Biographies & Memoirs


“Give It to Fulvia”

ANTONY WAS NOT LONG in following Cleopatra. He paused briefly in Syria, where he appointed one of Caesar’s former generals as the province’s new governor. He also settled matters in neighboring Judaea, confirming Hyrcanus, who with his minister Antipater had aided Caesar in Egypt in 47, as ruler. Antony also confirmed Antipater’s sons, Phasael and Herod, as Hyrcanus’ viceroys in Jerusalem and Galilee with the princely rank of tetrarch, despite the fact that after Caesar’s death they had aided Cassius during the civil war, albeit, as they said, under duress. Their appointments were made in the teeth of violent opposition from the Maccabees, also known as Hasmonaeans—a powerful faction in Judaea. The name Maccabee, probably meaning “the hammer,” was the appellation of Judas, who in 168 with his brothers had launched a guerrilla war against the occupying Seleucids. In 142 the Seleucid garrison had finally been expelled from Jerusalem, leaving the Jews to be ruled by the hereditary Hasmonaean high priests, the dynasty to which Hyrcanus belonged.

Although Hyrcanus supported Phasael and Herod, many Hasmonaeans distrusted them because they were from Idumaea, a district south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem whose inhabitants had been forcibly converted to Judaism toward the end of the second century during a period of Jewish expansion and who were not considered proper Jews by the orthodox. Even worse in their eyes, Phasael and Herod’s mother was not Jewish but an aristocratic Arab and thus, since Judaism was a matrilineal religion, the two men were not Jewish at all.

Antony ignored the protests and in the autumn of 41 sailed eagerly on to Alexandria and into the arms of his new mistress. Cleopatra, according to Ap-pian, gave him “a magnificent reception.” Unlike Caesar, who had immediately aroused the animosity of the Alexandrians by entering their city with all the pomp of a Roman consul, with lictors bearing the fasces before him and marching columns of helmeted and armed legionaries, Antony came softly, “without the insignia of his office.” He adopted “the habit and mode of life of a private person, either because he was in a foreign jurisdiction, in a city under royal sway, or because he regarded his wintering as a festal occasion.” Consequently, the Alexandrians for their part welcomed Antony as an honored guest who had come at the explicit invitation of their queen. He had already shown during his tour of the east that he admired the Hellenic world and, as he walked their streets, the citizens noted with approval that he had abandoned Roman garb for “the square-cut garment of the Greeks” and white Attic sandals.

During the winter of 41 to 40, Cleopatra created a fantasy world for Antony, where his every whim was granted and every day brought new surprises. Plutarch deplored Antony’s “many follies,” bemoaning how Cleopatra “abducted Antony so successfully . . . that he was carried off by her to Alexandria where he indulged in the pastimes and pleasures of a young man of leisure, and spent and squandered on luxuries that commodity called the most costly in the world, namely time.” Cleopatra, he alleged, always found “some fresh pleasure and delight to apply whether he was feeling serious or frivolous and so she kept up his training relentlessly without leaving him alone either by night or by day.” She was constantly with him, whether he was “playing dice, drinking, and hunting; she watched him while he trained with his weapons.”

According to Plutarch, Cleopatra and Antony “formed a kind of club called the Society of Inimitable Livers, and every day one of them had to entertain the rest.” This magic circle of exquisite bon viveurs “spent incredible, disproportionate amounts of money.” A doctor living in Alexandria at the time, who was invited to visit the royal kitchens by one of the cooks, later regaled Plutarch’s grandfather with tales of prodigality almost beyond belief.

He was surreptitiously brought into the kitchen and when he saw all the food, including eight wild boars roasting on spits, he expressed his surprise at the number of guests whom he imagined were going to be entertained. The cook just laughed and said that there were not going to be many for dinner, only about twelve, but that every dish which was served had to be perfect and it only took an instant’s delay for something to spoil. He explained that Antony might call for food immediately a party began and then a short while later postpone it and ask for a cup of wine instead, or become distracted by a discussion. Therefore, he said, they prepared many meals, not just one, since they could never guess when the exact moment was going to be.

