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.
There are, however, in fact, three interruptions to the continuity ofthis plain, though only one of them constitutes any considerableinterruption to its barrenness. They are all of them valleys, extendingfrom north to south, and lying side by side. The most easterly of thesevalleys is so deep that the waters of the ocean flow into it from thesouth, forming a long and narrow inlet called the Red Sea. As this inletcommunicates freely with the ocean, it is always nearly of the samelevel, and as the evaporation from it is not sufficient to produce rain,it does not even fertilize its own shores. Its presence varies thedreary scenery of the landscape, it is true, by giving us surging watersto look upon instead of driving sands; but this is all. With theexception of the spectacle of an English steamer passing, at wearyintervals, over its dreary expanse, and some moldering remains ofancient cities on its eastern shore, it affords scarcely any indicationsof life. It does very little, therefore, to relieve the monotonousaspect of solitude and desolation which reigns over the region intowhich it has intruded.
The most westerly of the three valleys to which we have alluded is onlya slight depression of the surface of the land marked by a line ofoases. The depression is not sufficient to admit the waters of theMediterranean, nor are there any rains over any portion of the valleywhich it forms sufficient to make it the bed of a stream. Springs issue,however, here and there, in several places, from the ground, and,percolating through the sands along the valley, give fertility to littledells, long and narrow, which, by the contrast that they form with thesurrounding desolation, seem to the traveler to possess the verdure andbeauty of Paradise. There is a line of these oases extending along thiswesterly depression, and some of them are of considerable extent. Theoasis of Siweh, on which stood the far-famed temple of Jupiter Ammon,was many miles in extent, and was said to have contained in ancienttimes a population of eight thousand souls. Thus, while the mosteasterly of the three valleys which we have named was sunk so low as toadmit the ocean to flow freely into it, the most westerly was soslightly depressed that it gained only a circumscribed and limitedfertility through the springs, which, in the lowest portions of it,oozed from the ground. The third valley — the central one — remains now tobe described.
The reader will observe, by referring once more to the map, that southof the great rainless region of which we are speaking, there lie groupsand ranges of mountains in Abyssinia, called the Mountains of the Moon.These mountains are near the equator, and the relation which theysustain to the surrounding seas, and to currents of wind which blow inthat quarter of the world, is such, that they bring down from theatmosphere, especially in certain seasons of the year, vast andcontinual torrents of rain. The water which thus falls drenches themountain sides and deluges the valleys. There is a great portion of itwhich can not flow to the southward or eastward toward the sea, as thewhole country consists, in those directions, of continuous tracts ofelevated land. The rush of water thus turns to the northward, and,pressing on across the desert through the great central valley which wehave referred to above, it finds an outlet, at last, in theMediterranean, at a point two thousand miles distant from the placewhere the immense condenser drew it from the skies. The river thuscreated is the Nile. It is formed, in a word, by the surplus waters of adistrict inundated with rains, in their progress across a rainlessdesert, seeking the sea.
If the surplus of water upon the Abyssinian mountains had been constantand uniform, the stream, in its passage across the desert, would havecommunicated very little fertility to the barren sands which ittraversed. The immediate banks of the river would have, perhaps, beenfringed with verdure, but the influence of the irrigation would haveextended no farther than the water itself could have reached, bypercolation through the sand. But the flow of the water is not thusuniform and steady. In a certain season of the year the rains areincessant, and they descend with such abundance and profusion as almostto inundate the districts where they fall. Immense torrents stream downthe mountain sides; the valleys are deluged; plains turn into morasses,and morasses into lakes. In a word, the country becomes half submerged,and the accumulated mass of waters would rush with great force andviolence down the central valley of the desert, which forms their onlyoutlet, if the passage were narrow, and if it made any considerabledescent in its course to the sea. It is, however, not narrow, and thedescent is very small. The depression in the surface of the desert,through which the water flows, is from five to ten miles wide, and,though it is nearly two thousand miles from the rainy district acrossthe desert to the sea, the country for the whole distance is almostlevel. There is only sufficient descent, especially for the lastthousand miles, to determine a very gentle current to the northward inthe waters of the stream.
