It is not long, my Antony, since, with these hands, I buried thee. Alas! they were then free, but thy Cleopatra is now a prisoner, attended by guard, lest, in the transports of her grief, she should disfigure this captive body, which is reserved to adorn the triumph over thee. These are the last offerings, the last honors she can pay thee; for she is now to be conveyed to a distant country. Nothing could part us while we lived, but in death we are to be divided. Thou, though a Roman, liest buried in Egypt; and I, an Egyptian, must be interred in Italy, the only favor I shall receive from thy country. Yet, if the Gods of Rome have power or mercy left (for surely those of Egypt have forsaken us), let them not suffer me to be led in living triumph to thy disgrace! No! hide me, hide me with thee in the grave; for life, since thou hast left it, has been misery to me.
The sole surviving daughter of the great King Ptolemy of Egypt, Cleopatra was seventeen years old when her father died.
By his will the King made her joint heir to the throne with her brother Ptolemy, several years her junior. And according to the custom not unusual among royalty at that time, it was provided that Ptolemy should become the husband of Cleopatra.
She was a woman–her brother a child.
She had intellect, ambition, talent. She knew the history of her own country, and that of Assyria, Greece and Rome; and all the written languages of the world were to her familiar. She had been educated by the philosophers, who had brought from Greece the science of Pythagoras and Plato. Her companions had been men–not women, or nurses, or pious, pedantic priests.
Through the veins of her young body pulsed and leaped life plus.
She abhorred the thought of an alliance with her weak-chinned brother; and the ministers of state who suggested another husband, as a compromise, were dismissed with a look. They said she was intractable, contemptuous, unreasonable, and was scheming for the sole possession of the throne. She was not to be diverted even by ardent courtiers who were sent to her, and who lay in wait, ready with amorous sighs–she scorned them all.
Yet she was a woman still, and in her dreams she saw the coming prince.
She was banished from Alexandria.
A few friends followed her, and an army was formed to force from the enemy her rights.
But other things were happening. A Roman army came leisurely drifting in with the tide, and disembarked at Alexandria. The Great Caesar himself was in command–a mere holiday, he said. He had intended to join the land forces of Mark Antony and help crush the rebellious Pompey, but Antony had done the trick alone, and only a few days before, word had come that Pompey was dead.
Caesar knew that civil war was on in Alexandria, and being near he sailed slowly in, sending messengers ahead warning both sides to lay down their arms.
With him was the far-famed invincible Tenth Legion that had ravished Gaul. Caesar wanted to rest his men, and incidentally to reward them. They took possession of the city without a blow.
Cleopatra’s troops laid down their arms, but Ptolemy’s refused. They were simply chased beyond the walls, and their punishment was for a time deferred.
Caesar took possession of the palace of the King, and his soldiers accommodated themselves in the houses, public buildings and temples as best they could.
Cleopatra asked for a personal interview that she might present her cause. Caesar declined to meet her. He understood the trouble–many such cases he had seen. Claimants for thrones were not new to him. Where two parties quarreled both were right–or wrong–it really mattered little. It is absurd to quarrel–still more foolish to fight. Caesar was a man of peace, and to keep the peace he would appoint one of his generals governor, and make Egypt a Roman colony. In the meantime he would rest a week or two, with the kind permission of the Alexandrians, and work upon his “Commentaries”–no, he would not see either Cleopatra or Ptolemy: any information desired he would get through his trusted emissaries.