21 NOVEMBER 1914, Page 3



"IF the nose of Cleopatra had been shorter, all the face of the earth would have changed "—at least so said Pascal, who, by a somewhat rare conjunction, was at once a philosopher and a wit. But the writer of the present volume is by no means content with such a superficial view. He does, indeed, give us three full-page illustrations of "a bust of poor work- manship in the British Museum," so that we can study Cleopatra's nose from three positions, and he takes some interest in her looks ; for he deduces that she was " very small in build" from the fact that she was smuggled into Caesar's presence " rolled np in some bedding over the shoulders of an attendant, which indicates that her weight was not considerable "—Caesar, it may be noted, at that time "must have scaled under ten stone, and in other days and other climes might have been mistaken for a gentleman jockey "—and he "imagines " her "prettily- rounded rather than slight ; white-skinned ; dark-haired ; dark.eyed; " " with lips finely chiselled," and the like. But it is her character that is his chief concern. For she is, it seems, the most misjudged of women. What though Propertius calls her meretrix incesta Canopi? The reader must "shut out of his memory these stinging words," and also the " fierce lines " written by Horace " in the excess of his joy at the close of the war which had endangered his little country estate." Poor Horace! Being relieved of his own petty and selfish anxieties, he wrote those monumental lines (quae generosius . . . Od. I. 38,21-32) which " a woman of no mean spirit " might well wish to be her everlasting epitaph, but which we are now bidden to forget—as if to forget them were in our power—in order to find a new Cleopatra, who, "for all we know, may have been a very moral woman," and whom we may picture to ourselves as " a tender, ingenuous, smiling mother, who soothes at her breast the cries of her fat baby, while three sturdy youngsters play around her." And to that end, "as we read of her deeds, we must doff our top-hats and frock-coats ; and as we pace the Courts of the Ptolemies . . . not commit the anachronism of criticising our surroundings from the standard of twenty centuries after Christ." It is true that " she caused the assassination of her sister Arsinoe," but "it must be remem- bered that political murders of this kind were a custom—nay, a habit—of the period." It is true that "she often went down to the dungeons to make eager experiments upon condemned criminals," and " anxiously watched their death struggles " in order to see which drugs produced "pain and convulsions," and which "appeared to offer an easy liberation from life" (p. 365) ; but this, we are told, "does not indicate callousness," for "it mattered little to the condemned prisoner what manner of sudden death he should die; but, on the other hand, the discovery of a pleasant solution to the quandary of her own life was a point of capital importance to herself " (p. 14). And when we have got rid at once of our "top-bats" and our morals, we are next asked to discard our common-sense. We must not only admire " the harum-scarum young Queen," " the dare-devil girl" of twenty, for the "pluck and audacity" with which, being at war with her brother Ptolemy, she made her way into Caesar's room in the Palace at Alexandria, but we must also honour her as the most ingenuous of maidens. "All night long," says Mr. Weigall, she and Caesar " were closeted together, she relating to him her adventures, and he listening with growing interest, and already perhaps with awakening love." And next morning, as a result of this idyllic interview, she, " who a few hours pre- viously had been an exile," finds herself once more a Queen, for " she had won the esteem and, so it seemed, the heart also • The Life and Times of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. By A. E. P. B. With Maps and Illustrations. London; William Blackwood and Bona. [16s. net.]

of the Autocrat of the world"; and as she sits at Caesar's side " one can imagine her making faces at her brother," on whom the tables aro now turned, little dreaming in her simplicity that Caesar—the record of his vices takes several pages—as soon as he had settled his business affairs, would " prosecute with an undistracted mind what was in plain language her seduction." And so he and she "openly sought one another's company, and made merry together, it would seem, for a large part of each day," while " with such a man as Caesar, the result of this intimacy was inevitable, nor was it to be expected that the happy-go-lucky and impetuous girl would act with much caution or propriety under the peculiar and exciting circumstances" (p. 103).

And it is in similar fashion that this strange history proceeds, or rather it grows continually more startling.

" Approaching motherhood, it would seem, had much sobered Cleopatra's wild nature "; she began to reflect that she was divine—you can still see her so sculptured together with her son in the Temple of Dendera—and her new "sobriety" brings the thought that " she, Cleopatra, was the daughter

of the Sun, the sister of the Moon, and the kinswoman of the heavenly beings; she was mated to the descendant of Venus and the Olympian gods, and the unborn offspring of their union would be in very truth King of Earth and Heaven." But there is more than this. For not only does she time dream herself, but she persuades Caesar too. "Modern historians are," no doubt, "unanimous in declaring that Caesar had wasted his time in Egypt over a love intrigue." But they are wrong, for "actually," it now appears, "those nine months, far from being wasted, were spent in the very creation of the Roman Empire." Caesar was then fifty-five;

by his own strength he had forced his way to the foremost place in the world ; his head was as clear as one of his own sentences ; but it was Cleopatra who first taught him to realize his own greatness and understand his true aims ; it was she who first " forced upon him a sense of his divinity," which "carried with it, of course, a feeling of monarchical power." And so at last he sails for Rome, and—thanks to Cleopatra—a new era dawns upon the world. But let the historian describe it in his own words, in which the reader will perhaps note that each of the two sentences consists of two clauses, and that by the introduction of the word " must " into each of the four the writer at once produces a sense of inexorable conviction :—

" As Caesar sailed out of the Great Harbour of Alexandria he must have turned his keen grey eyes with peculiar interest upon the splendid buildings of the Palace, which towered in front of the city ; and that quiet, whimsical expression must have played around his close-shut lips as he thought of the change that bad been wrought in his mental attitude by the months spent amidst its royal luxuries. Enthusiasm for the work before him must have burnt like fire within him ; but stamped upon his brain there must have been the picture of a darkened room in which the wild, happy-go-lucky, little Queen of Egypt, now so subdued and so gentle, lay clasping to her breast the new-born Caesar, the sole heir to the kingdom of the whole world."