Under these circumstances, the immense quantity of water which falls inthe rainy district in these inundating tropical showers, expands overthe whole valley, and forms for a time an immense lake, extending inlength across the whole breadth of the desert. This lake is, of course,from five to ten miles wide, and a thousand miles long. The water in itis shallow and turbid, and it has a gentle current toward the north. Therains, at length, in a great measure cease; but it requires some monthsfor the water to run off and leave the valley dry. As soon as it isgone, there springs up from the whole surface of the ground which hasbeen thus submerged a most rank and luxuriant vegetation.
This vegetation, now wholly regulated and controlled by the hand of man,must have been, in its original and primeval state, of a very peculiarcharacter. It must have consisted of such plants only as could existunder the condition of having the soil in which they grew laid, for aquarter of the year, wholly under water. This circumstance, probably,prevented the valley of the Nile from having been, like other fertiletracts of land, encumbered, in its native state, with forests. For thesame reason, wild beasts could never have haunted it. There were noforests to shelter them, and no refuge or retreat for them but the dryand barren desert, during the period of the annual inundations. Thismost extraordinary valley seems thus to have been formed and preservedby Nature herself for the special possession of man. She herself seemsto have held it in reserve for him from the very morning of creation,refusing admission into it to every plant and every animal that mighthinder or disturb his occupancy and control. And if he were to abandonit now for a thousand years, and then return to it once more, he wouldfind it just as he left it, ready for his immediate possession. Therewould be no wild beasts that he must first expel, and no tangled forestswould have sprung up, that his ax must first remove. Nature is thehusbandman who keeps this garden of the world in order, and the meansand machinery by which she operates are the grand evaporating surfacesof the seas, the beams of the tropical sun, the lofty summits of theAbyssinian Mountains, and, as the product and result of all thisinstrumentality, great periodical inundations of summer rain.
For these or some other reasons Egypt has been occupied by man from themost remote antiquity. The oldest records of the human race, made threethousand years ago, speak of Egypt as ancient then, when they werewritten. Not only is Tradition silent, but even Fable herself does notattempt to tell the story of the origin of her population. Here standthe oldest and most enduring monuments that human power has ever beenable to raise. It is, however, somewhat humiliating to the pride of therace to reflect that the loftiest and proudest, as well as the mostpermanent and stable of all the works which man has ever accomplished,are but the incidents and adjuncts of a thin stratum of alluvialfertility, left upon the sands by the subsiding waters of summershowers.
The most important portion of the alluvion of the Nile is the northernportion, where the valley widens and opens toward the sea, forming atriangular plain of about one hundred miles in length on each of thesides, over which the waters of the river flow in a great number ofseparate creeks and channels. The whole area forms a vast meadow,intersected every where with slow-flowing streams of water, andpresenting on its surface the most enchanting pictures of fertility,abundance, and beauty. This region is called the Delta of the Nile.
The sea upon the coast is shallow, and the fertile country formed by thedeposits of the river seems to have projected somewhat beyond the lineof the coast; although, as the land has not advanced perceptibly for thelast eighteen hundred years, it may be somewhat doubtful whether thewhole of the apparent protrusion is not due to the natural conformationof the coast, rather than to any changes made by the action of theriver.
Delta of the Nile
The Delta of the Nile is so level itself, and so little raised above thelevel of the Mediterranean, that the land seems almost a continuation ofthe same surface with the sea, only, instead of blue waters topped withwhite-crested waves, we have broad tracts of waving grain, and gentleswells of land crowned with hamlets and villages. In approaching thecoast, the navigator has no distant view of all this verdure and beauty.It lies so low that it continues beneath the horizon until the ship isclose upon the shore. The first landmarks, in fact, which the seamanmakes, are the tops of trees growing apparently out of the water, or thesummit of an obelisk, or the capital of a pillar, marking the site ofsome ancient and dilapidated city.
