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 (8 page)

The tears cascaded like silent rain.

“Oh, cease the waterworks, woman!” Antony cried. “You will get what you want, but not yet. Continue the waterworks, and you might get nothing.”



Only on the third evening at the third dinner aboard
did Antony mention Cassius. How her cooks managed to keep on presenting novelties eluded him, but his friends were lost in an ecstasy of edibles that left them little time to watch what the couple on the
lectus medius
were doing. Certainly not making any amatory advances to each other, and with that speculation dead in the water, the sight of those gorgeous girls was far more thrilling—though some guests made a greater fuss of the little boys.

“You had better come to the governor’s palace for dinner on the morrow,” said Antony, who had eaten well on each of the three occasions, but not made a glutton of himself. “Give your cooks a well-deserved rest.”

“If you like,” she said indifferently; she picked at food, took a sparrow’s portions.

“But before you honor my quarters with your royal presence, Your Majesty, I think we’d better clear up the matter of that aid you gave Gaius Cassius.”

“Aid? What aid?”

“Don’t you call four good Roman legions aid?”

“My dear Marcus Antonius,” she drawled wearily, “those four legions marched north in the charge of Aulus Allienus, who I was led to believe was a legate of Publius Dolabella, the then legal governor of Syria. As Alexandria was threatened by plague as well as famine, I was glad to hand the four legions Caesar left there to Allienus. If he decided to change sides
he had crossed the border into Syria, that cannot be laid at my door. The fleet I sent you and Octavianus was wrecked in a storm, but you’ll find no records of fleets donated to Gaius Cassius, any more than he got money from me, or grain from me, or other troops from me. I do admit that my viceroy on Cyprus, Serapion, did send aid to Brutus and Cassius, but I am happy to see Serapion executed. He acted without orders from me, which makes him a traitor to Egypt. If you do not execute him, I certainly will on my way home.”

“Humph,” Antony grunted, scowling. He knew everything she said was true, but that was not his problem; his problem was how to twist what she said to look like lies. “I can produce slaves willing to testify that Serapion acted under your orders.”

“Freely, or under torture?” she asked coolly.


“For a minute fraction of the gold you hunger for more than Midas did. Come, Antonius, let us be frank! I am here because your fabulous East is bankrupt thanks to a Roman civil war, and suddenly Egypt looks like a huge goose capable of laying huge golden eggs. Well, disabuse yourself!” she snapped. “Egypt’s gold belongs to Egypt, which enjoys Friend and Ally of the Roman People status, and has never broken trust. If you want Egypt’s gold, you’ll have to wrest it from me by force, at the head of an army. And even then you’ll be disappointed. Dellius’s pathetic little list of treasures to be found in Alexandria is but one golden egg in a mighty pile of them. And that pile is so well concealed that you will never find it. Nor will you torture it out of me or my priests, who are the only ones who know its whereabouts.”

Not the speech of someone who could be cowed!

Listening for the slightest tremor in Cleopatra’s voice and watching for the slightest tension in her hands, her body, Antony could find none. Worse, he knew from several things Caesar had said that the Treasure of the Ptolemies was indeed secreted away so cunningly that no one could find it who didn’t know how. No doubt the items on Dellius’s list would fetch ten thousand talents, but he needed far more than that. And to march or sail his army to Alexandria would cost some thousands of talents of itself. Oh, curse the woman! I cannot bully or bludgeon her into yielding. Therefore I must find a different way. Cleopatra is no Glaphyra.



Accordingly a note was delivered to
early the next morning to say that the banquet Antony was giving tonight would be a costume party.

“But I offer you a hint,” the note said. “If you come as Aphrodite, I will greet you as the New Dionysus, your natural partner in the celebration of life.”

So Cleopatra draped herself in Greek guise, floating layers of pink and carmine. Her thin mouse-brown hair was done in its habitual style, parted into many strips from brow to nape of neck, where a small knot of it was bunched. People joked that it resembled the rind of a cantaloupe melon, not far from the truth. A woman like Glaphyra would have been able to tell him (had she ever seen Cleopatra in her pharaonic regalia) that this uninspiring style enabled her to wear Egypt’s red and white double crown with ease. Tonight, however, she wore a spangled short veil of interwoven flowers, and had chosen to adorn her person with flowers at neck, at bodice, at waist. In one hand she carried a golden apple. The outfit was not particularly attractive, which didn’t worry Mark Antony, not a connoisseur of women’s wear. The whole object of the “costume” dinner party was so that he could show
to best advantage.

