I was searching with Fivos for an illustrious character that lived in Palaipolis during the Roman Era. “No one known,” he tells me. In fact, barely anything is known of the city’s history. The only character tied to the Roman Kythira was called Evrikles.
It was at a time in Egypt when Cleopatra and Mark Anthony were the picture of love, or at least pretended to be… What did the Queen of Egypt look like? No one really knows the look of this woman, one of history’s greatest seductresses. She likely had Greek features, as on her father’s side, she was 100% Greek, as well as African features, as it was rumoured her mother was a black slave.
Whatever the case, as with all great seductresses, she may not have been a perfect beauty. But she didn’t need to be to seduce all the men around her.
She was in her thirties at that time. Mark Anthony, the Roman general and master of half of the Empire, was himself well into his forties. With his strong physique and aquiline nose, he made for the perfect Roman bust.
He met Cleopatra when he went to Egypt with Caesar, twenty or so years earlier. The Queen would have been 15 years old at the time but was already a master of trickery.
She had bewildered Caesar who was quite young and not known for his interest in women. She had had her brother and co-ruler assassinated. She then “married” Caesar, gave him a son, and thus ensured her control over Egypt.
Mark Anthony met her again sometime after when she arrived in Rome to visit her husband-lover. Possibly encouraged by the Queen, Caesar was considering establishing a monarchy when he was murdered.
Cleopatra left for Egypt, wondering what would now become of her. The Empire was split between Caesar’s nephew Octavius, who was given the West, and the dictator’s favourite general, Mark Anthony, who was awarded the East.
He had summoned to Tarsus in Cilicia, a city located in what is today the southern west coast of Turkey, the rulers of the region that was under the heavy Roman hand. They all rushed to the city.
Queen Cleopatra eclipsed them all with her resplendent emergence on a great river barge in gold and purple. She invited Mark Anthony to a luxurious banquet the likes of which had never been seen before. The cunning Queen knew exactly how to flatter the vain general.
She bewildered him just as she had bewildered Caesar. They became lovers, destined to become one of history’s most celebrated couples. But, was it passion they had between them, or perhaps something more calculated? Cleopatra needed a master of the Roman Empire to consolidate her throne and protect Egypt. Mark Anthony himself needed Cleopatra and access to Egypt’s inexhaustible treasures.
Having become accomplices rather than lovers, they embarked on the conquest of anywhere that did not yet belong to Rome. They became more and more powerful, enough to worry Octavius, the empire’s other ruler.
The friendship between Octavius and Mark Anthony degenerated into an increasingly open rivalry. A civil war broke out between Octavius’ and Mark Anthony’s camps.
The two men, each the head of whatever military force he was able to assemble, found themselves face to face in the east of modern-day Greece, not far from the city of Preveza, for a naval battle that would prove to be definitive. Out of this conflict, one of the two would emerge victoriously and become the master of the entire Roman Empire, and the other would be utterly defeated and destined to disappear.
Mark Anthony had a superior fleet. His 300 warships were joined by a further 200 of Cleopatra’s, who had come to show her support in person. But he was no longer the excellent general he used to be, softened by the life of pleasures that Cleopatra had introduced him to, and there were divisions in his camp.
Octavius only had 400 warships, but his troops were much more determined and he had available to him an admirable strategist, Agrippa.
And thus, the battle commenced. Very quickly, Octavius gained the advantage in the chaos of burning vessels and floating corpses in the sea. Cleopatra was the first to realise that the battle was lost. Without wasting time, she ordered her 60 vessels that were still intact to abandon the battlefield and follow her, bringing along her treasure as well. She wanted to save whatever could still be saved.
Anthony, seeing this, simply deserted. He boarded the flagship Adonia, and fled in pursuit of Cleopatra, only to realise he too was being pursued. A trireme of Octavius’ fleet had left behind the battlefield where Anthony’s troops had just been drowned and massacred, and chased him at full steam.
Anthony observed that the enemy’s galley launched in his pursuit was gaining ground and getting dangerously close to his flagship. But what did this isolated ship want from him? Soon enough, he noticed what looked like the commander of the ship, holding a javelin in his hand, aimed at him.
The ships were by now practically side by side. Anthony, more and more surprised, picked up his speaking-trumpet and addressed his adversary, “Why are you pursuing Anthony? Who are you?” The response came forthwith, “I am Evrikles, son of Laharos, the Spartan that you killed.”
In a flash, Anthony remembered. When he was in Sparta, he had indeed tried the aforementioned Laharos, a prominent figure, the head of a clan that took expeditious measures to show its strength. For the Spartans, this was a matter of tradition, while for the Romans who imposed Roman lex on the entire empire, this was gangster-like behaviour, pure and simple.
Laharos was judged, found guilty, and condemned by Anthony to death by dismemberment. And here was the son of Laharos, Evrikles, only a few meters away from Anthony, ready to pierce him with his javelin.
However, Mark Anthony’s vessel was faster than Evrikles. At the last minute, he managed to outdistance his adversary. Evrikles quickly realised the chase was useless and gave it up.
Anthony reached Egypt, arriving in Alexandria. He learned that Cleopatra had locked herself in the mausoleum she had had constructed to serve as her tomb. He wanted to see her. Cleopatra had him told she was dead. And so, a despairing Anthony took his own life by falling on his sword.
Octavius, victorious and at the head of his fleet, arrived in Alexandria as well. Cleopatra came out of her mausoleum and received him. She applied the same seductive skills that secured her Caesar and Mark Anthony successively, but Octavius, a glacial adversary little bothered by sex, was immune to her charms which slid off him like rain on duck feathers.
He threatened to take her to Rome chained to his chariot, so that she might signal his triumph. Cleopatra returned to her mausoleum, locked herself inside, and killed herself by having a venomous snake bite her.
Meanwhile, Octavius, the sole and indisputable master of the Empire, was recompensing those who had supported him and aided him in his triumph. He named Evrikles head of the Spartans, and in fact master of the Peloponnese, and gave him the island of Kythira as his own personal property. Evrikles effectively became a sort of prince of Kythira.
Octavius became Augustus, master of the greatest empire on earth. Having reached the pinnacle of glory, and perhaps involuntarily disconcerted by the dramatic fall of two masters, Anthony and Cleopatra, he worried about his succession, and went to Delphi to the temple of Pythia.
Under this name, a succession of oracles had operated since the beginning of time, predicting the future to the world’s greatest in exchange for enormous emoluments. The Pythia used allusions, metaphors and ambiguity when responding to questions posed by visitors. One who wanted to comprehend the premonitions would comprehend them, or rather, the premonitions could be understood however one wanted.
When the almighty emperor appeared before Pythia inquiring about the identity of his successor, she took her time, chewing on some bay leaves as was her habit, and allowing the fragrant and mildly hallucinogenic fumes that wafted from a hole in the ground to envelope and inspire her, and then she responded:
“A Hebrew child who reigns among the dead orders me to abandon this place and go immediately to Hades*, leaving silence on our altars.”
Did Augustus understand a word of this strange prediction that nevertheless would prove to be so accurate?
To be continued …