previous next

The death of Cleopatra.

Octavius now undisputed master of the world, was dreaming of the splendid triumph which awaited him in Rome; and the presence of Cleopatra, the renowned Queen of Egypt, to lead in the train of the captives, would be one of the most conspicuous ornaments of the triumph. Conscious of the degradation which awaited her, she watched for an opportunity to commit suicide. Octavius, with almost equal interest, guarded his captive, that she might not thus escape him. Her fetters were truly those of silk and gold, for she was treated with the most profound deference, surrounded with all her accustomed luxuries, and all her wants were abundantly supplied.

Octavius indulged himself with a triumphal entrance into Alexandria, endeavoring by humanity and condescension to secure the favor of the people. Yet cruelly, it would seem, he caused the eldest son of Anthony, and also Cæsario, Cleopatra's son by Julius Cæsar, to be put to death. Fearing no more from any of the other children of Cleopatra, he treated them all as princes, provided them with teachers, that they might receive an education suitable to their rank.

At length Octavius visited Cleopatra in person. She received him artistically, languishing upon a couch, dressed in gauze-like robes, which scarcely concealed her voluptuous beauty; for though the freshness of youth had departed, she was still a woman of rare loveliness. No one knew better than Cleopatra how to magnify her charms, by tones of softness, and that artlessness of manner which is the highest achievement of art. Her beautiful eyes were filled with tears, her cheek flushed with emotion, and rising from her couch, she fell, half fainting, prostrate at the feet of Octavius. The young conqueror lifted the exquisitely moulded, drooping form, and placed her on the couch by his side, supporting her against his own bosom. A queen whose renown filled the world, beautiful, graceful, pliant, had thrown herself into his arms. How could he treat her cruelly?--Had Cleopatra been nineteen instead of thirty-nine, the decision might have been different, and by facile divorce, the way might have been made easy for Cleopatra to share the throne of universal empire with Octavius. But as the circumstances were, ambition proved more powerful than love.

Cleopatra exhausted all her magazines of art — tears, smiles, reproaches, blandishments, flattery, supplications, to win Octavius, but in vain. He treated her with politeness, but his heart remained obdurate. The queen took from her bosom some letters, full of tenderness, from Julius Cæsar, and, with a trembling voice and falling tears, read to Octavius.

‘"But of what avail to me now,"’ she said, ‘"is all this kindness? Why did I not die with him? And yet in Octavius I see another Julius. You are his perfect image. He seems to have returned from the spirit land in you."’

All was in vain. After a long interview Octavius left, and Cleopatra reflected in despair that for the first time her charms had failed her. She had surrendered herself to Octavius and he had coldly laid her aside. What more could she do? Nothing. There now remained for her but to die, or to be carried to Rome to grace the triumph of her conqueror. There was a young Roman in the camp by the name of Dolabella. He was much affected with the queen's grief, and she, with woman's tact, had thrown around him all the meshes of her wiles. Dolabella kept her informed of all that was transpiring. One day he brought to her couch the glad tidings that in three days she and her children were to be sent to Rome.

The crisis had now come, and with singular calmness and fortitude, Cleopatra prepared to die. After taking a bath, she attired herself in her most sumptuous robee, and sat down with her friends to a truly regal feast. Apparently banishing all care, the festive hours passed rapidly away. At the close of the feast she dismissed all her attendants but two. She then wrote a note to Octavius, informing him of her intention to die, and requesting that her body might be buried in the tomb with that of Anthony. She had contrived to have brought to her, in a basket of flowers, an asp, a reptile the concentrated venom of whose bite causes inevitable death, and yet with but little pain. She dispatched the letter to Octavius, and immediately placed the reptile upon her arm. The poisonous fangs pierced her flesh, stupor and insensibility soon ensued, and she sank back upon her couch and died.

Octavius immediately upon receiving the letter from Cleopatra, dispatched messengers hoping to prevent the fatal deed. But they arrived too late. Upon entering the chamber they found her dead, still arrayed in her royal robes. Her two waiting women were at her side. One of the messengers uttered words of reproach, but the maid of honor replied: ‘"It is well done. Such a death becomes a glorious queen, descended from a race of illustrious ancestors."’

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Octavius (14)
Cleopatra (12)
Julius (3)
Dolabella (2)
Anthony (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: