Read Antony and Cleopatra Online

Authors: Colleen McCullough

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Antonius; Marcus, #Egypt - History - 332-30 B.C, #Biographical, #Cleopatra, #Biographical Fiction, #Romans, #Egypt, #Rome - History - Civil War; 49-45 B.C, #Rome, #Romans - Egypt

Antony and Cleopatra (2 page)

Dellius stared, blinked his shrewd hazel eyes. “A gentile? I thought you said you were a Jew.”

“Not under Mosaic law. My father married Princess Cypros of Nabataea. An Arab. And since Jews count descent in the mother’s line, my father’s children are gentiles.”

“Then—then what can you accomplish here, Herod?”

“Everything, if I am let do what must be done. The Jews need a heavy foot on their necks—ask any Roman governor of Syria since Pompeius Magnus made Syria a province. I intend to be King of the Jews, whether they like it or not. And I can do it.
If
I marry a Hasmonaean princess directly descended from Judas Maccabeus. Our children will be Jewish, and I intend to have many children.”

“So you’re here to speak in your defense?” Dellius asked.

“I am. The deputation from the Sanhedrin will demand that I and all the members of my family be exiled on pain of death. They’re not game to do that without Rome’s permission.”

“Well, there’s not much in it when it comes to backing Cassius the loser,” said Dellius cheerily. “Antonius will have to choose between two factions that supported the wrong man.”

“But my father supported Julius Caesar,” Herod said. “What I have to do is convince Marcus Antonius that if I am allowed to live in Judaea and advance my status, I will always stand for Rome. He was in Syria years ago when Gabinius was its governor, so he must be aware how obstreperous the Jews are. But will he remember that my father helped Caesar?”

“Hmm,” purred Dellius, squinting at the rainbow sparkles of the water jetting from a dolphin’s mouth. “Why should Marcus Antonius remember that, when more recently you were Cassius’s man? As, I gather, was your father before he died.”

“I am no mean advocate, I can plead my case.”

“Provided you are permitted the chance.” Dellius got up and held out his hand, shook Herod’s warmly. “I wish you well, Herod of Judaea. If I can help you, I will.”

“You would find me very grateful.”

“Rubbish!” Dellius laughed as he walked away. “All your money is on your back.”

 

 

Mark Antony had been remarkably sober since marching for the East, but the sixty men in his entourage had expected that Nicomedia would see Antony the Sybarite erupt. An opinion shared by a troupe of musicians and dancers who had hastened from Byzantium at the news of his advent in the neighborhood; from Spain to Babylonia, every member of the League of Dionysiac Entertainers knew the name Marcus Antonius. Then, to general amazement, Antony had dismissed the troupe with a bag of gold and stayed sober, albeit with a sad, wistful expression on his ugly-handsome face.

“Can’t be done, Poplicola,” he said to his best friend with a sigh. “Did you see how many potentates were lining the road as we came in? Cluttering up the halls the moment the steward opened the doors? All here to steal a march on Rome—and me. Well, I don’t intend to let that happen. I didn’t choose the East as my bailiwick to be diddled out of the goodies the East possesses in such abundance. So I’ll sit dispensing justice in Rome’s name with a clear head and a settled stomach.” He giggled. “Oh, Lucius, do you remember how disgusted Cicero was when I spewed into your toga on the rostra?” Another giggle, a shrug. “Business, Antonius, business!” he apostrophized himself. “They’re hailing me as the new Dionysus, but they’re about to discover that for the time being I’m dour old Saturn.” The red-brown eyes, too small and close together to please a portrait sculptor, twinkled. “The new Dionysus! God of wine and pleasure—I must say I rather like the comparison. The best they did for Caesar was simply God.”

Having known Antony since they were boys, Poplicola didn’t say that he thought God was superior to the God of This or That; his chief job was to keep Antony governing, so he greeted this speech with relief. That was the thing about Antony; he could suddenly cease his carousing—sometimes for months on end—especially when his sense of self-preservation surfaced. As clearly it had now. And he was right; the potentatic invasion meant trouble as well as hard work, therefore it behooved Antony to get to know them individually, learn which rulers should keep their thrones, which lose them. In other words, which rulers were best for Rome.

All of which meant that Dellius held out scant hope that he would achieve his goal of moving closer to Antony in Nicomedia. Then Fortuna entered the picture, commencing with Antony’s command that dinner would not be in the afternoon, but later. And as Antony’s gaze roved across the sixty Romans strolling into the dining room, for some obscure reason it lit upon Quintus Dellius. There was something about him that the Great Man liked, though he wasn’t sure what; perhaps a soothing quality that Dellius could smear over even the most unpalatable subjects like a balm.