The most easterly of the channels by which the waters of the river findtheir way through the Delta to the sea, is called, as it will be seenmarked upon the map, the Pelusiac branch. It forms almost the boundaryof the fertile region of the Delta on the eastern side. There was anancient city named Pelusium near the mouth of it. This was, of course,the first Egyptian city reached by those who arrived by land from theeastward, traveling along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Onaccount of its thus marking the eastern frontier of the country, itbecame a point of great importance, and is often mentioned in thehistories of ancient times.
The westernmost mouth of the Nile, on the other hand, was called theCanopic mouth. The distance along the coast from the Canopic mouth toPelusium was about a hundred miles. The outline of the coast wasformerly, as it still continues to be, very irregular, and the watershallow. Extended banks of sand protruded into the sea, and the seaitself, as if in retaliation, formed innumerable creeks, and inlets, andlagoons in the land. Along this irregular and uncertain boundary thewaters of the Nile and the surges of the Mediterranean kept up aneternal war, with energies so nearly equal, that now, after the lapse ofeighteen hundred years since the state of the contest began to berecorded, neither side has been found to have gained any perceptibleadvantage over the other. The river brings the sands down, and the seadrives them incessantly back, keeping the whole line of the shore insuch a condition as to make it extremely dangerous and difficult ofaccess to man.
It will be obvious, from this description of the valley of the Nile,that it formed a country which was in ancient times isolated andsecluded, in a very striking manner, from all the rest of the world. Itwas wholly shut in by deserts, on every side, by land; and the shoals,and sand-bars, and other dangers of navigation which marked the line ofthe coast, seemed to forbid approach by sea. Here it remained for manyages, under the rule of its own native ancient kings. Its population waspeaceful and industrious. Its scholars were famed throughout the worldfor their learning, their science, and their philosophy.
It was in these ages, before other nations had intruded upon itspeaceful seclusion, that the Pyramids were built, and the enormousmonoliths carved, and those vast temples reared whose ruined columns arenow the wonder of mankind. During these remote ages, too, Egypt was, asnow, the land of perpetual fertility and abundance. There would alwaysbe corn in Egypt, wherever else famine might rage. The neighboringnations and tribes in Arabia, Palestine, and Syria, found their way toit, accordingly, across the deserts on the eastern side, when driven bywant, and thus opened a way of communication. At length the Persianmonarchs, after extending their empire westward to the Mediterranean,found access by the same road to Pelusium, and thence overran andconquered the country. At last, about two hundred and fifty years beforethe time of Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, when he subverted thePersian empire, took possession of Egypt, and annexed it, among theother Persian provinces, to his own dominions. At the division ofAlexander’s empire, after his death, Egypt fell to one of his generals,named Ptolemy. Ptolemy made it his kingdom, and left it, at his death,to his heirs. A long line of sovereigns succeeded him, known in historyas the dynasty of the Ptolemies — Greek princes, reigning over anEgyptian realm. Cleopatra was the daughter of the eleventh in the line.
The capital of the Ptolemies was Alexandria. Until the time ofAlexander’s conquest, Egypt had no sea-port. There were severallanding-places along the coast, but no proper harbor. In fact Egypt hadthen so little commercial intercourse with the rest of the world, thatshe scarcely needed any. Alexander’s engineers, however, in exploringthe shore, found a point not far from the Canopic mouth of the Nilewhere the water was deep, and where there was an anchorage groundprotected by an island. Alexander founded a city there, which he calledby his own name. He perfected the harbor by artificial excavations andembankments. A lofty light-house was reared, which formed a landmark byday, and exhibited a blazing star by night to guide the galleys of theMediterranean in. A canal was made to connect the port with the Nile,and warehouses were erected to contain the stores of merchandise. In aword, Alexandria became at once a great commercial capital. It was theseat, for several centuries, of the magnificent government of thePtolemies; and so well was its situation chosen for the purposesintended, that it still continues, after the lapse of twenty centuriesof revolution and change, one of the principal emporiums of the commerceof the East.
