Antony, when the first effects of his panic subsided, began to grow mad
with vexation and resentment against all mankind. He determined that he
would have nothing to do with Cleopatra or with any of her friends, but
went off in a fit of sullen rage, and built a hermitage in a lonely
place, on the island of Pharos, where he lived for a time, cursing his
folly and his wretched fate, and uttering the bitterest invectives
against all who had been concerned in it. Here tidings came continually
in, informing him of the defection of one after another of his armies,
of the fall of his provinces in Greece and Asia Minor, and of the
irresistible progress which Octavius was now making toward universal
dominion. The tidings of these disasters coming incessantly upon him
kept him in a continual fever of resentment and rage.

At last he became tired of his misanthropic solitude, a sort of
reconciliation ensued between himself and Cleopatra, and he went back
again to the city. Here he joined himself once more to Cleopatra, and,
collecting together what remained of their joint resources, they plunged
again into a life of dissipation and vice, with the vain attempt to
drown in mirth and wine the bitter regrets and the anxious forebodings
which filled their souls. They joined with them a company of revelers as
abandoned as themselves, and strove very hard to disguise and conceal
their cares in their forced and unnatural gayety. They could not,
however, accomplish this purpose. Octavius was gradually advancing in
his progress, and they knew very well that the time of his dreadful
reckoning with them must soon come; nor was there any place on earth in
which they could look with any hope of finding a refuge in it from his
vindictive hostility.

Cleopatra, warned by dreadful presentiments of what would probably at
last be her fate, amused herself in studying the nature of poisons--not
theoretically, but practically--making experiments with them on wretched
prisoners and captives whom she compelled to take them in order that she
and Antony might see the effects which they produced. She made a
collection of all the poisons which she could procure, and administered
portions of them all, that she might see which were sudden and which
were slow in their effects, and also learn which produced the greatest
distress and suffering, and which, on the other hand, only benumbed and
stupefied the faculties, and thus extinguished life with the least
infliction of pain. These experiments were not confined to such
vegetable and mineral poisons as could be mingled with the food or
administered in a potion. Cleopatra took an equal interest in the
effects of the bite of venomous serpents and reptiles. She procured
specimens of all these animals, and tried them upon her prisoners,
causing the men to be stung and bitten by them, and then watching the
effects. These investigations were made, not directly with a view to any
practical use, which she was to make of the knowledge thus acquired, but
rather as an agreeable occupation, to divert her mind, and to amuse
Antony and her guests. The variety in the forms and expressions which
the agony of her poisoned victims assumed,--their writhings, their
cries, their convulsions, and the distortions of their features when
struggling with death, furnished exactly the kind and degree of
excitement which she needed to occupy and amuse her mind.

[Illustration: CLEOPATRA TESTING THE POISONS UPON THE SLAVES]

Antony was not entirely at ease, however, during the progress
of these terrible experiments. His foolish and childish fondness
for Cleopatra was mingled with jealousy, suspicion, and distrust;
and he was so afraid that Cleopatra might secretly poison him,
that he would never take any food or wine without requiring that she
should taste it before him. At length, one day, Cleopatra caused the
petals of some flowers to be poisoned, and then had the flowers woven
into the chaplet which Antony was to wear at supper. In the midst of the
feast, she pulled off the leaves of the flowers from her own chaplet and
put them playfully into her wine, and then proposed that Antony should
do the same with his chaplet, and that they should then drink the wine,
tinctured, as it would be, with the color and the perfume of the
flowers. Antony entered very readily into this proposal, and when he was
about to drink the wine, she arrested his hand, and told him that it was
poisoned. "You see now," said she, "how vain it is for you to watch
against me. If it were possible for me to live without you, how easy it
would be for me to devise ways and means to kill you." Then, to prove
that her words were true, she ordered one of the servants to drink
Antony's wine. He did so, and died before their sight in dreadful agony.

The experiments which Cleopatra thus made on the nature and effects of
poison were not, however, wholly without practical result. Cleopatra
learned from them, it is said, that the bite of the asp was the easiest
and least painful mode of death. The effect of the venom of that animal
appeared to her to be the lulling of the sensorium into a lethargy or
stupor, which soon ended in death, without the intervention of pain.
This knowledge she seems to have laid up in her mind for future use.

The thoughts of Cleopatra appear, in fact, to have been much disposed,
at this time, to flow in gloomy channels, for she occupied herself a
great deal in building for herself a sepulchral monument in a certain
sacred portion of the city. This monument had, in fact, been commenced
many years ago, in accordance with a custom prevailing among Egyptian
sovereigns, of expending a portion of their revenues during their
life-time in building and decorating their own tombs. Cleopatra now
turned her mind with new interest to her own mausoleum. She finished it,
provided it with the strongest possible bolts and bars, and, in a word,
seemed to be preparing it in all respects for occupation.

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