We cannot, however, follow Mr. Weigall with such closeness of quotation to the final conclusion of this new Yera Historic.

For as yet we are not half-way. Cleopatra has still to folloW Caesar to Rome; to help him there—for he has become "epileptic"—in the carrying out of his great designs, only to find her projects frustrated by his assassination ; and to quit Rome, gazing heavenwards, and looking to the " Divine Caesar" to "defend her with his thunderbolts and to come down to her aid upon the wings of the wind," although, as the last sentence of "Part I." effectively puts it, she " held in her hands the trump card in the person of her little boy." But "Part II." still remains. In that, though now with enlarged ideas, she has to begin all over again. She is now beginning to make "a definite claim to be a manifestation of Venus- -Aphrodite—Isis," and when she meets Antony upon the Cydnus she wishes " to be actually received as a goddess," and as to morals—well, "she, as goddess and Queen, must have felt herself exempt from the common law, and at perfect liberty to contract whatever union seemed desirable to her for the good of her country and dynasty, and for the satisfaction of her own womanly instincts."

But assuredly it is needless to say much more about this volume. Its author is a man of ability, and when he writes

about what he understands, as in hie chapter on Alexandria,' is delightful and instructive; but he pursues a hobby and

thinks be is an historian. Indeed, be vigorously maintains that he is writing history in the only way it ought to be written. He would sweep away "notes," "references," and I' Latin and Greek quotations," together "with all the jargon of scholarship, into the world's dustbin" ; but although he desires to overthrow the common judgment on Cleopatra, of positive evidence he produces none. Whatever evidence exists is wholly adverse, and against evidence he sets only surmise. When he has to deal with motives he says that they "must have been "• this or that, and when he has to deal with facts he appeals to imagination, as, for instance, in attempting to. explain Cleopatra's flight from Actium, he writes one whole page (338) every sentence of which contains such words as "probably," "perhaps," "no doubt," "I think," or "I fancy." But in reality any Life of Cleopatra to be worth calling so needs most close and exact consideration pf every particle of positive evidence. That evidence is at best scanty, and is doubtless often rendered untrustworthy either. by national prejudice or by a natural tendency to embellish a story so romantic and so fascinating. But we want to hear the witnesses; to put Plutarch, for ipstance, into the box, and let him tell his own story how "the last and extremest misehiefe of all other (to wit, the love of Cleopatra) lighted on Antony, who did waken and stir up any vices yet hidden in him : and if auy sparke of goodnesse or hope of rising were left him, Cleopatra quenched it straight," pr how her beauty was not " unmatchable of other women,"

but that "so sweets was her companie and couversacion, that a man could not possiblie but be taken 07 avpSlairscris axes gapin, Aftmerov)." This is the sort of thing a reader needs ; but Mr. Weigall merely refers him to a long list of authorities— including such writers as Cicero and Seneca—" available at any big library," in order to blend fact with fiction at his own pleasure. . But, assuredly, in that particular art it is per- missible to prefer Dryden and to prefer Shakespeare. The exact truth about Cleopatra we can never know, but she is at least too great a figure to be drawn by other than master bands. She played her part on the world's amplest stage, and

in very spacious days; Caesar, Antony, Octavian, Herod— such are the men who trod it at her side ; she touches the imagination as few among the Queens of old romance touch it. And why not leave to her this royalty in the realms of fancy ? Though Mr. Weigall can "find no indication" of Antony and her "passing romantically band-in-hand to their doom," why need he vex us with his own conjectures about a drunken Antony who looked on his " wife " with "suspicion," while she regarded him with "disdainful pity " ? Why should he be so cruel, and also why so inconsistent P For he at once proceeds to quote as of first- hand authority (being " probably " taken from the actual " diary " of Olympus, Cleopatra's doctor) that moving passage of Plutarch, of which we here cite a fragment from North's version :-

" When this was tolde Cleopatra, she requested Caesar that it would please him to suffer her to offer the last oblations of the dead, unto. the souls of Antonius. This being graunted her, she was carried to.the place where his tombs was, and there falling down on her knees, imbracing the tombs with her women, the teares running downo her cheekes, she began to speaks in this Corte : 0 my dears Lord Antonius, not long sithence I buried thee here besing a free woman : and now 1 offer unto thee the funerall sprinklinges and oblations being a captive and a prisoner, and yet I am forbidden and kept from tearing and murdering this Captive body of mine with blowes. . . . If therefore the gods where thou art now have any power and authoritie, sith our gods here have forsaken us: suffer not thy true friend and lover to be carried away alive, that in me they triumphe of thee : but receive me with thee, and let me be buried in one selfe tombs with thee. For though my griefes and miseries be infinite, yet none bath grieved me more, nor that I would lesse bears withall : then this small time, which I have bene driven to live alone without thee.' "

Surely there is enough that is " romantic " here; this is the Cleopatra who inspired All for Love, or The World Well Lost, 42a- her to whom Antony cries :-

"I am dying, Egypt, dying; only I here importune death awhile, until Of many thousand kisses the poor last I lay upon thy lips."

And such a Cleopatra is not only far more interesting, but also more akin, perhaps, to truth and to reality than the ourious and composite being whom this volume presents to us in her