“Ho, Dellius!” he roared. “Join Poplicola and me!”

The brothers Decidius Saxa bristled, as did Barbatius and a few others, but no one said a word as the delighted Dellius shed his toga on the floor and sat on the back of the couch that formed the bottom of the U. While a servant gathered up the toga and folded it—a difficult task—another servant removed Dellius’s shoes and washed his feet. Dellius didn’t make the mistake of usurping the
locus consularis
; Antony would occupy that, with Poplicola in the middle. His was the far end of the couch, socially the least desirable position, but for Dellius—what an elevation! He could feel the eyes boring into him, the minds behind them busy trying to work out what he had done to earn this promotion.

The meal was good, if not quite Roman enough—too much lamb, bland fish, peculiar seasonings, alien sauces. However, there was a pepper slave with his mortar and pestle, and if a Roman diner could snap his fingers for a pinch of freshly ground pepper, anything was edible, even German boiled beef. Samian wine flowed, though well watered; the moment he saw that Antony was drinking it watered, Dellius did the same.

At first he said nothing, but as the main courses were taken out and the sweeties brought in, Antony belched loudly, patted his flat belly, and sighed contentedly.

“So, Dellius, what did you think of the vast array of kings and princes?” he asked affably.

“Very strange people, Marcus Antonius, particularly to one who has never been to the East.”

“Strange? Aye, they’re that, all right! Cunning as sewer rats, more faces than Janus, and daggers so sharp you never feel them slide between your ribs. Odd, that they backed Brutus and Cassius against me.”

“Not really so odd,” said Poplicola, who had a sweet tooth and was slurping at a confection of sesame seeds bound with honey. “They made the same mistake with Caesar—backed Pompeius Magnus. You campaigned in the West, just like Caesar. They didn’t know your mettle. Brutus was a nonentity, but for them there was a certain magic about Gaius Cassius. He escaped annihilation with Crassus at Carrhae, then governed Syria extremely well at the ripe old age of thirty. Cassius was the stuff of legends.”

“I agree,” said Dellius. “Their world is confined to the eastern end of Our Sea. What goes on in the Spains and the Gauls at the western end is an unknown.”

“True.” Antony grimaced at the syrupy dishes on the low table in front of the couch. “Poplicola, wash your face! I don’t know how you can stomach this honeyed mush.”

Poplicola wriggled to the back of the couch while Antony looked at Dellius with an expression that said he understood much that Dellius had hoped to hide: the penury, the New Man status, the vaunting ambition. “Did any among the sewer rats take your fancy, Dellius?”

“One, Marcus Antonius. A Jew named Herod.”

“Ah! The rose among five weeds.”

“His metaphor was avian—the hawk among five sparrows.”

Antony laughed, a deep rich bellow. “Well, with Deiotarus, Ariobarzanes, and Pharnaces here, I’m not likely to have much time to devote to half a dozen quarrelsome Jews. No wonder the five weeds hate our rose Herod, though.”

“Why?” asked Dellius, assuming a look of awed interest.

“For a start, the regalia. Jews don’t bedizen themselves in gold and Tyrian purple—it’s against their laws. No kingly trappings, no images, and their gold goes into their Great Temple in the name of all the people. Crassus robbed the Great Temple of two thousand gold talents before he set off to conquer the Kingdom of the Parthians. The Jews cursed him, and he died ignominiously. Then came Pompeius Magnus asking for gold, then Caesar, then Cassius. They
hope
I won’t do the same, but they
know
I will. Like Caesar, I’ll ask them for a sum equal to what Cassius asked.”

Dellius wrinkled his brow. “I don’t—ah—”

“Caesar demanded a sum equal to what they gave Magnus.”

“Oh, I see! I beg pardon for my ignorance.”

“We’re all here to learn, Quintus Dellius, and you strike me as quick to learn. So fill me in on these Jews. What do the weeds want, and what does Herod the rose want?”

“The weeds want Herod exiled under pain of death,” Dellius said, abandoning the avian metaphor. If Antony liked his own better, so would Dellius. “Herod wants a Roman decree allowing him to live freely in Judaea.”

“And who will benefit Rome more?”

“Herod,” Dellius answered without hesitation. “He may not be a Jew according to their lights, but he wants to rule them by marrying some princess with the proper blood. If he succeeds, I think Rome will have a faithful ally.”

