yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Homosexuality in ancient Rome wikipedia , lookup

Food and dining in the Roman Empire wikipedia , lookup

Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War wikipedia , lookup

Roman technology wikipedia , lookup

Extract 1: Cleopatra According to the Romans, from Book 1 Chapter 1,
‘Cleopatra’, by Trevor Fear
Cleopatra's status as a famous historical figure in the Western tradition depends precisely
upon her role in the bitter struggles in Roman history in the first century BCE. If
Cleopatra had not come into contact with the Roman world, then in the west at least she
would be just another peripheral historical figure whose name would mean little. Her
fatal interaction, though, with such prominent figures in Roman history as Julius Caesar,
Mark Antony and Octavian (who became Rome's first emperor under the name of
Augustus) and her various roles as the lover, ally and bitter enemy of these men have
served to define her in the western tradition. For instance, the Roman historian, Cassius
Dio (born c. 164, died after 229 CE) said in conclusion on Cleopatra that "she captivated the
two greatest Romans of her time, and because of the third, she destroyed herself."
What has most defined Cleopatra's image is the fact that she ended up on the losing
side in these conflicts. After the assassination of Julius Caesar she became the ally of
Mark Antony but their combined forces were defeated by Octavian at the battle of
Actium (off the coast of Greece) in 31 BCE, and by the following year both Antony
and Cleopatra committed suicide as Octavian took control of Egypt.
We are familiar in our world with the manipulation of public opinion by the media and
politicians, of how things can be made to look a certain way through putting a
`spin' on them. Cleopatra was the victim of a vicious propaganda campaign that was
waged between Octavian on the one hand, and Mark Antony and herself on the other
in the lead-up to the decisive battle of Actium. Unfortunately for Cleopatra she lost
and as the winners tend to write history it is their images of the losers that tend to stick.
Roman political life was a tough affair and one's own reputation had to be continually
defended and that of rivals brought down. Allegations of sexual impropriety and general
debauchery were quite normal in the Roman law courts and political oratory. Imagine the sort
of stories that appear in the tabloid press about modern celebrities being delivered about rival
politicians with the rhetorical skill and gravity of a Winston Churchill in the House of
Commons and you start to get an idea of the verbal brutality of Roman political life. In this
climate of vicious satirical exchange Antony's association with Cleopatra became
ammunition for Octavian and his allies to use against him.
To explore the nature of ancient history a little further and to start our investigation into the
Romans' characterization of Cleopatra, you’ll find below a condensed version of the historian
Cassius Dio’s version of a speech Octavian gave to his army before the battle of Actium. As you
read through this extract think about the manner in which this speech presents a negative image of
Antony through his association with Cleopatra and Egypt.
Cassius Dio, The Roman History, extracts from Bk. 50. 24-27
We Romans are the rulers of the greatest and best parts of the world, and yet we find
ourselves spurned and trampled upon by a woman of Egypt. Would we not utterly
dishonour ourselves if, after surpassing all other nations in valour, we then meekly
endured the insults of this rabble, the natives of Alexandria and of Egypt, for what more
ignoble or more exact name could one give them? They worship reptiles and beasts as
gods, they embalm their bodies to make them appear immortal, they are most forward in
effrontery, but most backward in courage. Worst of all they are not ruled by a man, but
are the slaves of a woman.
Who would not tear his hair at the sight of Roman soldiers serving as bodyguards of this
queen? Who would not groan at hearing that Roman knights and senators grovel before
her like eunuchs? Who would not weep when he sees and hears what Antony has
become. He has abandoned his whole ancestral way of life, has embraced alien and
barbaric customs, has ceased to honour us, his fellow-countrymen, or our laws, or his
fathers’ gods. He is either blind to reason or mad, for I have heard and can believe that he
is bewitched by that accursed woman, and therefore disregards all our efforts to show
him goodwill and humanity. And so, being enslaved by her, he plunges into war with all
its attendant dangers which he has accepted for her sake, against ourselves and against
his country. What choice, then, remains to us, save our duty to oppose him together with
Cleopatra and fight him off.
And even if at one time he showed some valour when he served with our army, you can
rest assured that he has now lost it beyond recall through the change in his manner of
life. It is impossible for anyone who indulges in a life of royal luxury and pampers
himself as a woman to conceive a manly thought or do a manly deed, since it cannot but
follow that a man’s whole being is moulded by the habits of his daily life.
To sum up, if it were a matter of being called upon to cavort in some ridiculous dance or
cut some erotic caper, Antony would have no rival – for these are the specialities in
which he has trained. But when it comes to weapons and fighting what has anyone to
fear from him?
Discussion: Antony is characterised in this speech as a shadow of his former manly
Roman self. He has embraced a foreign and decadent way of life and become bewitched and
enslaved by Cleopatra to such an extent that he is fighting against his own country on her
behalf. Antony has been emasculated, his self-indulgence has made him soft and no longer a
threat and he has become a lover and a dancer instead of a fighter.
In addition to this specific abuse of Antony, there is also a general contrast that
Octavian draws between Rome and Egypt. Rome is the ruler of the world and her citizens
should be embarrassed to even be at war with such an opponent as Egypt. What
honour is there for them in fighting against a nation whose way of life (slaves of a woman,
worshippers of reptiles and beasts) is so repugnant to Roman tastes and traditions?
Egypt and what it stands for, according to Octavian, is contrasted sharply with Rome and
its way of life. One only has to look, Octavian says, at what has happened to Antony to see
what threat this strange country is to Rome and its citizens. What option, he says, do we
have but to resist and defend our own way of life and its values.