Story type: Literature
When power and beauty meet, the world would
do well to take to its cyclone-cellar.
The sole surviving daughter of the great King Ptolemy of Egypt, Cleopatra was seventeen years old when her father died.
By his will the King made her joint heir to the throne with her brother Ptolemy, several years her junior. And according to the custom not unusual among royalty at that time, it was provided that Ptolemy should become the husband of Cleopatra.
She was a woman–her brother a child.
She had intellect, ambition, talent. She knew the history of her own country, and that of Assyria, Greece and Rome; and all the written languages of the world were to her familiar. She had been educated by the philosophers, who had brought from Greece the science of Pythagoras and Plato. Her companions had been men–not women, or nurses, or pious, pedantic priests.
Through the veins of her young body pulsed and leaped life, plus.
She abhorred the thought of an alliance with her weak-chinned brother; and the ministers of State, who suggested another husband as a compromise, were dismissed with a look.
They said she was intractable, contemptuous, unreasonable, and was scheming for the sole possession of the throne.
She was not to be diverted even by ardent courtiers who were sent to her, and who lay in wait ready with amorous sighs–she scorned them all.
Yet she was a woman still, and in her dreams she saw the coming prince.
She was banished from Alexandria.
A few friends followed her, and an army was formed to force from the enemy her rights.
But other things were happening–a Roman army came leisurely drifting in with the tide and disembarked at Alexandria. The Great Caesar himself was in command–a mere holiday, he said. He had intended to join the land forces of Mark Antony and help crush the rebellious Pompey, but Antony had done the trick alone; and only a few days before, word had come that Pompey was dead.
Caesar knew that civil war was on in Alexandria, and being near he sailed slowly in, sending messengers on ahead warning both sides to lay down their arms.
With him was the far-famed invincible Tenth Legion that had ravished Gaul. Caesar wanted to rest his men and, incidentally, to reward them. They took possession of the city without a blow.
Cleopatra’s troops laid down their arms, but Ptolemy’s refused. They were simply chased beyond the walls, and their punishment for the time being was deferred.
Caesar took possession of the palace of the King, and his soldiers accommodated themselves in the houses, public buildings, and temples as best they could.
Cleopatra asked for a personal interview, in order to present her cause.
Caesar declined to meet her–he understood the trouble–many such cases he had seen. Claimants for thrones were not new to him. Where two parties quarreled, both are right–or wrong–it really mattered little.
It is absurd to quarrel–still more foolish to fight.
Caesar was a man of peace, and to keep the peace he would appoint one of his generals governor, and make Egypt a Roman colony.
In the meantime he would rest a week or two, with the kind permission of the Alexandrians, and write upon his “Commentaries”–no, he would not see either Cleopatra or Ptolemy–any desired information they would get through his trusted emissaries.
In the service of Cleopatra was a Sicilian slave who had been her personal servant since she was a little girl. This man’s name was Appolidorus. He was a man of giant stature and imposing mien. Ten years before his tongue had been torn out as a token that as he was to attend a queen he should tell no secrets.
Appolidorus had but one thought in life, and that was to defend his gracious queen. He slept at the door of Cleopatra’s tent, a naked sword at his side, held in his clenched and brawny hand.
And now behold at dusk of day the grim and silent Appolidorus, carrying upon his giant shoulders a large and curious rug, rolled up and tied ’round at each end with ropes.
He approaches the palace of the King, and at the guarded gate hands a note to the officer in charge. This note gives information to the effect that a certain patrician citizen of Alexandria, being glad that the gracious Caesar had deigned to visit Egypt, sends him the richest rug that can be woven–done, in fact, by his wife and daughters and held against this day, awaiting Rome’s greatest son.
The officer reads the note, and orders a soldier to accept the gift and carry it within–presents were constantly arriving. A sign from the dumb giant makes the soldier stand back–the present is for Caesar and can be delivered only in person. “Lead and I will follow,” were the words done in stern pantomime. The officer laughs, sends in the note, and the messenger soon returning, signifies that the present is acceptable and the slave bearing it shall be shown in. Appolidorus shifts his burden to the other shoulder, and follows the soldier through the gate, up the marble steps, along the splendid hallway, lighted by flaring torches and lined with reclining Roman soldiers.
At a door they pause an instant, there is a whispered word–they enter.
The room is furnished as becomes the room that is the private library of the King of Egypt. In one corner, seated at the table, pen in hand, sits a man of middle age, pale, clean-shaven, with hair close-cropped. His dress is not that of a soldier–it is the flowing white robe of a Roman Priest. Only one servant attends this man, a secretary, seated near, who rises and explains that the present is acceptable and shall be deposited on the floor.
The pale man at the table looks up, smiles a tired smile and murmurs in a perfunctory way his thanks.
Appolidorus having laid his burden on the floor, kneels to untie the ropes. The secretary explains that he need not trouble, pray bear thanks and again thanks to his master–he need not tarry!
The dumb man on his knees neither hears nor heeds. The rug is unrolled.
From out the roll a woman leaps lightly to her feet–a beautiful young woman of twenty.
She stands there, poised, defiant, gazing at the pale-faced man seated at the table.
He is not surprised–he never was. One might have supposed he received all his visitors in this manner.
“Well?” he says in a quiet way, a half-smile parting his thin lips.
The breast of the woman heaves with tumultuous emotion–just an instant. She speaks, and there is no tremor in her tones. Her voice is low, smooth and scarcely audible: “I am Cleopatra.”
The man at the desk lays down his pen, leans back and gently nods his head, as much as to say, indulgently, “Yes, my child, I hear–go on!”
“I am Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and I would speak with thee, alone.”
She pauses; then raising one jeweled arm motions to Appolidorus that he shall withdraw.
With a similar motion, the man at the desk signifies the same to his astonished secretary.
Appolidorus went down the long hallway, down the stone steps and waited at the outer gate amid the throng of soldiers. They questioned him, gibed him, railed at him, but they got no word in reply.
He waited–he waited an hour, two–and then came a messenger with a note written on a slip of parchment. The words ran thus: “Well-beloved ‘Dorus: Veni, vidi, vici! Go fetch my maids; also, all of our personal belongings.”