Roasted boars apart, the food at the feasts of the Inimitables can best be imagined from our limited knowledge of Egyptian delicacies and from descriptions of lavish Roman banquets. Pâté de foie gras was probably on the menu. The Egyptians had been the first to appreciate it, sending fattened geese to the Spartans in around 400. The Romans too had swiftly acquired the taste, with detailed recipes surviving from the first century BC for how best to “cram” a goose. Other delicacies might have been the flesh and in particular tongues of flamingos from the Nile; snails, which the Romans were the first to breed for the table; and dormice. The latter, our field mice, were bred in captivity from Greek times to the Middle Ages. The Romans kept them in the dark in large jars and fattened them on walnuts, figs and chestnuts. When the dormice were plump they were roasted, often glazed with honey and sometimes scattered with poppy seeds. Cleopatra and Antony may have tried roasted ostrich, whose range then extended to North Africa, but cooks struggled to render it tender enough, although the brains were relished, as, it seems, were those of other exotic birds, such as peacocks and parrots. Such use of only a small part of an animal or fowl was another way of demonstrating prodigality.

Along with sows’ udders, elephants’ trunks and camels’ heels were consumed—the last said, on somewhat unreliable evidence, to have been a favorite of Cleopatra’s. Other tricks were to build delicacies into fantastic centerpieces themed on concepts such as the signs of the zodiac or the shield of Minerva, or indeed to sculpt one animal by bringing together bits of others. One satirist suggested that a skillful cook could even make a dish of pork look like a fattened goose garnished with fish and different kinds of birds. There would also have been plenty of flaky pastry, copied from the Arab filo pastry, to top the pies.

The Romans were accomplished marinaders and sauciers. Octavian’s favorite poet, Horace, thought a chicken drowned to death in wine had a particularly good flavor. (The hen, originally from India, was first recorded in Europe in the sixth century BC.) Antony would have relished such dishes, as well as other more conventional sauces. Among the most popular was a clear fish sauce made by fermenting salt and fish for up to three months. Sanguine garum was an expensive and stronger version made from a particular kind of tuna’s blood. Other sauces included a bright yellow concoction made from mustard (grown, like fenugreek and cumin, in Egypt) and a very popular one based on a herb called siliphum from Egypt’s neighbor Cyrenaica.* The Romans and Egyptians also enjoyed using fruit sauces to produce a sweet-and-sour taste, serving slices of veal, for example, in a sauce of raisins, honey, pepper, onions, wine vinegar and herbs.

Less exotically, fish from the Nile and, of course, vegetables grown along its banks would have been served. The Egyptians enjoyed fibrous papyrus stalks, crisp lotus roots, lentils and garlic. Their preferred use of the homely cabbage was as a hangover cure.

Although the Romans knew the technique of distilling, neither they nor the Egyptians drank spirits. Egyptian beer had been brewed since pharaonic times and had an excellent reputation but was probably not grand enough to serve to the Inimitables. Their bejeweled goblets would, however, have brimmed with wine. The Egyptians had been producing named wines and labeling vintages from at least the time of Tutankhamen (1327) onward. Hostile Roman poets were certain that Cleopatra so much enjoyed wine from the area around Lake Mareotis that she was usually fuddled with it. Reports reached Rome that on Cleopatra’s ring was an amethyst engraved with the figure of Methe, the goddess of drunkenness who follows in the wake of Dionysus, and this was gleefully interpreted as proof of decadent dipsomania. In fact, the symbolism was more complex and perhaps to the Roman mind more disgraceful. The amethyst was the stone of sobriety, so what the carving of Methe actually symbolized was “sober drunkenness”—the overwhelming ecstasy or “drunkenness without wine” that possessed the female followers of Dionysus.

Cleopatra needed to be as fantastic and fascinating as the heady, intoxicating atmosphere in which she cocooned Antony. Plutarch described her predilection for dressing “in the robe which is sacred to Isis.” If the depiction of the goddess by the writer Apuleius in the second century AD is accurate, Cleopatra, as Isis, must have dazzled Antony. Isis wore her hair falling “in tapering ringlets on her lovely neck” and “crowned with an intricate chaplet in which was woven every kind of flower. Just above her brow shone a round disc, like a mirror, or like the bright face of the moon.” The uraeus, the Egyptian cobra sacred to the god Amun-Ra and a feature also of the royal Egyptian crown, reared on each side to support the disc, “with ears of corn bristling beside them.”* Heavy pendant earrings of gold set with gems—lapis lazuli and turquoise, perhaps, or deep red garnet—and rings and armlets of golden wire artfully twisted into the coiled bodies of serpents would have added to the effect.

Isis’ “many-colored robe was of finest linen; part was glistening white, part crocus-yellow, part glowing red and along the entire hem a woven border of flowers and fruit.” The dramatic effect was heightened by “the deep black luster” of a mantle slung across the body from “the right hip to the left shoulder, where it was caught in a knot resembling the boss of a shield; but part of it hung in innumerable folds, the tasselled fringe quivering. It was embroidered with glittering stars on the hem and everywhere else and in the middle beamed a full and fiery moon.” Isis’ dramatically particolored robe symbolized her all-embracing power, “concerned with matter which becomes everything and receives everything, light and darkness, day and night, fire and water, life and death.”

Cleopatra intended to be everything to Antony—to fill his days and satisfy his nights to the exclusion of all else. She was no longer bent on mere seduction. That had been achieved at Tarsus, and the speed with which Antony had followed her to Alexandria was proof of its success. What mattered now was to bind Antony to her as the best means of protecting herself and her country.

Compared with Antony, Cleopatra was sexually inexperienced. She had had only one previous lover compared with Antony’s probable hundreds. Yet the Ptolemies must have imbibed something of the sexual attitudes of the people they ruled. The ancient Egyptians had, like the Romans, regarded sex as infinitely pleasurable and nothing to be ashamed of. Many Egyptian words were associated with the sex organs, while more than twenty expressions described making love. A famous erotic papyrus in the Egyptian Museum in Turin shows a cartoon-like sequence of sexual activities between a woman and an extraordinarily well-endowed middle-aged man.

Unused to privacy, the Egyptians took nakedness for granted. All bodily functions were performed publicly, except in the very highest circles. Since people were so used to nudity, they did not find bare flesh especially erotic. Far more arousing to a man was the sight of a woman in a clinging, semitransparent robe, nipples or navel protruding through the thin fabric, as depicted in many carvings, not least of Cleopatra herself at Dendera.

She and Antony were clearly well suited physically but, ever a shrewd judge of character, she would have studied Antony carefully, working out how to make herself indispensable to him at every level. She spiced the sensuality of their relationship with slapstick, encouraging Antony’s love of schoolboy practical jokes—“childish nonsense,” Plutarch grumbled. Cleopatra would “dress as a serving-girl, because Antony used to do his best to make himself look like a slave,” and together they roamed the nighttime streets of Alexandria. Antony liked to stand “at the doors and windows of ordinary folk and mock the people inside.” Unsurprisingly, this “would constantly earn him a volley of scorn and not infrequently blows too before he returned home, despite the fact that most people suspected who he was.”

While on a fishing trip amongst the tall reeds of Lake Mareotis, Antony complained to Cleopatra that he was having little luck. Subsequently he secretly persuaded one of the fishermen accompanying them to swim down and attach one of the fish that had already been caught to his hook. According to Plutarch, “He hauled in two or three fish on this basis but he did not fool the Egyptian queen. She pretended to be impressed and to admire her lover’s skill but told her friends all about it and invited them to come along the next day . . . When Antony had cast his line she told one of her own slaves to swim over to his hook first and to stick on to it a salted herring . . . Antony thought he had caught something and pulled it in, to everyone’s great amusement, of course. ‘Imperator,’ she said, ‘hand your rod over . . . Your prey is cities, kingdoms and continents.’ ”

According to Plutarch, “the Alexandrians loved the way Antony played the fool and joined in his games . . . They liked him and said that he adopted the mask of tragedy for the Romans, but the mask of comedy for them.” He alleged that “Cleopatra did not restrict her flattery to Plato’s four categories, but employed many more forms of it.” Plato defined the four categories in his Gorgias, where he invited the reader to compare the false, flattering arts of sophistry, rhetoric, pastry cooking and cosmetics with the “genuine” arts of lawgiving, justice, medicine and gymnastics. Plato believed morality to be the essential basis of human existence and in Gorgias was challenging those whose first priority—as Plutarch was accusing Cleopatra—was the pursuit of pleasure.

But if much of what Cleopatra did to fascinate Antony was conscious and contrived, as in this early stage of their relationship it must have been, it could not have been so successful had it not touched something deep in them both. They shared a hunger for life. Excess was for both Cleopatra and Antony a natural, joyful expression of that hunger—whether making love night and day, feasting on impossible rareties, giving each other fabulous gifts or just playing the fool. Their appetites were well matched, their ambitions on a similarly grand scale, and instinctively they responded to one another. Nobody else would ever be as close to either of them as they would become to the other, although the mutual realization of that truth still lay some way in the future.

During those riotous winter months in her palace overlooking the harbor Cleopatra became pregnant, just as she must have hoped would happen. Yet if she thought this would detain her lover longer by her side, it was not to be. Antony had probably intended to leave Egypt and Cleopatra in the spring of 40, to allow him time to deal with the remaining eastern client kings—a task he had neglected in his rush to Alexandria—before embarking on his Parthian venture. However, the Parthians, with their armored cavalry and swift mounted archers, had seized the initiative, launching an ambitious two-pronged invasion of Rome’s territories. In late February, messengers brought news that Pacorus, son of the Parthian king Orodes, had invaded Syria, killing its Roman governor as he tried to flee. He had seized Jerusalem and deposed Hyrcanus from the throne of Judaea, installing Hyrcanus’ nephew Antigonus in his place as a puppet. Herod had fled for safety with the women of his family to the fortress of Masada in the dry, dusty mountains by the Dead Sea. At the same time, a former Roman republican now in the pay of the Parthians, Quintus Labienus, was pushing deep into the Roman province of Asia at the head of a strong force.

Shaken from the long, languorous dream of the past few months, or as Plutarch less sympathetically put it, “like a man struggling to wake up after a drunken night,” Antony tried to rally himself. After a hasty leave-taking from the pregnant Cleopatra he sailed to Tyre, one of the few Phoenician ports that had not yet succumbed to the Parthians. Here further ill tidings awaited him. A number of Rome’s client kings had thrown in their lot with the Parthians and some of his own troops in Syria had also defected.

Yet messengers from Italy delivered even worse news. Antony’s formidable wife, Fulvia, and his younger brother, Lucius Antonius, had instigated a revolt against Octavian and been utterly defeated. Fulvia was fleeing eastward to her husband. Antony received what Plutarch called “a miserable letter” from her. Any thought of continuing north to deal with the marauding Parthians was put aside. Instead, Antony headed back toward Italy to salvage what he could.

Lucius Antonius was, according to the hostile historian Velleius Paterculus, “a partaker of his brother’s vices, but destitute of the virtues that the latter sometimes showed.” As consul for 41, he had opportunistically seized on Octavian’s difficulties in resettling the veterans as he and Antony had promised to do after Philippi. Finding enough good land was always going to be a contentious task and, to the dismay of the inhabitants, Octavian had confiscated territory in eighteen Italian cities. Seeing a chance to damage and diminish Octavian, Lucius Antonius had begun raising objections. Octavian, he alleged, was usurping Antony’s position by settling his men in his absence. Even worse, he was giving all the best land to his own veterans.

Fulvia, who had remained in Rome while Antony went east, had initially opposed her brother-in-law, arguing wisely that this was an inopportune moment to foment discord. However, Lucius convinced her otherwise, dangling before her an image of a Rome governed by Antony, with her as a powerful influence behind him. Now she became an active participant in a campaign to discredit and, if possible, oust Octavian. She allowed Lucius to present her and Antony’s children to Antony’s legionaries. In an emotional address, Lucius urged the soldiers to gaze on their wronged leader’s family. He implored them not to forget their commander, who, though absent in the east, had been the true victor of Philippi.

Irritated by these maneuvers but uncertain whether Antony himself might be behind them, Octavian reacted cautiously. He refrained from criticizing his fellow triumvir. Instead, he reserved his criticism for Antony’s wife and brother, claiming that they were trying for their own ends to prevent him from fulfilling the agreement he had reached with Antony. He also took the opportunity to repudiate Fulvia’s daughter Clodia, whom he had married after Philippi as part of his reconciliation with Antony. He sent the teenager back, assuring Fulvia cheerfully that she was still “intacta.” It was a terrible insult and one that a woman such as Fulvia, who had used Cicero’s tongue as a pincushion, was unlikely to forgive.

Yet at the same time, Octavian tried to contain the situation by permitting Antony’s own agents to oversee the land settlements. Thus wrongfooted, Lucius Antonius shifted his ground completely. He decided to exploit the anger of the thousands thrown off their land by Octavian, who was continuing his veterans’ resettlement program regardless of their protests. A recent calculation suggests that about a quarter of the land in Italy changed hands during the proscriptions and evictions. Among the families affected was that of the poet Vergil, whose estates were seized. In one of his poems he distills the pained cry of the victims:

A godless soldier has my cherished fields,

A savage has my land: such profit yields

Our civil war. For them we work our land!

Yes, plant your pears—to fill another’s hand.

The economic problems caused by the eviction of so many landowners and farmers were worsened by the activities of Pompey the Great’s younger son, Sextus, who from his Sicilian base was again harassing Roman shipping and cutting off grain supplies. In desperation, the dispossessed converged on Rome, according to Appian, “in crowds, young and old, women and children, to the forum and the temples, uttering lamentations, saying that they had done no wrong for which they, Italians, should be driven from their fields and their hearthstones, like people conquered in war.” In the Senate, Octavian attempted to introduce measures to alleviate some of the suffering but the rioting crowds surging through Rome’s streets had lost faith in him.

At the same time, the legionaries began to doubt his intentions. An ugly incident occurred when Octavian arrived late at the Campus Martius, where a division of land to veterans was to take place. As the soldiers’ grumbling grew louder and angrier, a centurion rebuked them. Octavian, he claimed, had been delayed by illness and would soon be among them. But “they first jeered at him as a sycophant. Then as the excitement waxed hot on both sides, they reviled him, threw stones at him and pursued him when he fled.” Finally, they killed the centurion, tossing his body onto the road along which Octavian was due to pass. Hearing what had happened, Octavian’s advisers warned him not to go to the Campus Martius, but “he went forward, thinking that their madness would be augmented if he did not come.” The dead centurion’s blood-soaked body was still lying in the dust when he arrived. Realizing the volatility of the situation, Octavian wisely forbore from punishing the killers. Instead, he announced that he would leave them to “their own guilty consciences and the condemnation of their comrades” and withdrew.

Profiting from the deep despair and rising resentment, Lucius Antonius began raising an army and preparing to take on Octavian in the field. Octavian too began gathering forces, and both men helped themselves to temple treasures to fund the coming fight. Soldiers on each side, fearful of a renewed civil war, tried to broker a reconciliation, arranging a conference between Lucius and Octavian at Teanum. The two leaders met but, though a compromise of sorts was reached, nothing important was acted upon. Before long, Lucius and Fulvia fled to Praeneste, a stronghold east of Rome, making a great noise that they were in fear of their lives from Octavian. Again, anxious legionaries tried to head off a conflict, arranging a further meeting at Gabii, a town between Rome and Praeneste, but Lucius failed to turn up, while his agent produced a letter that he claimed had been written by Antony and which gave the green light to war.

Lucius’ next step was to march on Rome. Pushing aside Lepidus, the third triumvir, who put up only a feeble resistance, he briefly occupied the city. To the cheers of many senators, soldiers and members of the popular assembly, Lucius promised that his brother Antony would renounce his powers as triumvir and assume those of consul. He was, in effect, announcing the restoration of the Roman republic. However, losing his nerve, Lucius soon headed north, hoping to join forces with Antony’s generals, whom Fulvia had summoned from Gaul—but, divided by rivalries of their own, uncertain of Antony’s wishes and distrustful of Lucius and Fulvia, they did not come.

Outmaneuvered by Octavian’s forces, Lucius and his supporters, including a number of Antony’s Italian-based commanders and their legionaries, withdrew into the ancient Etruscan rock fortress of Perusia (Perugia) north of Rome, where Octavian laid siege to them. A relentless blockade followed during which Octavian’s forces girdled Perusia with a rampart seven miles in circumference containing fifteen hundred wooden siege towers.

Octavian focused his ire and his irony on Fulvia. After all, what better way to make Antony look ridiculous? The poet Martial preserved some lines of an obscene epigram by Octavian taunting Fulvia over Antony’s affair with Glaphyra of Cappadocia and accusing her of waging war with Octavian as a surrogate for sex. They include:

Glaphyra’s fucked by Antony. Fulvia, therefore, claims

a balancing fuck from me. I hate such games.

She cries either let’s fuck or fight!

Doesn’t she know my prick is dearer to me than life. Let trumpets sound.

Slingshots recovered from the site show the depths of verbal vitriol to which the besiegers resorted and their hatred of Antony’s masterful and ambitious wife in particular. “Give it to Fulvia” was lewdly inscribed on one and “I am aiming at Fulvia’s cunt” on another.

The besieged within Perusia responded with slingshots inscribed with slogans such as “Greetings, Octavian, you suck prick” and “Octavian has a limp dick.” Soon, however, they began to starve. Lucius ordered the bodies of those who died of hunger to be buried, not burned, so that no smoke from funeral pyres should reveal his plight to Octavian. By late February 40, with no sign of any forces marching to his relief and after a final, desperate, unavailing sortie, Lucius surrendered Perusia.

Octavian ordered Perusia to be sacked but, before his victorious troops could rampage through its narrow streets, the city burned down, possibly after a citizen deliberately set fire to his house before killing himself. Octavian spared Lucius, not from compassion but because he judged it would be ill-advised to slay Antony’s brother. Instead, he made Lucius governor of Spain, where he died not long after. Octavian also shrewdly allowed Antony’s own soldiers to go free but executed all the members of Perusia’s city council except for one man who, as a juror in Rome, had voted to condemn Caesar’s murderers. Suetonius reported the belief of some writers that Octavian chose three hundred prisoners of equestrian or senatorial rank and offered them as human sacrifices on the ides of March at the altar to the divine god Julius Caesar in Rome, and Dio Cassius reported similar rumors. Yet, although early in his career Octavian showed he could be brutal, there is no hard evidence, such as the names of the dead, to support the allegations.

Fulvia, meanwhile, fled eastward with her children to find Antony. Perhaps jealousy of Cleopatra had incited her to reckless acts. She must have seen Cleopatra in Rome and known her to be a formidable rival. Now in her midforties, Fulvia also knew her husband’s susceptibility to younger, beautiful women—especially those endowed with the glamour of royalty. Appian alleged that Fulvia believed that “as long as Italy remained at peace Antony would stay with Cleopatra, but that if war should break out there he would come back speedily.” Therefore, “moved by a woman’s jealousy,” Fulvia had incited Antony’s brother to rebellion. Plutarch also thought sexual politics were at work, asserting that Antony learned from friends “that Fulvia had been the cause of the war, being by nature restless, meddling and headstrong, and hoping to tear Antony away from Cleopatra by stirring up commotion in Italy.”