The dynasty of the Ptolemies. — The founder. — Philip ofMacedon. — Alexander. — The intrigue discovered. — Ptolemybanished. — Accession of Alexander. — Ptolemy’s elevation. — Death ofAlexander. — Ptolemy becomes King of Egypt. — Character of Ptolemy’sreign. — The Alexandrian library. — Abdication of Ptolemy. — PtolemyPhiladelphus. — Death of Ptolemy. — Subsequent degeneracy of thePtolemies. — Incestuous marriages of the Ptolemy family. — PtolemyPhyscon. — Origin of his name. — Circumstances of Physcon’saccession. — Cleopatra. — Physcon’s brutal perfidity. — He marries hiswife’s daughter. — Atrocities of Physcon. — His flight. — Cleopatra assumesthe government. — Her birth-day. — Barbarity of Physcon. — Grief ofCleopatra. — General character of the Ptolemy family. — Lathyrus. — Terrible quarrels with his mother. — Cruelties of Cleopatra. — Alexander kills her. — Cleopatra a type of the family. — Hertwo daughters. — Unnatural war. — Tryphena’s hatred of her sister. — Takingof Antioch. — Cleopatra flees to a temple. — Jealousy of Tryphena. — Herresentment increases. — Cruel and sacrilegious murder. — The moralcondition of mankind not degenerating.
The founder of the dynasty of the Ptolemies — the ruler into whose handsthe kingdom of Egypt fell, as has already been stated, at the death ofAlexander the Great — was a Macedonian general in Alexander’s army. Thecircumstances of his birth, and the events which led to his enteringinto the service of Alexander, were somewhat peculiar. His mother, whosename was Arsinoë, was a personal favorite and companion of Philip, kingof Macedon, the father of Alexander. Philip at length gave Arsinoë inmarriage to a certain man of his court named Lagus. A very short timeafter the marriage, Ptolemy was born. Philip treated the child with thesame consideration and favor that he had evinced toward the mother. Theboy was called the son of Lagus, but his position in the royal court ofMacedon was as high and honorable, and the attentions which he receivedwere as great, as he could have expected to enjoy if he had been inreality a son of the king. As he grew up, he attained to officialstations of considerable responsibility and power.
In the course of time, a certain transaction occurred by means of whichPtolemy involved himself in serious difficulty with Philip, though bythe same means he made Alexander very strongly his friend. There was aprovince of the Persian empire called Caria, situated in thesouthwestern part of Asia Minor. The governor of this province hadoffered his daughter to Philip as the wife of one of his sons namedAridæus, the half brother of Alexander. Alexander’s mother, who was notthe mother of Aridæus, was jealous of this proposed marriage. Shethought that it was part of a scheme for bringing Aridæus forward intopublic notice, and finally making him the heir to Philip’s throne;whereas she was very earnest that this splendid inheritance should bereserved for her own son. Accordingly, she proposed to Alexander thatthey should send a secret embassage to the Persian governor, andrepresent to him that it would be much better, both for him and for hisdaughter, that she should have Alexander instead of Aridæus for ahusband, and induce him, if possible, to demand of Philip that he shouldmake the change.
Alexander entered readily into this scheme, and various courtiers,Ptolemy among the rest, undertook to aid him in the accomplishment ofit. The embassy was sent. The governor of Caria was very much pleasedwith the change which they proposed to him. In fact, the whole planseemed to be going on very successfully toward its accomplishment, when,by some means or other, Philip discovered the intrigue. He wentimmediately into Alexander’s apartment, highly excited with resentmentand anger. He had never intended to make Aridæus, whose birth on themother’s side was obscure and ignoble, the heir to his throne, and hereproached Alexander in the bitterest terms for being of so debased anddegenerate a spirit as to desire to marry the daughter of a Persiangovernor; a man who was, in fact, the mere slave, as he said, of abarbarian king.
