woman with balls
interesting the things a reader can miss when squeezing together
so much, even selectively, from the depths of literature.
I read "Antony and Cleopatra" immediately after cramming
down Virgils "Aeneid," and did my best to maintain
a critically thoughtful perspective on both. Yet, still I have to
be told the obvious, to have it explained to me like a child.
Antony, by every measure, amounted to a mighty ruler of Rome (one-third
of Rome in the first or second century B.C. counted as quite an
empire by itself). Antony held in his command a full 500 armed vessels,
100,000 foot soldiers and 12,000 horse. Speaking in Roman terms,
this meant a great deal of power.
There are those who thought him just as capable of taking over
the world as Octavius, even if less eager to do so. Standing in
the right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) place in time,
one might see this course as inevitable. Few Roman leaders have
kept themselves in check while holding on to so much power.
But Antony finds himself distracted by Cleopatra. Oh, woe is me!
The Egyptian Goddess! Aye, the very same woman who captured the
heart of tragic Caesar. Surely this must be the fallout from yet
another confrontation between the very mightiest of gods.
That the Herculean Antony was held in sway by the most powerful
woman of her time can mean nothing more than that sweet Venus has
once again let her Latin feast be conquered by his appetite
for a while, at least. Only this time the love has grown too thick
Cleopatra is no weak and weeping willow to fall upon grassy blades
at her lovers departure. No indeed! The bitch has the gall
to stay alive, to wait out her Latin boys flaky whims, to
let him sate his inconstancy in the hope nay, the expectation
that he will return.
And whence finally she does suicide, it is not only for loss of
Antony. It requires the demolition of an entire world her
home, her power and her self-respect in addition to Antonys
death to conquer this very singular woman.
Im not digging very deep here, and yet even just this much
had to be given to me with a leading line: "Explore the parallels
between Aeneas and Dido and Antony and Cleopatra. Does the latter
speculate on the potential latent in the former?"
It was a topic given for a graduate seminar and I found it online.
The rest strikes me as inevitably obvious.
Dido, ever the impetuous and melodramatic reactionary, insists
that death is the only answer to a broken heart, and so races off
to join her first beloved in the underworld. How absolutely unimaginative.
Why not, instead, sneak onto the boat and force Aeneas to take her
along? Why not build those promised ships and sail after him? Instead
of magical ships, it might have been valiant Dido, queen and founder
of Carthage, to give Aeneas his holy victory.
But, alas, instead its the gas, and Dido becomes one of historys
more nefarious inspirations for our ages dear Sylvia. Dido
could have been the Helen of the Aeneid, but instead she attempts
to play Media and falls far short of the role. Perhaps if she'd
given the man some sons she might have had something to sacrifice,
something with which to leave a scar. As it turns out, Aeneas does
not appear too put-out after his apologetic quip in the underworld.
But none of this for mighty Cleopatra. When Jove on high commands
his man home (again, with a messenger), Antony jumps failing
even to ask how high. Antony puts his running shoes on and sprints
off to fated Rome, a marriage of state, and solidifies his claim
on one-third of that world's greatest empire.
Cleopatra weeps. Sure. But she does not despair. Given enough time,
even Enobarbus trusts that Antony cant help but return. Besides,
Cleopatra has a kingdom to rule, and no pretty boy is going to turn
her from that great responsibility.
Of course, one could ask what is gained, ultimately, with this
divergence from one fate to another. Is it satiated lust? Or some
few bittersweet moments of happiness before both take Friar Lawrences
mistaken jest, his tomfoolery meant to mock death and failing utterly?
Is it worth it?
The question holds more substance than one at first glance might
To answer, first I need to ask what Antony thought of love. Is
it the lustful drive for bodily pleasure, like that which drives
pubescent Romeo to an early grave? Or can it include something of
that ultimate friendship of which I am told in classic times only
men with men could have?
Here Cleopatra, a woman of strength, of wit, of cunning and skill
and a lifetime of power, a woman every bit playing the part of a
man a woman with balls serves as a possible exception,
though it may be heresy to speak it, to the classical rule.
Could it be possible that they had, with their love, just that
sort of bond with which none other compares? A true friendship,
like that among the very closest of men? A love managing to be simultaneously
both heterosexual and homosocial?
If this is the case, then the latter, I think, is a preferable
Let Aeneas have his lineage of kings. Instead, I want Antonys
feet, and even just 10 more minutes with glorious Cleopatra.