Primary Source

Horace, “Cleopatra Ode”


Given Horace’s position in Emperor Augustus’ court, it is not surprising that his description of Cleopatra is wholly negative. This text relies on “sourcing” and an understanding of the author’s bias and motivation for a proper reading. He describes Cleopatra as a “deadly monster” although he does, at least, admit to her bravery in submitting to the venom of the serpent. That being said, other historical sources question the legend of the poisonous bite being the source of Cleopatra’s death.

This source is a part of the Cleopatra, Gender, Beauty and Power in Egypt and Rome teaching module.

Odes, Horace, c. 1st century CE.


There was scarcely one ship unhurt by the flames,
and Caesar Octavian returned her mind,
crazy with Mareotic wine,
to true fear, flying from Italy

with straining oars, like a hawk
[hunts] tender doves or a swift hunter
[hunts] a hare on the plains of
snowy Thessaly, to put in chains

that deadly monster, who, wanting
to die more nobly, did not have a
feminine dread of the sword, nor find
hiding shores with her swift fleet,

but, having ventured out to see her palace lying
[in ruins] with a tranquil face, was brave [enough]
to handle harsh serpents and drink their black
venom into her body.

having chosen death, she was fiercer still,
unwilling to be surely taken away by savage
warships and led as a proud woman,
if not a submissive [captive], in the midst of our triumph.

How to Cite This Source
Horace, “Cleopatra Ode” in World History Commons,