808. CLEOPATRA -Jacob Abbott
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Of all the beautiful women of history, none has left us such convincing proofs of her charms as Cleopatra, for the tide of Rome’s destiny, and, therefore, that of the world, turned aside because of her beauty. Julius Caesar, whose legions trampled the conquered world from Canopus to the Thames, capitulated to her, and Mark Antony threw a fleet, an empire and his own honor to the winds to follow her to his destruction. Disarmed at last before the frigid Octavius, she found her peerless body measured by the cold eye of her captor only for the triumphal procession, and the friendly asp alone spared her Rome’s crowning ignominy.
CHAPTER I. THE VALLEY OF THE NILE.
The story of Cleopatra is a story of crime. It is a narrative of the course and the consequences of unlawful love. In her strange and romantic history we see this passion portrayed with the most complete and graphic fidelity in all its influences and effects; its uncontrollable impulses, its intoxicating joys, its reckless and mad career, and the dreadful remorse and ultimate despair and ruin in which it always and inevitably ends.
Cleopatra was by birth an Egyptian; by ancestry and descent she was a Greek. Thus, while Alexandria and the Delta of the Nile formed the scene of the most important events and incidents of her history, it was the blood of Macedon which flowed in her veins. Her character and action are marked by the genius, the courage, the originality, and the impulsiveness pertaining to the stock from which she sprung. The events of her history, on the other hand, and the peculiar character of her adventures, her sufferings, and her sins, were determined by the circumstances with which she was surrounded, and the influences which were brought to bear upon her in the soft and voluptuous clime where the scenes of her early life were laid.
Egypt has always been considered as physically the most remarkable country on the globe. It is a long and narrow valley of verdure and fruitfulness, completely insulated from the rest of the habitable world. It is more completely insulated, in fact, than any literal island could be, inasmuch as deserts are more impassable than seas. The very existence of Egypt is a most extraordinary phenomenon. If we could but soar with the wings of an eagle into the air, and look down upon the scene, so as to observe the operation of that grand and yet simple process by which this long and wonderful valley, teeming so profusely with animal and vegetable life, has been formed, and is annually revivified and renewed, in the midst of surrounding wastes of silence, desolation, and death, we should gaze upon it with never-ceasing admiration and pleasure. We have not the wings of the eagle, but the generalizations of science furnish us with a sort of substitute for them.