As the New Dionysus, he was bare from the waist up, and bare from mid-thigh down. His nether regions were draped in a flimsy piece of purple gauze, under which a carefully tailored loincloth revealed the mighty pouch that contained the fabled Antonian genitalia. At forty-three, he was still in his prime, that Herculean physique unmarred by more excesses than most men fitted into twice his tally of years. Calves and thighs were massive, but the ankles slender, and the pectorals of his chest bulged above a flat, muscled belly. Only his head looked odd, for his neck was as thick as a bull’s, and dwarfed it. The tribe of girls the Queen had brought with her looked at him and gasped, near died inside for want of him.

“My, you don’t have much in your wardrobe,” Cleopatra said, unimpressed.

“Dionysus didn’t need much. Here, have a grape,” he said, extending the bunch he held in one hand.

“Here, have an apple,” she said, extending a hand.

“I’m Dionysus, not Paris. ‘Paris, you pretty boy, you woman-struck seducer,’” he quoted. “See? I know my Homer.”

“I am consumed with admiration.” She arranged herself on the couch; he had given her the
locus consularis
, not a gesture the sticklers in his entourage appreciated. Women were women.

Antony tried, but the stripped-for-action look didn’t affect Cleopatra at all. Whatever she lived for, it wasn’t the physical side of love, so much was certain. In fact, she spent most of the evening playing with her golden apple, which she put into a glass goblet of pink wine and marveled at how the blue of the glass turned the gold a subtle shade of purple, especially when she stirred it with one manicured finger.

Finally, desperate, Antony gambled all on one roll of the dice: Venus, they must come up Venus! “I’m falling in love with you,” he said, hand caressing her arm.

She moved it as if to brush off the attentions of an insect. “
,” she growled.

“It is not rubbish!” he said indignantly, sitting up straight. “You’ve bewitched me, Cleopatra.”

“My wealth has bewitched you.”

“No, no! I wouldn’t care if you were a beggar woman!”

You’d step over me as if I didn’t exist.”

“I’ll prove that I love you! Set me a task!”

Her answer was immediate. “My sister Arsinoë has taken refuge in the precinct of Artemis at Ephesus. She is under a sentence of death legally pronounced in Alexandria. Execute her, Antonius. Once she’s dead, I’ll rest easier, like you more.”

“I have a better way,” he said, sweat beading his forehead. “Let me make love to you—here, now!”

Her head tilted, skewing the veil of blossoms. To Dellius, watching intently from his couch, she looked like a tipsy flower vendor determined on a sale. One yellow-gold eye closed, the other surveyed Antony speculatively. “Not in Tarsus,” she said then, “and not while my sister lives. Come to Egypt bearing me Arsinoë’s head, and I’ll think about it.”

“I can’t!” he cried, gasping. “I’ve too much work to do! Why do you think I’m sober? A war brewing in Italia, that accursed boy faring better than anyone could have expected—I can’t! And how can you ask for the head of your own sister?”

. She’s been after my head for years. If her plans succeed, she’ll marry my son, then lop mine from my shoulders in the flicker of an eye. Her blood is pure Ptolemaic and she’s young enough to have children when Caesarion is old enough. I am the granddaughter of Mithridates the Great—a hybrid. And my son, more hybrid yet. To many people in Alexandria, Arsinoë represents a return to the proper bloodlines. If I am to live, she must die.”

Cleopatra slid from the couch, discarding her veil, wrenching ropes of tuberoses and lilies from her neck and waist. “Thank you for an excellent party, and thank you for an illuminating trip abroad.
has not been so entertained these last hundred years. Tomorrow he and I sail home to Egypt. Come and see me there. And do look in on my sister at Ephesus. She’s such an absolute chuckle. If you like harpies and gorgons, you’ll just love her.”



“Maybe,” said Dellius, made privy to some of this the next morning as
dipped his golden oars in the water and started home, “you frightened her, Antonius.”

? That cold-blooded viper? Impossible!”

“She doesn’t weigh much more than a talent, whereas you must weigh in the region of four talents. Perhaps she thinks you’d crush her to death.” He tittered. “Or ram her to death! It’s even possible that you would.”

I never thought of that!”

“Woo her with letters, Antonius, and get on with your duties as Triumvir east of Italia.”