Alexander’s scheme was thus totally defeated; and so displeased was hisfather with the officers who had undertaken to aid him in the executionof it, that he banished them all from the kingdom. Ptolemy, inconsequence of this decree, wandered about an exile from his country forsome years, until at length the death of Philip enabled Alexander torecall him. Alexander succeeded his father as King of Macedon, andimmediately made Ptolemy one of his principal generals. Ptolemy rose, infact, to a very high command in the Macedonian army, and distinguishedhimself very greatly in all the celebrated conqueror’s subsequentcampaigns. In the Persian invasion, Ptolemy commanded one of the threegrand divisions of the army, and he rendered repeatedly the most signalservices to the cause of his master. He was employed on the most distantand dangerous enterprises, and was often intrusted with the managementof affairs of the utmost importance. He was very successful in all hisundertakings. He conquered armies, reduced fortresses, negotiatedtreaties, and evinced, in a word, the highest degree of military energyand skill. He once saved Alexander’s life by discovering and revealing adangerous conspiracy which had been formed against the king. Alexanderhad the opportunity to requite this favor, through a divineinterposition vouchsafed to him, it was said, for the express purpose ofenabling him to evince his gratitude. Ptolemy had been wounded by apoisoned arrow, and when all the remedies and antidotes of thephysicians had failed, and the patient was apparently about to die, aneffectual means of cure was revealed to Alexander in a dream, andPtolemy, in his turn, was saved.
At the great rejoicings at Susa, when Alexander’s conquests werecompleted, Ptolemy was honored with a golden crown, and he was married,with great pomp and ceremony, to Artacama, the daughter of one of themost distinguished Persian generals.
At length Alexander died suddenly, after a night of drinking andcarousal at Babylon. He had no son old enough to succeed him, and hisimmense empire was divided among his generals. Ptolemy obtained Egyptfor his share. He repaired immediately to Alexandria, with a great army,and a great number of Greek attendants and followers, and therecommenced a reign which continued, in great prosperity and splendor, forforty years. The native Egyptians were reduced, of course, to subjectionand bondage. All the offices in the army, and all stations of trust andresponsibility in civil life, were filled by Greeks. Alexandria was aGreek city, and it became at once one of the most important commercialcenters in all those seas. Greek and Roman travelers found now alanguage spoken in Egypt which they could understand, and philosophersand scholars could gratify the curiosity which they had so long felt, inrespect to the institutions, and monuments, and wonderful physicalcharacteristics of the country, with safety and pleasure. In a word, theorganization of a Greek government over the ancient kingdom, and theestablishment of the great commercial relations of the city ofAlexandria, conspired to bring Egypt out from its concealment andseclusion, and to open it in some measure to the intercourse, as well asto bring it more fully under the observation, of the rest of mankind.
Ptolemy, in fact, made it a special object of his policy to accomplishthese ends. He invited Greek scholars, philosophers, poets, and artists,in great numbers, to come to Alexandria, and to make his capital theirabode. He collected an immense library, which subsequently, under thename of the Alexandrian library, became one of the most celebratedcollections of books and manuscripts that was ever made. We shall haveoccasion to refer more particularly to this library in the next chapter.
