Of all the beautiful women of history, none has left us such convincingproofs of her charms as Cleopatra, for the tide of Rome’s destiny, and,therefore, that of the world, turned aside because of her beauty. JuliusCaesar, whose legions trampled the conquered world from Canopus to theThames, capitulated to her, and Mark Antony threw a fleet, an empire andhis own honor to the winds to follow her to his destruction. Disarmed atlast before the frigid Octavius, she found her peerless body measured bythe cold eye of her captor only for the triumphal procession, and thefriendly asp alone spared her Rome’s crowning ignominy.
The parentage and birth of Cleopatra. — Cleopatra’s residence inEgypt. — Physical aspect of Egypt. — The eagle’s wings andscience. — Physical peculiarities of Egypt connected with the laws ofrain. — General laws of rain. — Causes which modify the quantity ofrain. — Striking contrasts. — Rainless regions. — Great rainless region ofAsia and Africa. — The Andes. — Map of the rainless region. — Valley of theNile. — The Red Sea. — The oases. — Siweh. — Mountains of the Moon. — TheRiver Nile. — Incessant rains. — Inundation of the Nile. — Course of theriver. — Subsidence of the waters. — Luxuriant vegetation. — Absence offorests. — Great antiquity of Egypt. — Her monuments. — The Delta of theNile. — The Delta as seen from the sea. — Pelusiac mouth of the Nile. — TheCanopic mouth. — Ancient Egypt. — The Pyramids. — Conquests of the Persiansand Macedonians. — The Ptolemies. — Founding of Alexandria. — The Pharos.
The story of Cleopatra is a story of crime. It is a narrative of thecourse and the consequences of unlawful love. In her strange andromantic history we see this passion portrayed with the most completeand graphic fidelity in all its influences and effects; itsuncontrollable impulses, its intoxicating joys, its reckless and madcareer, and the dreadful remorse and ultimate despair and ruin in whichit always and inevitably ends.
Cleopatra was by birth an Egyptian; by ancestry and descent she was aGreek. Thus, while Alexandria and the Delta of the Nile formed the sceneof the most important events and incidents of her history, it was theblood of Macedon which flowed in her veins. Her character and action aremarked by the genius, the courage, the originality, and theimpulsiveness pertaining to the stock from which she sprung. The eventsof her history, on the other hand, and the peculiar character of heradventures, her sufferings, and her sins, were determined by thecircumstances with which she was surrounded, and the influences whichwere brought to bear upon her in the soft and voluptuous clime where thescenes of her early life were laid.
Egypt has always been considered as physically the most remarkablecountry on the globe. It is a long and narrow valley of verdure andfruitfulness, completely insulated from the rest of the habitable world.It is more completely insulated, in fact, than any literal island couldbe, inasmuch as deserts are more impassable than seas. The veryexistence of Egypt is a most extraordinary phenomenon. If we could butsoar with the wings of an eagle into the air, and look down upon thescene, so as to observe the operation of that grand and yet simpleprocess by which this long and wonderful valley, teeming so profuselywith animal and vegetable life, has been formed, and is annuallyrevivified and renewed, in the midst of surrounding wastes of silence,desolation, and death, we should gaze upon it with never-ceasingadmiration and pleasure. We have not the wings of the eagle, but thegeneralizations of science furnish us with a sort of substitute forthem.
The long series of patient, careful, and sagacious observations, whichhave been continued now for two thousand years, bring us results, bymeans of which, through our powers of mental conception, we may take acomprehensive survey of the whole scene, analogous, in some respects, tothat which direct and actual vision would afford us, if we could lookdown upon it from the eagle’s point of view. It is, however, somewhathumiliating to our pride of intellect to reflect that long-continuedphilosophical investigations and learned scientific research are, insuch a case as this, after all, in some sense, only a sort of substitutefor wings. A human mind connected with a pair of eagle’s wings wouldhave solved the mystery of Egypt in a week; whereas science, philosophy,and research, confined to the surface of the ground, have been occupiedfor twenty centuries in accomplishing the undertaking.
It is found at last that both the existence of Egypt itself, and itsstrange insulation in the midst of boundless tracts of dry and barrensand, depend upon certain remarkable results of the general laws ofrain. The water which is taken up by the atmosphere from the surface ofthe sea and of the land by evaporation, falls again, under certaincircumstances, in showers of rain, the frequency and copiousness ofwhich vary very much in different portions of the earth. As a generalprinciple, rains are much more frequent and abundant near the equatorthan in temperate climes, and they grow less and less so as we approachthe poles. This might naturally have been expected; for, under theburning sun of the equator, the evaporation of water must necessarily goon with immensely greater rapidity than in the colder zones, and all thewater which is taken up must, of course, again come down.