“Are you trying to push me, Dellius?” Antony asked.

“No, no, of course not!” Dellius answered quickly. “Just remind you that the Queen of Egypt is no longer on your horizon, whereas other people and events are.”

Antony swept the paperwork off his desk with a savage swipe that had Lucilius down on his hands and knees immediately, picking them up. “I’m fed up with this life, Dellius! The East can rot—it’s time for wine and women.”

Dellius looked down, Lucilius looked up, exchanged a speaking glance. “I have a better idea, Antonius,” Dellius said. “Why not get through a mountain of work this summer, then spend the winter in Alexandria at the court of Queen Cleopatra?”


For the fourth year in a row, Nilus did not inundate. The only cheering news was that those along the river who had survived the plague seemed immune to it, as was equally true in the Delta and Alexandria. These folk were hardier, healthier.


Sosigenes had been visited by an idea, and issued an edict in Pharaoh’s name; it ordered that the lowest sections of Nilus’s banks be broken down a further five feet. If any water came over the tops of these prepared gaps, it would flow into huge ponds excavated in advance. All around the rims of the ponds stood treadmill water wheels ready to feed water into shallow channels snaking off across the parched fields. And when mid-July brought an Inundation down in the Cubits of Death, the river rose just high enough to fill the ponds. This was a far easier way of irrigating by hand than the traditional shaduf, a single bucket that had to be dipped into the river itself.

And people were people, even in the midst of death; babies had been born, the population was increasing. But Egypt would eat.

The threat from Rome was in temporary abeyance; her agents told Cleopatra that from Tarsus Antony had gone to Antioch, paid calls on Tyre and Sidon, then taken ship for Ephesus. And there a screaming Arsinoë was dragged from sanctuary to be run through by a sword. The high priest of Artemis looked likely to follow her, but Antony, who disliked these eastern bloodbath vengeances, intervened at the ethnarch’s request and sent the man back to his precinct unharmed. The head would not be a part of Antony’s baggage if and when he visited Egypt; Arsinoë had been burned whole. She had been the last true Ptolemy, and with her death that particular threat to Cleopatra vanished.

“Antonius will come in the winter,” said Tach’a, smiling.

“Antonius! Oh, my mother, he is no Caesar! How can I bear his hands upon me?”

“Caesar was unique. You cannot forget him, that I understand, but you must cease to mourn him and look to Egypt. What matter the feel of his hands when Antonius possesses the blood to give Caesarion a sister to marry? Monarchs do not mate for gratification of the self, they mate to benefit their realms and safeguard the dynasty. You will get used to Antonius.”



In fact, Cleopatra’s greatest worry that summer and autumn was Caesarion, who hadn’t forgiven her for leaving him behind in Alexandria. He was irreproachably polite, he worked hard over his books, he read voluntarily in his own time, he kept up his riding lessons, his military exercises, and his athletic pursuits, though he would not box or wrestle.

told me that our thinking apparatus is located inside our heads and that we must never engage in sports that endanger it. So I will learn to use the
and the longsword, I will shoot arrows and throw rocks from slings, I will practice casting my
and my
, I will run, hurdle, and swim. But I will not box or wrestle.
wouldn’t approve, no matter what my instructors say. I told them to desist, not to come running to you—does my command count for less than yours?”

She was too busy marveling at how much he remembered about Caesar to hear the message implicit in his last words. His father died before the child turned four.

But it was not the argument over contact sport or other small dissatisfactions gnawed at her; what hurt was his aloofness. She couldn’t fault his attention when she spoke to him, especially to issue an order, but he had shut her out of his private world. Clearly he felt an ongoing resentment that she couldn’t dismiss as petty.

Oh, she cried to herself, why do I always make the wrong decisions? Had I only known what effect excluding him from Tarsus would have, I would have taken him with me. But that would have been to risk the succession on a sea voyage—impossible!



Then her agents reported that the situation in Italia had deteriorated into open war. The instigators were Antony’s termagant wife, Fulvia, and Antony’s brother, the consul Lucius Antonius. Fulvia snared that famous fence-sitter and side-switcher Lucius Munatius Plancus and bewitched him into donating the veteran soldiers he was settling around Beneventum—two full legions—for her army; after which she persuaded that aristocratic dolt Tiberius Claudius Nero, whom Caesar had so detested, to raise a slave revolt in Campania—not an appropriate task for one who had never in his life conversed with a slave. Not that Nero didn’t try, just that he didn’t even know how to start his commission.

