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 (3 page)

Dellius watched Herod plod off, his mind whirling. Between that brief conversation over dinner and this audience today, Mark Antony had done some research.
That
was why he’d hollered for Lucilius! And what frauds they were, he and Octavian! Burned all Brutus’s and Cassius’s papers, indeed! But, like Herod, I deemed Antonius an educated dolt. He is not, he is not! thought Dellius, gasping. He’s crafty
and
clever. He will put his hands on everything in the East, raising this man, lowering that man, until the client-kingdoms and satrapies are absolutely his. Not Rome’s.
His
. He has sent Octavian back to Italia and a task so big it will break so weak and sickly a youth, but just in case Octavian doesn’t break, Antonius will be ready.

 
 
2
 
 

When Antony left the capital of Bithynia, all of the potentates save Herod and the five members of the Sanhedrin accompanied him, still declaring their loyalty to the new rulers of Rome, still maintaining that Brutus and Cassius had duped them, lied to them, coerced them—ai, ai, ai,
forced
them! Having scant patience for eastern weeping and wailing, Antony didn’t do what Pompey the Great, Caesar, and the rest had done—invite the most important among them to join him for dinner, travel in his party. No, Mark Antony pretended that his regal camp followers didn’t exist all the way from Nicomedia to Ancyra, the only town of any size in Galatia.

 

Here, amid the rolling grassy expanses of the best grazing country east of Gaul, he had perforce to move into Deiotarus’s palace and strive to be amiable. Four days of that were three too many, but during that time Antony informed Deiotarus that he was to keep his kingdom—for the moment. His second most favored son, Deiotarus Philadelphus, was gifted with the wild, mountainous fief of Paphlagonia (it was of no use to anybody), whereas his most favored son, Castor, got nothing, and what the old king should have made of
that
was now beyond his dwindling mental faculties. To all the Romans with Antony, it meant that eventually drastic changes would be made to Galatia, and not for the benefit of any Deiotarid. For information about Galatia, Antony talked to the old king’s secretary, a noble Galatian named Amyntas who was young, well-educated, efficient, and clear-sighted.

“At least,” said Antony jovially as the Roman column set off for Cappadocia, “we’ve lost a decent percentage of our hangers-on! That gushing idiot Castor even brought the fellow who clips his toenails. Amazing, that a warrior like Deiotarus should produce such a perfect pansy.”

He was speaking to Dellius, who now rode an easy-gaited roan mare and had passed the grumpy pony to Icarus, previously doomed to walk. “You’ve lost Pharnaces and his court too,” said Dellius.

“Pah! He ought never to have come.” Antony’s lips curled in contempt. “His father was a better man, and his grandfather much better still.”

“You mean the great Mithridates?”

“Is there any other? Now there was a man, Dellius, who almost beat Rome. Formidable.”

“Pompeius Magnus defeated him easily.”

“Rubbish! Lucullus defeated him. Pompeius Magnus just cashed in on the fruits of Lucullus’s labors. He had a habit of doing that, did Magnus. But his vaingloriousness got him in the end. He began to believe his own publicity. Fancy anyone, Roman or otherwise, thinking he could beat Caesar!”

“You would have beaten Caesar with no trouble, Antonius,” said Dellius without a trace of sycophancy in his tone.


I?
Not if every god there is fought on my side! Caesar was in a class all his own, and there’s no disgrace in saying that. Over fifty battles he generaled, and never lost a one. Oh, I’d beat Magnus if he still lived—or Lucullus, or even Gaius Marius. But Caesar? Alexander the Great would have gone down to him.”

The voice, a light tenor surprising in such a big man, held no resentment. Nor even, reflected Dellius, guilt. Antonius fully subscribes to the Roman way of looking at things: because he had lifted no finger against Caesar, he can sleep at night. To plot and scheme is no crime, even when a crime is committed thanks to the plotting and scheming.

Singing their marching songs lustily, the two legions and mass of cavalry Antony had with him entered the gorge country of the great red river, Halys, beautiful beyond Roman imagination, so rich and ruddy were the rocks, so tortured the planes of cliffs and shelves. There was ample flat ground on either bank of the broad stream, flowing sluggishly because the snows of the high peaks had not yet melted. Which was why Antony was marching overland to Syria; winter seas were too dangerous for sailing, and Antony preferred to stay with his men until he could be sure they liked him better than they had Cassius, to whom they had belonged. The weather was chilly but bitter only when the wind got up, and down in the bottom of the gorge country there was little wind. Despite its color, the water was potable for men as well as horses; central Anatolia was not a populous place.