Besides prosecuting these splendid schemes for the aggrandizement ofEgypt, King Ptolemy was engaged, during almost the whole period of hisreign, in waging incessant wars with the surrounding nations. He engagedin these wars, in part, for the purpose of extending the boundaries ofhis empire, and in part for self-defense against the aggressions andencroachments of other powers. He finally succeeded in establishing hiskingdom on the most stable and permanent basis, and then, when he wasdrawing toward the close of his life, being in fact over eighty years ofage, he abdicated his throne in favor of his youngest son, whose namewas also Ptolemy. Ptolemy the father, the founder of the dynasty, isknown commonly in history by the name of Ptolemy Soter. His son iscalled Ptolemy Philadelphus. This son, though the youngest, waspreferred to his brothers as heir to the throne on account of his beingthe son of the most favored and beloved of the monarch’s wives. Thedetermination of Soter to abdicate the throne himself arose from hiswish to put this favorite son in secure possession of it before hisdeath, in order to prevent the older brothers from disputing thesuccession. The coronation of Philadelphus was made one of the mostmagnificent and imposing ceremonies that royal pomp and parade everarranged. Two years afterward Ptolemy the father died, and was buried byhis son with a magnificence almost equal to that of his own coronation.His body was deposited in a splendid mausoleum, which had been built forthe remains of Alexander; and so high was the veneration which was feltby mankind for the greatness of his exploits and the splendor of hisreign, that divine honors were paid to his memory. Such was the originof the great dynasty of the Ptolemies.
Some of the early sovereigns of the line followed in some degree thehonorable example set them by the distinguished founder of it; but thisexample was soon lost, and was succeeded by the most extreme degeneracyand debasement. The successive sovereigns began soon to live and toreign solely for the gratification of their own sensual propensities andpassions. Sensuality begins sometimes with kindness, but it ends alwaysin the most reckless and intolerable cruelty. The Ptolemies became, inthe end, the most abominable and terrible tyrants that the principle ofabsolute and irresponsible power ever produced. There was one vice inparticular, a vice which they seem to have adopted from the Asiaticnations of the Persian empire, that resulted in the most awfulconsequences. This vice was incest.
The law of God, proclaimed not only in the Scriptures, but in the nativeinstincts of the human soul, forbids intermarriages among thoseconnected by close ties of consanguinity. The necessity for such a lawrests on considerations which can not here be fully explained. They areconsiderations, however, which arise from causes inherent in the verynature of man as a social being, and which are of universal, perpetual,and insurmountable force. To guard his creatures against the deplorableconsequences, both physical and moral, which result from the practice ofsuch marriages, the great Author of Nature has implanted in every mindan instinctive sense of their criminality, powerful enough to giveeffectual warning of the danger, and so universal as to cause a distinctcondemnation of them to be recorded in almost every code of written lawthat has ever been promulgated among mankind. The Persian sovereignswere, however, above all law, and every species of incestuous marriagewas practiced by them without shame. The Ptolemies followed theirexample.
One of the most striking exhibitions of the nature of incestuousdomestic life which is afforded by the whole dismal panorama of paganvice and crime, is presented in the history of the great-grandfather ofthe Cleopatra who is the principal subject of this narrative. He wasPtolemy Physcon, the seventh in the line. It is necessary to give someparticulars of his history and that of his family, in order to explainthe circumstances under which Cleopatra herself came upon the stage. Thename Physcon, which afterward became his historical designation, wasoriginally given him in contempt and derision. He was very small ofstature in respect to height, but his gluttony and sensuality had madehim immensely corpulent in body, so that he looked more like a monsterthan a man. The term Physcon was a Greek word, which denotedopprobriously the ridiculous figure that he made.
The circumstances of Ptolemy Physcon’s accession to the throne affordnot only a striking illustration of his character, but a very faithfulthough terrible picture of the manners and morals of the times. He hadbeen engaged in a long and cruel war with his brother, who was kingbefore him, in which war he had perpetrated all imaginable atrocities,when at length his brother died, leaving as his survivors his wife, whowas also his sister, and a son who was yet a child. This son wasproperly the heir to the crown. Physcon himself, being a brother, had noclaim, as against a son. The name of the queen was Cleopatra. This was,in fact, a very common name among the princesses of the Ptolemaic line.Cleopatra, besides her son, had a daughter, who was at this time a youngand beautiful girl. Her name was also Cleopatra. She was, of course, theniece, as her mother was the sister, of Physcon.