Having no official position save his status as Triumvir, Octavian slid in careful Fabian circles on Lucius Antonius’s perimeter as the two legions Lucius himself had managed to recruit moved up the Italian peninsula toward Rome. The third Triumvir, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, took two legions to Rome to keep Lucius out. Then the moment Lepidus saw the glitter of armor on the Via Latina, he abandoned Rome and his troops to a jubilant Fulvia (and Lucius, whom people tended to forget).

The outcome actually depended upon the ring of great armies fencing Italia in—armies commanded by Antony’s best marshals, men who were his friends as well as his political adherents. Gnaeus Asinius Pollio held Italian Gaul with seven legions; in Further Gaul across the Alps sat Quintus Fufius Calenus with eleven legions; while Publius Ventidius and his seven legions sat in coastal Liguria.

By now it was autumn. Antony was in Athens, not far away, enjoying the entertainments this most sophisticated of cities had to offer. Pollio wrote to him, Ventidius wrote to him, Calenus wrote to him, Plancus wrote to him, Fulvia wrote to him, Lucius wrote to him, Sextus Pompey wrote to him, and Octavian was writing to him every single day. Antony never answered any of these letters—he had better things to do. Thus—as Octavian for one realized—Antony missed his great chance to crush Caesar’s heir permanently. The veterans were mutinous, no one was paying taxes, and all Octavian could scrape up were eight legions. Every main road from Bononia in the north to Brundisium in the south reverberated to the rhythmic thud of hobnailed legionary
most of them belonging to Octavian’s avowed enemies. Sextus Pompey’s fleets controlled both the Tuscan Sea to Italia’s west and the Adriatic Sea to Italia’s east, cutting off the grain supply from Sicilia and Africa. Had Antony hoisted his bulk off his plush Athenian couch and led all these elements in an outright war to squash Octavian, he would have won easily. But Antony chose not to answer his letters and not to move. Octavian breathed a sigh of relief, while Antony’s own people assumed that Antony was too busy having a good time to bother with anything beyond pleasure.



But in Alexandria, reading her reports, Cleopatra fretted and fumed, considered writing to Antony to urge him into an Italian war. That would really remove the threat from Egypt! In the end she didn’t write; had she, it would have been a wasted effort.



Lucius Antonius marched north on the Via Flaminia to Perusia, a magnificent town perched high on a flat-topped mountain in the middle of the Apennines. There he inserted himself and his six legions within Perusia’s walls and waited to see not only what Octavian would do, but also what Pollio, Ventidius, and Plancus would do. It never occurred to him that the latter three wouldn’t march to his rescue—as Antony’s men, they had to!

Octavian had put his spiritual brother Agrippa in command, a shrewd decision; when the two very young men concluded that neither Pollio and Ventidius nor Plancus were going to rescue Lucius, they erected massive siege fortifications in a ring all the way around Perusia’s mountain. No food could reach the town, and with winter coming on, the water table was low, and lowering.

Fulvia sat in Plancus’s camp and railed at the perfidy of Pollio and Ventidius, clustered miles away; she also railed in person at Plancus, who put up with it because he was in love with her. Her state of mind was alarmingly unstable; one moment frenzied tantrums, the next bursts of energy recruiting more men. But what ate at her most was a new hatred of Octavian. The supercilious pup had sent his wife, Fulvia’s daughter Clodia, back to her mother still
virgo intacta
. What was she going to do with a skinny girl who did nothing but weep and refuse to eat?
In a war camp?
Worst of all, Clodia insisted that she was madly in love with Octavian, and blamed Octavian’s rejection on her mother.



By late October Antony likened himself to Aetna just before an eruption. His colleagues felt the tremors and tried to avoid him, but that was not possible.

“Dellius, I’m going to winter in Alexandria,” he announced. “Marcus Saxa and Caninius can stay with the troops at Ephesus. Lucius Saxa, you can come with me as far as Antioch—I’m making you governor of Syria. There are two legions of Cassius’s troops in Antioch, they’ll be enough for your needs. You can start by making the cities of Syria understand that I want tribute. Now, not later! Whatever a place paid Cassius, it will pay to me. For the moment I’m not changing my dispositions elsewhere—Asia Province is quiet, Censorinus is coping in Macedonia, and I can’t see the need for a governor in Bithynia.” He stretched his arms above his head exultantly. “A holiday! The New Dionysus is going to have a proper holiday! And what better place than at the court of Aphrodite in Egypt?”



He didn’t write Cleopatra a letter either. She knew that he was coming only through her agents, who managed to give her two
of notice. In those sixteen days she sent ships out in search of fare that Egypt did not stock, from the succulent hams of the Pyreneae to huge wheels of cheese. Though it wasn’t usually on the menu, the palace kitchens could produce
for flavoring sauces, and several breeders of suckling pigs for Roman residents of the city found their entire piggeries bought out. Chickens, geese, ducks, quails, and pheasants were rounded up, though at this time of year there would be no lamb. More important, the wine had to be as good as plentiful; Cleopatra’s court hardly touched it, and Cleopatra herself preferred Egyptian barley beer. But for the Romans, it must be wine, wine, wine.

Rumors floated around Pelusium and the Delta that Syria was restless, although no one seemed to have concrete evidence as to the nature of the problem. Admittedly the Jews were in a ferment; when Herod had returned from Bithynia a tetrarch, there were howls from both sides of the Sanhedrin, Pharisee and Sadducee; that his brother Phasael was also a tetrarch didn’t seem to matter as much. Herod was hated, Phasael tolerated. Some Jews were intriguing to spill Hyrcanus from the throne in favor of his nephew, a Hasmonaean prince named Antigonus; or, failing success, at least to strip Hyrcanus of the high priesthood and give
to Antigonus.

But with Mark Antony due to arrive any day, Syria didn’t get the attention from Cleopatra that it deserved. It was a matter of some urgency simply because Syria was right next door.



What preoccupied her most was a crisis that hinged on her son. Cha’em and Tach’a had been instructed to take Caesarion to Memphis and keep him there until Antony left.

“I will not go,” Caesarion said very calmly, chin up.

They were far from alone, which annoyed her. So she answered curtly. “Pharaoh orders it! Therefore you will go.”

“I too am Pharaoh. The greatest Roman left alive after my father was murdered is to visit us, and we will receive him in state. That means Pharaoh must be present in both incarnations, male and female.”

“Don’t argue, Caesarion. If necessary, I’ll have you taken to Memphis under guard.”

“That will look good to our subjects!”

“How dare you be insolent to me!”

“I am Pharaoh, anointed and crowned. I am son of Amun-Ra and son of Isis. I am Horus. I am the Lord of the Two Ladies and the Lord of the Sedge and Bee. My cartouche is above yours. Without going to war against me, you cannot deny me my right to sit on my throne. As I will when we receive Marcus Antonius.”

The sitting room was so silent that every word mother and son uttered rang around the gilded rafters. Servants stood on duty in every inconspicuous corner, Charmian and Iras were in attendance on the Queen, Apollodorus stood in his place, and Sosigenes sat at a table poring over menus. Only Cha’em and Tach’a were absent, happily planning the treats they were going to give their beloved Caesarion when he arrived at the precinct of Ptah.

The child’s face was set mulishly, his blue-green eyes hard as polished stones. Never had his likeness to Caesar been so pronounced. Yet his pose was relaxed, no clenched fists or planted feet. He had said his piece; the next move was Cleopatra’s.

Who sat in her easy chair with mind spinning. How to explain to this obstinate stranger that she acted for his own good? If he remained in the Royal Enclosure he was bound to be exposed to all manner of things beyond his ken—oaths and profanities, crudeness and coarseness, vomiting gluttons, people too hot with lust to care whether they coupled on a couch or against a wall—goings-on that carried the seeds of corruption, vivid illustrations of a world she had resolved her son would never see until he was old enough to cope with it. Well she remembered her own years as a child in this selfsame palace, her dissolute father pawing his catamites, exposing his genitals to be kissed and sucked, dancing about drunkenly playing his silly pipes at the head of a procession of naked boys and girls. While she cowered out of sight and prayed he would not find her and have her raped for his pleasure. Killed, even, like Berenice. He had a new family by his young half sister; a girl by his Mithridatid wife was expendable. So the years she had spent in Memphis with Cha’em and Tach’a lived in her memory as the most wonderful time of her whole life: safe, secure,

The feasts in Tarsus had been a fairly good example of Mark Antony’s way of life. Yes, he himself had remained continent, but only because he had to duel with a woman who was also a monarch. About the conduct of his friends he was indifferent, and some of them had disported themselves shamelessly.

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