It is not, however, wholly by the latitude of the region in which theevaporation takes place that the quantity of rain which falls from theatmosphere is determined; for the condition on which the falling back,in rain, of the water which has been taken up by evaporation mainlydepends, is the cooling of the atmospheric stratum which contains it;and this effect is produced in very various ways, and many differentcauses operate to modify it. Sometimes the stratum is cooled by beingwafted over ranges of mountains, sometimes by encountering and becomingmingled with cooler currents of air; and sometimes, again, by beingdriven in winds toward a higher, and, consequently, cooler latitude. If,on the other hand, air moves from cold mountains toward warm and sunnyplains, or from higher latitudes to lower, or if, among the variouscurrents into which it falls, it becomes mixed with air warmer thanitself, its capacity for containing vapor in solution is increased, and,consequently, instead of releasing its hold upon the waters which it hasalready in possession, it becomes thirsty for more. It moves over acountry, under these circumstances, as a warm and drying wind. Under areverse of circumstances it would have formed drifting mists, or,perhaps, even copious showers of rain.
It will be evident, from these considerations, that the frequency of theshowers, and the quantity of the rain which will fall, in the variousregions respectively which the surface of the earth presents, mustdepend on the combined influence of many causes, such as the warmth ofthe climate, the proximity and the direction of mountains and of seas,the character of the prevailing winds, and the reflecting qualities ofthe soil. These and other similar causes, it is found, do, in fact,produce a vast difference in the quantity of rain which falls indifferent regions. In the northern part of South America, where the landis bordered on every hand by vast tropical seas, which load the hot andthirsty air with vapor, and where the mighty Cordillera of the Andesrears its icy summits to chill and precipitate the vapors again, aquantity of rain amounting to more than ten feet in perpendicular heightfalls in a year. At St. Petersburg, on the other hand, the quantity thusfalling in a year is but little more than one foot. The immense delugewhich pours down from the clouds in South America would, if the waterwere to remain where it fell, wholly submerge and inundate the country.As it is, in flowing off through the valleys to the sea, the unitedtorrents form the greatest river on the globe — the Amazon; and thevegetation, stimulated by the heat, and nourished by the abundant andincessant supplies of moisture, becomes so rank, and loads the earthwith such an entangled and matted mass of trunks, and stems, and twiningwreaths and vines, that man is almost excluded from the scene. Theboundless forests become a vast and almost impenetrable jungle,abandoned to wild beasts, noxious reptiles, and huge and ferocious birdsof prey.
Of course, the district of St. Petersburg, with its icy winter, its lowand powerless sun, and its twelve inches of annual rain, mustnecessarily present, in all its phenomena of vegetable and animal life,a striking contrast to the exuberant prolificness of New Grenada. It is,however, after all, not absolutely the opposite extreme. There arecertain regions on the surface of the earth that are actually rainless;and it is these which present us with the true and real contrast to theluxuriant vegetation and teeming life of the country of the Amazon. Inthese rainless regions all is necessarily silence, desolation, anddeath. No plant can grow; no animal can live. Man, too, is forever andhopelessly excluded. If the exuberant abundance of animal and vegetablelife shut him out, in some measure, from regions which an excess of heatand moisture render too prolific, the total absence of them still moreeffectually forbids him a home in these. They become, therefore, vastwastes of dry and barren sands in which no root can find nourishment,and of dreary rocks to which not even a lichen can cling.
The most extensive and remarkable rainless region on the earth is a vasttract extending through the interior and northern part of Africa, andthe southwestern part of Asia. The Red Sea penetrates into this tractfrom the south, and thus breaks the outline and continuity of its form,without, however, altering, or essentially modifying its character. Itdivides it, however, and to the different portions which this divisionforms, different names have been given. The Asiatic portion is calledArabia Deserta; the African tract has received the name of Sahara; whilebetween these two, in the neighborhood of Egypt, the barren region iscalled simply the desert. The whole tract is marked, however,throughout, with one all-pervading character: the absence of vegetable,and, consequently, of animal life, on account of the absence of rain.The rising of a range of lofty mountains in the center of it, to producea precipitation of moisture from the air, would probably transform thewhole of the vast waste into as verdant, and fertile, and populous aregion as any on the globe.
Valley of the Nile
As it is, there are no such mountains. The whole tract is nearly level,and so little elevated above the sea, that, at the distance of manyhundred miles in the interior, the land rises only to the height of afew hundred feet above the surface of the Mediterranean; whereas in NewGrenada, at less than one hundred miles from the sea, the chain of theAndes rises to elevations of from ten to fifteen thousand feet. Such anascent as that of a few hundred feet in hundreds of miles would bewholly imperceptible to any ordinary mode of observation; and the greatrainless region, accordingly, of Africa and Asia is, as it appears tothe traveler, one vast plain, a thousand miles wide and five thousandmiles long, with only one considerable interruption to the dead monotonywhich reigns, with that exception, every where over the immense expanseof silence and solitude. The single interval of fruitfulness and life isthe valley of the Nile.