Primary Source

Antony’s Meeting with Cleopatra from “Life of Antony”

Annotation

Cleopatra’s claim to the Egyptian throne very much resided in her relationship and alliance with Caesar. Upon his death in the Senate, Cleopatra had lost her guarantor. Antony’s arrival in Egypt provided a second opportunity for her to secure her throne through a powerful alliance. This text also describes Cleopatra’s machinations to seduce Antony, although in this case there is more of an emphasis on her charisma, wealth, and sophistication. Here, Plutarch argues that Cleopatra’s physical appearance was not extraordinary but her “presence” or charisma was irresistible. In this sense, Plutarch provides a more nuanced view of the Egyptian monarch than Dio.

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

Life of Antony, Plutarch, c. 1st century CE.

Text

Such being his temper, the last and crowning mischief that could befall him [Antony]came in the love of Cleopatra, to awaken and kindle to fury passions that as yet lay still and dormant in his nature, and to stifle and finally corrupt any elements that yet made resistance in him of goodness and a sound judgment.
He fell into the snare thus. When making preparation for the Parthian war, he sent to command her to make her personal appearance in Cilicia, to answer an accusation that she had given great assistance, in the late wars, to Cassius…she was to meet Antony in the time of life when women's beauty is most splendid, and their intellects are in full maturity. She made great preparation for her journey, of money, gifts, and ornaments of value, such as so wealthy a kingdom might afford, but she brought with her her surest hopes in her own magic arts and charms.

She received several letters, both from Antony and from his friends, to summon her, but she took no account of these orders; and at last, as if in mockery of them, she came sailing up the river Cydnus, in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like sea nymphs and graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes…

On her arrival, Antony sent to invite her to supper. She thought it fitter he should come to her; so, willing to show his good-humour and courtesy, he complied, and went. He found the preparations to receive him magnificent beyond expression, but nothing so admirable as the great number of lights; for on a sudden there was let down altogether so great a number of branches with lights in them so ingeniously disposed, some in squares, and some in circles, that the whole thing was a spectacle that has seldom been equalled for beauty.

The next day, Antony invited her to supper, and was very desirous to outdo her as well in magnificence as contrivance; but he found he was altogether beaten in both, and was so well convinced of it that he was himself the first to jest and mock at his poverty of wit and his rustic awkwardness. She, perceiving that his raillery was broad and gross, and savoured more of the soldier than the courtier, rejoined in the same taste, and fell into it at once, without any sort of reluctance or reserve. For her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something bewitching.

https://humwp.ucsc.edu/jklynn/augustus/antony.html

How to Cite This Source
Antony’s Meeting with Cleopatra from “Life of Antony” in World History Commons,
Tags