“Dellius, Dellius! Surely you can’t think
Herod
faithful?”

The rather faunlike face creased into a mischievious grin. “Definitely, when it’s in his best interests. And since he knows the people he wants to rule hate him enough to kill him if they get a tenth of a chance, Rome will always serve his interests better than they will. While Rome is his ally, he’s safe from all but poison or ambush, and I can’t see him eating or drinking anything that hasn’t been thoroughly tasted, nor going abroad without a bodyguard of non-Jews he pays extremely well.”

“Thank you, Dellius!”

Poplicola intruded his person between them. “Solved one problem, eh, Antonius?”

“With some help from Dellius, yes. Steward, clear the room!” Antony bellowed. “Where’s Lucilius? I need Lucilius!”

 

 

On the morrow the five members of the Jewish Sanhedrin found themselves first on the list of supplicants Mark Antony’s herald called. Antony was clad in his purple-bordered toga and carried the plain ivory wand of his high imperium; he made an imposing figure. Beside him was his beloved secretary, Lucilius, who had belonged to Brutus. Twelve lictors in crimson stood to either side of his ivory curule chair, the axed bundles of rods balanced between their feet. A dais raised them above the crowded floor.

The Sanhedrin leader began to orate in good Greek, but in a style so florid and convoluted that it took him a tediously long time to say who the five of them were, and why they had been deputed to come so far to see the Triumvir Marcus Antonius.

“Oh, shut up!” Antony barked without warning. “Shut up and go home!” He snatched a scroll from Lucilius, unfurled it, and brandished it fiercely. “This document was found among Gaius Cassius’s papers after Philippi. It states that only Antipater, chancellor to the so-called King Hyrcanus at that time, and his sons Phasael and Herod, managed to raise any gold for Cassius’s cause. The Jews tendered nothing except a beaker of poison for Antipater. Leaving aside the fact that the gold was going to the
wrong
cause, it’s clear to me that the Jews have far more love for gold than for Rome. When
I
reach Judaea, what will change from that? Why, nothing! In this man Herod I see someone willing to pay Rome her tributes and taxes—which go, I might remind you all, to preserve the peace and well-being of your realms! When you gave to Cassius, you simply funded his army and fleets! Cassius was a sacrilegious traitor who took what was rightfully Rome’s! Ah, do you shiver in your shoes, Deiotarus? Well you should!”

I had forgotten, thought the listening Dellius, how pungently he can speak. He’s using the Jews to inform all of them that he will not be merciful.

Antony returned to the subject. “In the name of the Senate and People of Rome, I hereby command that Herod, his brother Phasael and all his family are free to dwell anywhere in any Roman land, including Judaea. I cannot prevent Hyrcanus from titling himself a king among his people, but in the eyes of Rome he is no more and no less than an ethnarch. Judaea is no longer a single land. It is five small regions dotted around southern Syria, and five small regions it will remain. Hyrcanus can have Jerusalem, Gazara, and Jericho. Phasael the son of Antipater will be the tetrarch of Sepphora. Herod the son of Antipater will be the tetrarch of Amathus. And be warned! If there is any trouble in southern Syria, I will crush the Jews like so many eggshells!”

I did it, I did it! cried Dellius to himself, bursting with happiness. Antonius listened to
me
!

Herod was by the fountain, but his face was pinched and white, not suffused with the joy that Dellius expected to see. What was the matter? What could be the matter? He had come a stateless pauper, he would leave a tetrarch.

“Aren’t you pleased?” Dellius asked. “You won without even needing to argue your case, Herod.”

“Why did Antonius have to elevate my brother too?” Herod demanded harshly, though he spoke to someone who wasn’t there. “He has put us on an equal footing! How can I wed Mariamne when Phasael is not only my equal in rank, but also my older brother? It’s Phasael will wed her!”

“Come, come,” said Dellius gently. “That’s all in the future, Herod. For the moment, accept Antonius’s judgement as more than you had hoped to gain. He’s come down on your side—the five sparrows have just had their wings clipped.”

“Yes, yes, I see all that, Dellius, but this Marcus Antonius is clever! He wants what the farsighted Romans all want—balance. And to put me alone on an equal footing with Hyrcanus is not a Roman enough answer. Phasael and I in one pan, Hyrcanus in the other. Oh, Marcus Antonius, you are clever! Caesar was a genius, but you are supposed to be a dolt. Now I find another Caesar.”

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