The plan of Cleopatra the mother, after her husband’s death, was to makeher son the king of Egypt, and to govern herself, as regent, until heshould become of age. The friends and adherents of Physcon, however,formed a strong party in his favor. They sent for him to come toAlexandria to assert his claims to the throne. He came, and a new civilwar was on the point of breaking out between the brother and sister,when at length the dispute was settled by a treaty, in which it wasstipulated that Physcon should marry Cleopatra, and be king; but that heshould make the son of Cleopatra by her former husband his heir. Thistreaty was carried into effect so far as the celebration of the marriagewith the mother was concerned, and the establishment of Physcon upon thethrone. But the perfidious monster, instead of keeping his faith inrespect to the boy, determined to murder him; and so open and brutalwere his habits of violence and cruelty, that he undertook to perpetratethe deed himself, in open day. The boy fled shrieking to the mother’sarms for protection, and Physcon stabbed and killed him there,exhibiting the spectacle of a newly-married husband murdering the son ofhis wife in her very arms!
It is easy to conceive what sort of affection would exist between ahusband and a wife after such transactions as these. In fact, there hadbeen no love between them from the beginning. The marriage had beensolely a political arrangement. Physcon hated his wife, and had murderedher son, and then, as if to complete the exhibition of the brutallawlessness and capriciousness of his passions, he ended with falling inlove with her daughter. The beautiful girl looked upon this heartlessmonster, as ugly and deformed in body as he was in mind, with absolutehorror. But she was wholly in his power. He compelled her, by violence,to submit to his will. He repudiated the mother, and forced the daughterto become his wife.
Physcon displayed the same qualities of brutal tyranny and cruelty inthe treatment of his subjects that he manifested in his own domesticrelations. The particulars we can not here give, but can only say thathis atrocities became at length absolutely intolerable, and a revolt soformidable broke out, that he fled from the country. In fact he barelyescaped with his life, as the mob had surrounded the palace and weresetting it on fire, intending to burn the tyrant himself and all theaccomplices of his crimes together. Physcon, however, contrived to makehis escape. He fled to the island of Cyprus, taking with him a certainbeautiful boy, his son by the Cleopatra whom he had divorced; for theyhad been married long enough before the divorce, to have a son. The nameof this boy was Memphitis. His mother was very tenderly attached to him,and Physcon took him away on this very account, to keep him as a hostagefor his mother’s good behavior. He fancied that, when he was gone, shemight possibly attempt to resume possession of the throne.
His expectations in this respect were realized. The people of Alexandriarallied around Cleopatra, and called upon her to take the crown. She didso, feeling, perhaps, some misgivings in respect to the danger whichsuch a step might possibly bring upon her absent boy. She quietedherself, however, by the thought that he was in the hands of his ownfather, and that he could not possibly come to harm.
After some little time had elapsed, and Cleopatra was beginning to bewell established in her possession of the supreme power at Alexandria,her birth-day approached, and arrangements were made for celebrating itin the most magnificent manner. When the day arrived, the whole city wasgiven up to festivities and rejoicing. Grand entertainments were givenin the palace, and games, spectacles, and plays in every variety, wereexhibited and performed in all quarters of the city. Cleopatra herselfwas enjoying a magnificent entertainment, given to the lords and ladiesof the court and the officers of her army, in one of the royal palaces.
In the midst of this scene of festivity and pleasure, it was announcedto the queen that a large box had arrived for her. The box was broughtinto the apartment. It had the appearance of containing some magnificentpresent, sent in at that time by some friend in honor of the occasion.The curiosity of the queen was excited to know what the mysteriouscoffer might contain. She ordered it to be opened; and the guestsgathered around, each eager to obtain the first glimpse of the contents.The lid was removed, and a cloth beneath it was raised, when, to theunutterable horror of all who witnessed the spectacle, there was seenthe head and hands of Cleopatra’s beautiful boy, lying among masses ofhuman flesh, which consisted of the rest of his body cut into pieces.The head had been left entire, that the wretched mother might recognizein the pale and lifeless features the countenance of her son. Physconhad sent the box to Alexandria, with orders that it should be retaineduntil the evening of the birth-day, and then presented publicly toCleopatra in the midst of the festivities of the scene. The shrieks andcries with which she filled the apartments of the palace at the firstsight of the dreadful spectacle, and the agony of long-continued andinconsolable grief which followed, showed how well the cruel contrivanceof the tyrant was fitted to accomplish its end.
