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Friday, March 10, 2017

WORLD'S GREATEST LOVE STORIES – Marc Antony and Cleopatra

Posted by R. Ann Siracusa

"Some love stories are immortal. And the true love story of Antony and Cleopatra is one of the most memorable, intriguing and moving of all times…  The relationship of Antony and Cleopatra is a true test of love.",

This is a great love story everyone is familiar with – at least some version of the tale – and it has captured the interest of many from Shakespeare to Cecil B. DeMille and is presented in many stories, movies, plays, and artwork. According to historian Adrian Goldsworthy, most of the retellings of the love affair are less than accurate, so it's possible your favorite version of the story isn't quite the way it went.

In this story our hero and heroine are historical figures and, because of who they were and the political roles they played, their tale seems to be of historical importance. We'll find out if it is or isn't.
Great love stories involving real people are difficult to tell because many are shaped by wars and struggles for power and domination. In studying the historical love stories, I find the external events drive the love story, making it difficult to separate the romantic and the historic aspects. You can't have one without the other.
Without getting into too much Roman history – because it is long, boring, and messy -- Marcus Antonius was a Roman politician who served as a general in Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul. After a civil war, when Caesar assumed his fifth and final consulship in 44 BC, Antony was his co-consul, his second in command.

Antony heard rumors of the plot against Caesar but was unable to warn him in time. After Caesar's death on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Antony took charge of Caesar's will, which named 17-year-old Octavian, Caesar's adopted son and nephew, as his heir.

Concerned about turning such a vast empire over to a teenager, Antony teamed up with another general, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and together, with Octavian, took over the rule of the empire, creating the Second Triumvirate. Rule was split three ways, with Antony's being responsible for the eastern provinces, including the client states of northern Africa, including Egypt. In order to avoid conflict with Octavian, Marc Antony married Octavian's sister Octavia.                
This put Antony at the pinnacle of power over the known world of the time. The map below shows the extent of the Roman Empire in 40 BC.                                               

Cleopatra VII Philopator was the queen (pharaoh) of Egypt and the last monarch of the Ptolemaic Empire, part of the Macedonian empire established after the death of Alexander the Great. Legend claims she was not only beautiful but intelligent. She spoke nine languages, was skilled in mathematics and, although she is often considered a seductress, she was studying to be a nun.
It's probable that she was Macedonian Greek mixed with Egyptian blood, but no one knows for sure.
Cleopatra became queen at the age of 17 and ruled Egypt for 22 years. Her father, and later Cleopatra, were dependent on Rome to maintain the empire. Hence she became an ally and lover of Julius Caesar until his assassination in 44 BC. They had one son together. 

After the death of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra was accused of being a party to his assassination. Marc Antony summoned her to his headquarters in Turkey, to explain herself. In 41 BC, she crossed the Mediterranean Sea to meet him. It's said she sailed up the Cydnus River in a decorated barge with purple sails, dressed as the Greek goddess Aphrodite. 

It was love at first sight. 
Well, maybe. But definitely each party saw something they needed. For Cleopatra, it was another opportunity to achieve power in Egypt and Rome. Antony already married and twenty years older than Cleopatra … so maybe he was having a mid-life crisis.
According to an article written in 2016 by Karl Smallwood they began their illicit love affair with "Cleopatra stripped naked save for her best come- to- bed- eyes and a shit ton of eye shadow and had her servants roll her inside of a gigantic carpet. She then gave the order to her slaves to deliver this carpet to Caesar’s room. When Caesar opened his door to greet the slaves, they unfurled the carpet at his feet revealing the naked Cleopatra who was now lying on the ground inviting him to into her private chambers."(
It is clear from the rest of the text that Smallwood is referring to the meeting of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, not Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. The word Caesar was the title given to a Roman emperor, especially from the reign of Augustus to that of Hadrian. Antony, at the time, was one of the three Caesar's who ruled the Roman Empire.
Regardless of how they got together, they became lovers, which put Egypt in powerful position. Cleopatra gave birth to twins shortly before Antony was forced to return from Egypt to Rome. They had a third child after he returned to Egypt.
Marc Antony's affair with Cleopatra had already strained the frail relationship with Octavian, since Antony was still married to Octavian's sister. 
Then Antony and Cleopatra were married in Antioch, Syria, in 36 BC. As a wedding present, Antony gave her much of the middle east to rule. Soon, as is the tradition of many eastern monarchies, Antony and Cleopatra began presenting themselves as divine -- as gods.
That was the last straw for Octavian. He declared war on Antony.

In the Battle of Actium, Greece, the combined military forces of Antony and Cleopatra lost to Octavian, and they fled back to Egypt. Octavian invaded Egypt and took over Alexandria.  There are two versions of Antony's death. In the first, Antony heard Cleopatra had been killed and, in desperation and grief, fell on his sword and died. In the other version, Antony surrendered to Octavian and, following Roman tradition, committed suicide by falling on his sword.

After Antony's death, Cleopatra was captured by Octavian who threatened to parade her through the streets of Rome as his prisoner. Either because her heart was broken by news of Antony's death, or because she was unable to bear the numiliation Octavian planned for her.. pm Suhudy 12, 20BC, she dressed in her royal robes, lay on her golden couch with a diadem on her brow, and had an asp (an Egyptian cobra) brought to her concealed in a basket of figs.  By allowing the asp, a symbol of divine royalty, to bite her she would, according to Egyptian beliefs, become immortal. She was 39 when she died. Two female servants died with her.

Considering who they were and the political roles they played in two great empires, it is, perhaps, surprising to realize neither Marc Antony nor Cleopatra changed the world in any significant way, unlike Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar.
After all, the winners write history, and Antony and Cleopatra lost the war with Octavian who became the first Emperor of Rome, Augustus Caesar.Their love story, however, has inspired the world for centuries thanks, primarily, to the writings of Shakespeare and an innumerable number of plays and movies.
Today, many more people in the world, two thousand years later, know more about Antony and Cleopatra than they do about Augustus and Julius Caesar, and fewer know anything about the Battle of Actium.

So, while Antony and Cleopatra may not have made any major contribution to the history of Western Civilization, their love story has outlasted and outshone the battles and wars of history. I'd say that's a significant feat as well as a testimonial for true love.


Melissa Keir said...

Very tragic and much along the lines of Romeo and Juliet. I always feel for those greatest loves who end tragically, which is probably why we know more about their love stories!

Judy Baker said...

Thoroughly enjoy reading about the love story known for centuries. Thanks for sharing.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer of sexy and funny fiction, blogger at Handbags, Books...Whatever said...

Utterly fascinating! Thank you for sharing.

jean hart stewart said...

A thoroughly absorbing column, as yours always are. Thanks so much for the huge amount of time and research you spent on this.....

Paris said...

Interesting post! I've always found it disheartening that history so often reduces intelligent, competent women to the role of seductress and blames them for the downfall of some man who apparently lost his mind once she entered the picture. In the case of Antony and Cleopatra, there might be a great love story here, but I've always suspected they were both a little power mad:)

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