History : Oct-Nov 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 27 the fun-loving Dionysian spirit of the Greeks. Indeed, Alexandrians said that while he was in the company of Egyptians Antony wore the mask of comedy, but with the Romans he would switch to the mask of tragedy. One anecdote recounts Antony’s irritation when Cleopatra witnessed his poor performance at fishing. Having had no luck, Antony secretly ordered a diver to load his hook with fish that had already been caught. After he landed these in quick succession, Cleopatra realized what was going on; she loudly praised Antony’s skill and invited friends to return and admire his ability with rod and line the next day. Unbeknownst to Antony, the queen ordered a diver to put an obviously dead fish on Antony’s hook. Thinking that this time it was a genuine catch, Antony hauled it in to gales of laughter. “General, leave the fishing rod to us poor rulers of Pharos and Canopus,” Cleopatra teased him, “Your prey is cities, kingdoms, and continents.” The Tragedy’s Final Scenes Antony and Cleopatra had achieved a content- ed balance between their taste for pleasure and their political responsibilities. However, the spring of 40 b.c. brought news from Rome that shattered the hedonistic idyll of the lovers: Antony’s wife was causing trouble. Fulvia and Antony’s brother had mounted a political chal- lenge to Octavian, who ruled the west from Rome. Naturally, Antony was implicated and it’s likely he had some knowledge and probably gave them his tacit approval. But the conspira- cy collapsed, and Antony had to do everything possible to persuade Octavian of his innocence, including returning to Italy. Conveniently, though not suspiciously, Fulvia died that year, and Antony seized the political opportunity. To prove his loyalty and cement the alliance, Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. She was considered by some to be more beautiful than Cleopatra, but as a model of sober Roman virtue, she was very different from the pleasure- loving Egyptian. Antony finally returned east in 37 b.c. and im- mediately resumed his passionate affair. He still saw in Cleopatra not only a matchless lover but also a highly efficient ruler, whose political am- bitions were attuned with his own. He bolstered her right to rule Egypt, while she supported his belated campaign against the Parthians, a mili- tary venture that ended in disaster. In Rome, Octavian viewed these activities with growing disdain. Tensions grew between the for- mer allies and then erupted into a war that Octa- vian presented as a struggle against a dissolute Egyptian queen into whose clutches Antony had fallen. The armies of the Roman rivals met in Greece, where Octavian managed to cut Antony’s supply lines to Egypt. Forced into action, Antony took Cleopatra’s advice to fight at sea. In 31 b.c. about 900 ships clashed at the Battle of Actium. It was a closely fought engagement. But when Cleo- patra’s galleys fled Antony followed, and his forces soon surrendered. The lovers were defeated, and in a dramatic fashion, both took their own lives. Mark Antony’s death removed the last obstacle to Octavian becoming sole emperor of Rome. He assumed the title Augustus in 27 b.c. NEWS FROM ALEXANDRIA THE LUXURY AND EXCESSES of the Alexandrian banquets fascinated contemporary commentators. Ancient authors chronicle the continual stream of gifts that Cleopatra presented to Antony and his entourage. On one occasion she gifted them the very couches on which they had reclined during their meal, and then gave them the litters, bearers, and horses with which they traveled home. C.SAPPA/DEA/AGEFOTOSTOCK A ROMAN THEATER AT KOM AL-DIKKA, ALEXANDRIA, BUILT IN THE FOURTH CENTURY A.D. FERNANDO LILLO REDONET LILLO REDONET HAS WRITTEN A SERIES OF NOVELS AND ESSAYS ABOUT CLASSICAL GREECE AND ROME.
Dec 2015-Jan 2016