The Birth-Day Present
It gives us no pleasure to write, and we are sure it can give ourreaders no pleasure to peruse, such shocking stories of bloody crueltyas these. It is necessary, however, to a just appreciation of thecharacter of the great subject of this history, that we shouldunderstand the nature of the domestic influences that reigned in thefamily from which she sprung. In fact, it is due, as a matter of simplejustice to her, that we should know what these influences were, and whatwere the examples set before her in her early life; since the privilegesand advantages which the young enjoy in their early years, and, on theother hand, the evil influences under which they suffer, are to be takenvery seriously into the account when we are passing judgment upon thefollies and sins into which they subsequently fall.
The monster Physcon lived, it is true, two or three generations beforethe great Cleopatra; but the character of the intermediate generations,until the time of her birth, continued much the same. In fact, thecruelty, corruption, and vice which reigned in every branch of the royalfamily increased rather than diminished. The beautiful niece of Physcon,who, at the time of her compulsory marriage with him, evinced such anaversion to the monster, had become, at the period of her husband’sdeath, as great a monster of ambition, selfishness, and cruelty as he.She had two sons, Lathyrus and Alexander. Physcon, when he died, leftthe kingdom of Egypt to her by will, authorizing her to associate withher in the government whichever of these two sons she might choose. Theoldest was best entitled to this privilege, by his priority of birth;but she preferred the youngest, as she thought that her own power wouldbe more absolute in reigning in conjunction with him, since he would bemore completely under her control. The leading powers, however, inAlexandria, resisted this plan, and insisted on Cleopatra’s associatingher oldest son, Lathyrus, with her in the government of the realm. Theycompelled her to recall Lathyrus from the banishment into which she hadsent him, and to put him nominally upon the throne. Cleopatra yielded tothis necessity, but she forced her son to repudiate his wife, and totake, instead, another woman, whom she fancied she could make moresubservient to her will. The mother and the son went on together for atime, Lathyrus being nominally king, though her determination that shewould rule, and his struggles to resist her intolerable tyranny, madetheir wretched household the scene of terrible and perpetual quarrels.At last Cleopatra seized a number of Lathyrus’s servants, the eunuchswho were employed in various offices about the palace, and afterwounding and mutilating them in a horrible manner, she exhibited themto the populace, saying that it was Lathyrus that had inflicted thecruel injuries upon the sufferers, and calling upon them to arise andpunish him for his crimes. In this and in other similar ways she awakenedamong the people of the court and of the city such an animosity againstLathyrus, that they expelled him from the country. There followed a longseries of cruel and bloody wars between the mother and the son, in thecourse of which each party perpetrated against the other almost everyimaginable deed of atrocity and crime. Alexander, the youngest son, wasso afraid of his terrible mother, that he did not dare to remain inAlexandria with her, but went into a sort of banishment of his ownaccord. He, however, finally returned to Egypt. His mother immediatelysupposed that he was intending to disturb her possession of power, andresolved to destroy him. He became acquainted with her designs, and,grown desperate by the long-continued pressure of her intolerabletyranny, he resolved to bring the anxiety and terror in which he livedto an end by killing her. This he did, and then fled the country.Lathyrus, his brother, then returned, and reigned for the rest of hisdays in a tolerable degree of quietness and peace. At length Lathyrusdied, and left the kingdom to his son, Ptolemy Auletes, who was thegreat Cleopatra’s father.