The Death of Cleopatra VII in Horace Ode I.37

Cleopatra VII Philopatar in Horace Odes I.37

Translated by Steven Willett


Note: The first photo shows the head of Cleopatra VII in a Roman sculpture of the mid-first century BC about the time of her visit to Rome in 46~44BC. The second photo is an early first-century AD fresco from Pompeii that shows her red hair and ornaments.

She and Anthony were defeated at the Battle of Acticum (31BC) off the west coast of Greece and retreated to Alexandria. When Octavian defeated their land forces and entered Alexandria, they committed suicide, Cleopatra by poison (not a snake) and Anthony by a sword to his stomach.

Horace makes a subtle shift in the course of the ode from Roman triumph and Cleopatra's ignominious defeat to her glorious death.



220px-Cleopatra_VII _40-30_BCE;_Altes_Museum _Berlin_(1)_(28399854659)_(cropped)



To drinking now, now all to the nimble foot
that beats the earth, now friends, now at last it’s time
to heap the festive couches deep with
   Salian feasts for the gods’ enjoyment.

Before this day, to break out the Caecuban
from our ancestral cellars had been a crime,
while that demented queen was working
   havoc to Capitol, death to Empire

with her polluted mob of retainers whom
disease alone made men-unrestrained in all
her impotence of fancied power and
   drunk on sweet fortune. But seeing scarcely

a single ship come out of the flames intact
subdued her rage, and Caesar impelled a mind
distraught on Mareotic wine to
   tangible terrors, pursuing closely

by oar her flight from Italy, even as
the hawk a gentle dove or the hunter, swift
in chase, a hare across the plains of
   snow-mantled Thessaly, keen to put chains

around a monster laden with doom: one who,
intent to die more nobly, had nothing of
a woman’s fear before the sword nor
   fled by swift fleet to a secret border,

audacious still to gaze on her humbled court
with tranquil face, and valiant enough to take
the scaly asps in hand, that she might
   drink with her body their deadly venom,

ferocious all the more in her studied death;
she was indeed disdaining to let the fierce
Liburnian ships lead her dethroned, no
   humble woman, to glorious triumph.





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6 Responses to The Death of Cleopatra VII in Horace Ode I.37

  1. Deap says:

    Cleopatra: A Life by Schiff (2011) is a fabulous read. Good way to transcend our now endless “lockdown” temps perdu . Underscores fake news about historical figures also transcends 2000 years.
    What was it about this woman that still makes us want to talk about her 2000 years later? Remembering the ancient Egyptian proscription – a man dies twice. Once when he leaves this earthly realm, and second when no one mentions his name again.
    Cleopatra still rattles in our brains, even today. Therefore, she still lives.
    Thanks Steven, for grounding us once again in human nature: not just contemporary hubris.

  2. Alves says:

    Russia will need to inoculate 100 million or more of its citizens if it wants to see COVID-19 really gone as a pandemy, and that does not even take into account the newer strains that spread with more easy.
    I wish them luck and I am not being ironical.

  3. Fourth and Long says:

    Anthony was a piece of work if ever there was one.
    In my opinion a truly depraved couple. But Roman writings I read may have been intended as propaganda. Can’t see how not otherwise. Once more, commendation to the presentation and presenter.
    Murat Thagelegov – Ukradet y Pozovet (Steal and Call):
    Same Murat – Kazanova:
    Caucasian music will either utterly blow your mind or you haven’t one. Murat sings in Russian.

  4. jerseycityjoan says:

    I think people of a certain age are fascinated by Cleopatra due to the Elizabeth Taylor connection. Do 20 year olds today know who she is?
    She is not held up as a early woman of power, as far as I know. They are going to make a movie with Gal Gidot from the ridiculous Wonder Woman playing her, though. So maybe there will be another generation interested in her. But does she even deserve our interest? What did she do to make the lives of Egyptians better?

  5. Steven Willett says:

    In response to jerseycityjoan, may I recommend the following highly detailed article on the life of Cleopatra VII:
    The following review by archeology professor Joann Fletcher at the University of York lays out Cleopatra’s legacy. Here’s her summary: “In Rome’s version of events, the noble, masculine west had defeated the corrupt and feminised east – and the misogyny and racism present in such ‘fake news’ still distorts our modern world. Yet the evidence reveals that, despite being misrepresented for over 2,000 years, the real Cleopatra was a consummate politician, gifted scholar and inspirational leader – a true role model for our own times in which powerful women still generate hostility and are still far too rare.”

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