Whether Antony were serious or mirthful, she had at the instant some new delight or some new charm to meet his wishes. At every turn she was with him both day and night. With him she threw dice; with him she drank; with him she hunted; and when he exercised himself in arms she was there to admire and applaud.
At night the pair would disguise themselves as servants and wander about the streets of Alexandria. In fact, more than once they were set upon in the slums and treated roughly by the rabble who did not recognize them. Cleopatra was always alluring, always tactful, often humorous, and full of frolic.
Then came the shock of Antony’s final breach with Octavian. Either Antony or his rival must rule the world. Cleopatra’s lover once more became the Roman general, and with a great fleet proceeded to the coast of Greece, where his enemy was encamped. Antony had raised a hundred and twelve thousand troops and five hundred ships—a force far superior to that commanded by Octavian. Cleopatra was there with sixty ships.
In the days that preceded the final battle much took place which still remains obscure. It seems likely that Antony desired to become again the Roman, while Cleopatra wished him to thrust Rome aside and return to Egypt with her, to reign there as an independent king. To her Rome was almost a barbarian city. In it she could not hold sway as she could in her beautiful Alexandria, with its blue skies and velvet turf and tropical flowers. At Rome Antony would be distracted by the cares of state, and she would lose her lover. At Alexandria she would have him for her very own.
The clash came when the hostile fleets met off the promontory of Actium. At its crisis Cleopatra, prematurely concluding that the battle was lost, of a sudden gave the signal for retreat and put out to sea with her fleet. This was the crucial moment. Antony, mastered by his love, forgot all else, and in a swift ship started in pursuit of her, abandoning his fleet and army to win or lose as fortune might decide. For him the world was nothing; the dark-browed Queen of Egypt, imperious and yet caressing, was everything. Never was such a prize and never were such great hopes thrown carelessly away. After waiting seven days Antony’s troops, still undefeated, finding that their commander would not return to them, surrendered to Octavian, who thus became the master of an empire.
Later his legions assaulted Alexandria, and there Antony was twice defeated. At last Cleopatra saw her great mistake. She had made her lover give up the hope of being Rome’s dictator, but in so doing she had also lost the chance of ruling with him tranquilly in Egypt. She shut herself behind the barred doors of the royal sepulcher; and, lest she should be molested there, she sent forth word that she had died. Her proud spirit could not brook the thought that she might be seized and carried as a prisoner to Rome. She was too much a queen in soul to be led in triumph up the Sacred Way to the Capitol with golden chains clanking on her slender wrists.