Surely, she would accept his offer.

By this time, Antony was a ruin of a man. Upon hearing a report from a messenger that Cleopatra was dead, Antony fell upon his own sword. Soon another messenger arrived, saying Cleopatra still lived. Antony insisted on being carried to her and died in her arms.

With Antony out of the way, Octavian was confident of a great victory. He had, however, underestimated Cleopatra. She would never give up her desire to protect her son, no matter how hopeless the cause. She arranged for Caesarion to be smuggled out of the country, mistakenly believing him to be in safe hands—Caesarion was later murdered by his own tutor. When Antony killed himself, Cleopatra decided not to be taken back to Rome in chains to be humiliated in front of the hostile Roman crowd. With the help of her clever daughter, Selene, a poisonous cobra was secretly slipped past the guard. Cleopatra put the snake near her skin and died in her bed.

Cleopatra's son, Helios, was killed by Octavian. Selene and little Ptolemy were brought to Rome in chains to march in Octavian's parade of triumph.

And they lived happily ever after … well … at least Octavian did.



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