Eusebeia Mazaca sat at the foot of the vast volcano Argaeus, white with snow, for no one in history remembered its erupting. A blue city, small and impoverished; everyone had looted it time out of mind, for its kings were weak and too parsimonious to keep an army.

It was here that Antony began to realize how difficult it was going to be to squeeze yet more gold and treasure out of the East; Brutus and Cassius had plundered whatever King Mithridates the Great had overlooked. A realization that put him severely out of sorts and sent him with Poplicola, the brothers Decidius Saxa, and Dellius to inspect the priest-kingdom of Ma at Comana, not far distant from Eusebeia Mazaca. Let the senile King of Cappadocia and his ludicrously incompetent son stew in their denuded palace! Perhaps at Comana he would find a hoard of gold beneath an innocent-looking flagstone—priests left kings for dead when it came to protecting their money.

Ma was an incarnation of Kubaba Cybele, the Great Earth Mother who had ruled all the gods, male and female, when humanity first learned to tell its history around the campfires. Over the aeons she had lost her power save in places like the two Comanas, one here in Cappadocia, the other north in Pontus, and in Pessinus, not far from where Alexander the Great had cut the Gordian knot with his sword. Each of these three precincts was governed as an independent realm, its king also serving as high priest, and each lay within natural boundaries like Pontic cherries in a bowl.

Scorning an escort of troops, Antony, his four friends, and plenty of servants rode into the beguiling little village of Cappadocian Comana, noting with approval its costly dwellings, the gardens promising a profusion of flowers in the coming spring, the imposing temple of Ma rising atop a slight hill, surrounded by a grove of birches, with poplars down either side of a paved avenue that led straight to Ma’s earthly house. Off to one side was the palace; like the temple, its Doric columns were blue with scarlet bases and capitals; the walls behind were a much darker blue, and the shingled roof edged in gilt.

A young man who looked in his late teens was waiting for them in front of the palace, clad in layers of green gauze, a round gold hat upon his head, which was shaven.

“Marcus Antonius,” said Antony, sliding from his dappled grey Public Horse and tossing its reins to one of the three servants he had brought with him.

“Welcome, lord Antonius,” said the young man, bowing low.

“Just Antonius will do. We don’t have any lords in Rome. What’s your name, shaveling?”

“Archelaus Sisenes. I am priest-king of Ma.”

“Bit young to be a king, aren’t you?”

“Better to be too young than too old, Marcus Antonius. Come into my house.”

 

 

The visit started off with wary verbal fencing, at which King Archelaus Sisenes, even younger than Octavian, proved a match for Antony, whose good nature inclined him to admire a master of the art. As indeed he might have happily tolerated Octavian, had not Octavian been Caesar’s heir.

But though the buildings were lovely and the landscaping good enough to please a Roman heart, an hour on the water clock was quite enough time to discover that whatever wealth Ma of Comana might once have possessed had vanished. With a ride of only fifty miles between them and the Cappadocian capital, Antony’s friends were fully prepared to set out at dawn of the following day to rejoin the legions and continue the march.

“Will it offend you if my mother attends our dinner?” the priest-king asked, tone deferential. “And my young brothers?”

“The more, the merrier,” said Antony, good manners to the fore. He had already found the answers to several vexed questions, but it would be prudent to see for himself what kind of family had produced this intelligent, precocious, fearless fellow.

Archelaus Sisenes and his brothers were a handsome trio, with quick wits, a thorough knowledge of Greek literature and philosophy, and even a smattering of mathematics.

None of which mattered the moment Glaphyra entered the room. Like all the Great Mother’s female acolytes, she had gone into service for the Goddess at thirteen, but not, like the rest of that year’s intake of pubescent virgins, to spread her mat inside the temple and offer her maidenhead to the first comer who fancied her. Glaphyra was royal, and chose her own mate where she wished. Her eye had lighted upon a visiting Roman senator, who sired Archelaus Sisenes without ever knowing that he had; she was all of fourteen when she bore the boy. The next son belonged to the King of Olba, descended from the archer Teucer, who fought with his brother Ajax at Troy; and the father of the third was a handsome nobody guiding a team of oxen in a caravan from Media. After that Glaphyra hung up her girdle and devoted her energies to bringing up her boys. At this moment she was thirty-four and looked twenty-four.