Yet Fulvia was an experienced, sophisticated woman interested, above all, in power. If she was jealous of Cleopatra, it was not so much on a sexual level as on a political one. The Egyptian queen, in her scented, silk-hung palace in Alexandria, was distracting Antony from the business of governing and conquering. That winter of 41 to 40, it must have seemed as if Cleopatra had bewitched Antony. As Appian wrote, in Alexandria Antony had “laid aside the cares and duties of a general” and on falling under the Egyptian queen’s spell “Antony’s interest in public affairs began to dwindle.” Drugged with pleasure and excess, Antony had become oblivious to the real world. Some of his veterans had actually sought him out in Alexandria and tried to warn him of the crisis brewing in Italy, but he had ignored them. All this would have been deeply aggravating to a woman of Fulvia’s temperament, who had known Antony since his wild youth and hence knew his vulnerability to distracting temptations of the sort dangled by Cleopatra.

Fulvia probably believed that by supporting Lucius’ attempted coup she was being a loyal wife, saving Antony from himself, jolting him out of an inertia that in Roman eyes was one of the great vices of the East. In intervening actively on her present husband’s behalf, she was doing no more than she had when she sought vengeance for the murder of Clodius, rousing the crowds by showing his wounds. She was in some ways following in a long tradition of powerful Roman matrons including Servilia—Brutus’ mother and Caesar’s onetime mistress—and Caesar’s mother, Aurelia. But she was also breaking with convention. Despite the considerable freedom of well-born Roman women, there was still a belief that they should exercise their influence behind the scenes. By taking the initiative so publicly and in such a violent fashion—and, most importantly, because she failed—Fulvia, like Cleopatra in later years, laid herself open to attack and misrepresentation not only by contemporaries but also by later writers. Dio Cassius called Fulvia, not Lucius, the true inspirer of the uprising, alleging that, unlike any other Roman woman, she took a direct hand in military matters: “She girded herself with a sword, gave the passwords to the soldiers and often made speeches haranguing them.” Paterculus sneered that she “had nothing of the woman in her except her sex” and “was creating general confusion by armed violence.”

Antony probably shared the latter sentiment. Landing in Athens to be reunited with the crestfallen, distraught Fulvia, he learned at firsthand how she and his brother had deliberately destroyed his relationship with Octavian. He became furiously angry. Some would allege that he must have known what they were doing and was angered only by their failure, but there seems little logic to this. While he might have planned for the coup to take place during his time in the east, this would have been an obviously flawed strategy. Without the charismatic commander beloved by officers and soldiers alike present in person to lead it, any coup would have been unlikely to succeed.

Antony also found another of the strong-minded women in his life—his intelligent and politically astute mother, Julia—waiting for him in Athens. Now in her sixties, Julia had fled to Sextus Pompey in Sicily. After hurried negotiations, she had set off once more, this time to meet her son. With her she had brought two envoys from Sextus instructed to offer Antony an alliance with their leader. Antony, however, still shocked by the speed of events and his wife and brother’s inept interfering, was reluctant to take a step that would lead to an inevitable breach with Octavian. Instead he told the envoys that if Octavian was still adhering to the agreement reached after Philippi, he would do his utmost to reconcile Octavian and Sextus. Only if Octavian had renounced their pact would he ally himself with Sextus. Then, angrily denouncing Fulvia and his brother for the stupidity of their actions and refusing even to bid his wife good-bye, Antony left for Italy.

Fulvia, broken by events and ailing, was thus brutally abandoned to mourn her folly. The pregnant Cleopatra, watching from the sidelines, was forced once again to await the result of a Roman power struggle that would have profound implications for her future.

*Unfortunately, for some reason siliphum disappeared from the market in the middle of the first century AD and no one nowadays is quite sure what plant it was.

†A century later, the cook Epicurus celebrated the Egyptian bottle gourd in the following recipe for gourd Alexandrian fashion. Drain a boiled gourd, season with salt and arrange in a dish. Crush pepper, cumin, coriander seed, fresh mint and asafoetida root. Moisten with vinegar. Add caryota date and pine kernel; crush. Blend with honey, vinegar, fish sauce, concentrated grape juice and oil. Pour the whole over the gourd. Bring to a boil, season with pepper and serve.

*The ancient Egyptians also found a practical use for the cobra, fashioning condoms from its skin.

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