Though Poplicola wondered what drove her to appear for dinner when the guest of honor was a notorious philanderer, Glaphyra knew very well why. Lust did not enter the picture; she who belonged to the Great Mother had long ago abrogated lust as demeaning. No, she wanted more for her sons than a tiny priest-kingdom! She was after as much of Anatolia as she could get, and if Marcus Antonius was the kind of man gossip said he was, then he was her chance.

Antony sucked in his breath audibly—what a
beauty
! Tall and lissome, long legs and magnificent breasts, and a face to rival Helen’s—lush red lips, skin as flawless as a rose petal, lustrous blue eyes between thick dark lashes, and absolutely straight flaxen hair that hung down her back like a sheet of hammered silver-gilt. Of jewels she wore none, probably because she had none to wear. Her blue, Greek-style gown was plain wool.

Poplicola and Dellius were shoved off the couch so quickly that they were hard put to land on their feet; one huge hand was already patting the space where they had reclined.

“Here, with me, you gorgeous creature! What’s your name?”

“Glaphyra,” she said, kicking off her felt slippers and waiting until a servant pulled warm socks over her feet. Then she swung her body onto the couch, but far enough away from Antony to prevent his hugging her, which he showed every sign of wanting to do. Gossip was certainly right in saying that he wasn’t a subtle lover, if his greeting was anything to go by. Gorgeous creature, indeed! He thinks of women as conveniences, but I, resolved Glaphyra, must exert myself to become a more convenient convenience than his horse, his secretary, or his chamber pot. And if he quickens me, I will offer to the Goddess for a girl. A girl of Antonius’s could marry the King of the Parthians—what an alliance! As well that we are taught to suck with our vaginas better than a fellatrix can with her mouth! I will enslave him.

 

 

Thus it was that Antony lingered in Comana for the rest of winter, and when early in March he finally set out for Cilicia and Tarsus, he took Glaphyra with him. His ten thousand infantrymen hadn’t minded this unexpected furlough; Cappadocia was a land of women whose men had been slaughtered on some battlefield or carted off to slavery. As these legionaries could farm as well as they soldiered, they enjoyed the break. Originally Caesar had recruited them across the Padus River in Italian Gaul, and, apart from the higher altitude, Cappadocia wasn’t so very different to farm or graze. Behind them they left several thousand hybrid Romans in utero, properly prepared and planted land, and many thousands of grateful women.

They descended a good Roman road between two towering ranges, plunging into vast aromatic forests of pine, larch, spruce, fir, the sound of roaring water perpetually in their ears, until at the pass of the Cilician Gates the road was so steep it was stepped at five-pace intervals. Going down, a comb of Hymettan honey; had they been going up, the fragrant air would have been polluted by splendid Latin obscenities. With the snow melting fast now, the headwaters of the Cydnus River boiled and tumbled like a huge swirling cauldron, but once through the Cilician Gates the road became easier and the nights warmer. They were dropping rapidly toward the coast of Our Sea.

Tarsus, which lay on the Cydnus some twenty miles inland, came as a shock. Like Athens, Ephesus, Pergamum, and Antioch, it was a city most Roman nobles knew, even if from a fleeting visit. A jewel of a place, hugely rich. But no more. Cassius had levied such a massive fine on Tarsus that, having melted down every gold or silver work of art, no matter how valuable, the Tarsians had been forced to sell the populace gradually into slavery, starting with the lowest born and working their way inexorably upward. By the time Cassius had grown tired of waiting and sailed off with the five hundred talents of gold Tarsus had thus far managed to scrape together, only a few thousand free people were left out of what had been half a million. But not to enjoy their wealth; that had gone beyond recall.

“By all the gods I hate Cassius!” Antony cried, farther than ever from the riches he had expected. “If he did this to Tarsus, what did he do in Syria?”

“Cheer up, Antonius,” Dellius said. “All is not lost.” By now he had supplanted Poplicola as Antony’s chief source of information, which was what he wanted. Let Poplicola have the joy of being Antony’s intimate! He, Quintus Dellius, was well content to be the man whose advice Antony esteemed, and right at this dark moment he had some useful advice. “Tarsus is a big city, the center of all Cilician trade, but once Cassius hove in view, the whole of Cilicia Pedia stayed well away from Tarsus. Cilicia Pedia is rich and fertile, but no Roman governor has ever succeeded in taxing it. The region is run by brigands and renegade Arabs who get away with far more than Cassius ever did. Why not send your troops into Cilicia Pedia and see what’s to be found? You can stay here—put Barbatius in command.”

Good counsel, and Antony knew it. Better by far to make the Cilicians bear the cost of victualing his troops than poor Tarsus, especially if there were bandit strongholds to be looted.

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