three pairs of lovers with space

ON THE ALEXANDRINE WAR, 48-47 BC

 

The Alexandrine War was the struggle in Alexandria between the legions of the Roman dictator Julius Caesar and the Egyptian army that broke out in September 48 BC and lasted until January 47.

The history of the war was written within a few years of its end by an unknown author. The historian Suetonius, writing in AD 121, said opinion was divided as to whether he was Caesar’s friend C. Oppius or Aulus Hirtius.

Only one passage in On The Alexandrine War is of any Greek love interest, and its interest is only implicit, resting on the strong emotional bond indicated between the fifty-two year old Caesar and Ptolemy XIII, the thirteen-year-old King of Egypt.[1] Ptolemy and his famous twenty-one-year-old sister Kleopatra had both been in the custody of Caesar, who had decided to settle their dispute for their dead father’s crown. The passage in question raises the possibility that until Ptolemy left Caesar’s camp, he and his sister had been vying romantically for the great man’s favour. In this respect, it should be noted that this Egyptian royal family were Greek in blood, language and mostly in culture.

This interpretation has been brought to life in a fine novel, The Judgment of Caesar by Steven Saylor (2004), wherein Caesar is torn between the siblings and Ptolemy’s turning against him is presented as anguish over a misguided belief that his sister had already won the battle for Caesar’s heart.[2]

The translation is by A. C. Way in the Loeb Classical Library volume CCCII (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1955).

Marble bust of Julius Caesar 44/30 BC
Young Pharaoh by Pierre Joubert

 

 

 

 

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Following successes by Caesar’s troops, the Egyptian army fighting him requested him to release King Ptolemy, who was in his custody.  They promised they would then stop fighting Caesar if the King bid them to. …

Though Caesar was well aware that they [the Egyptians] were a deceitful race, always pretending something different from their real intentions, yet he decided that it was expedient to satisfy their plea for clemency, since, if their demands in any way reflected their feelings, then he believed the king would remain loyal when released; but if, on the other hand, they wanted to have the king to lead them with a view to waging the war—and that was more in keeping with their character—then he thought there would be greater honour and distinction for him in waging war against a king than against a motley collection of refugees. Accordingly, he urged the king to take thought for the kingdom of his fathers, to have pity on his most illustrious country, shamefully scarred as it was by fire and desolation, to recall his citizens to sanity first and then to preserve them therein, and to prove his loyalty to the Roman people and to Caesar, inasmuch as Caesar himself had such faith in him that he was sending him to join an enemy under arms. Then, grasping his right hand in his own, Caesar made to take leave of the boy—already grown to manhood. But the royal mind, schooled in all the lessons of utter deceit, was loth to fall short of the customary standards of his race; and so with tears he proceeded to beseech Caesar to the opposite effect not to send him away: his very kingdom, he declared, was not more pleasing to him than the sight of Caesar. Checking the lad’s tears, albeit not unmoved himself, Caesar declared that, if that was the way he felt, they would speedily be reunited, and so sent him back to his people. Like a horse released from the starting-gate and given his head, the king proceeded to wage war against Caesar so energetically that the tears he had shed at their conference seemed to have been tears of joy. Not a few of Caesar’s officers and friends and many of the centurions and soldiers were delighted at this turn of events, inasmuch as Caesar’s over-generosity had, they felt, been made fun of by the deceitful tricks of a boy. As if indeed it was merely generosity and not the most far-sighted strategy which had led him to do it! Caesar etsi fallacem gentem semperque alia cogitantem, alia simulantem bene cognitam habebat, tamen petentibus dare veniam utile esse statuit, quod, si quo pacto sentirent ea quae postularent, mansurum in fide dimissum regem credebat, sin, id quod magis illorum naturae conveniebat, ducem ad bellum gerendum regem habere vellent, splendidius atque honestius se contra regem quam contra convenarum ac fugitivorum manum bellum esse gesturum. Itaque regem cohortatus ut consuleret regno paterno, parceret praeclarissimae patriae, quae turpibus incendiis et ruinis esset deformata, civis suos primum ad sanitatem revocaret, deinde conservaret, fidem populo Romano sibique praestaret, cum ipse tantum ei crederet ut ad hostis armatos eum mitteret, dextra dextram tenens dimittere coepit adulta iam aetate puerum. At regius animus disciplinis fallacissimis eruditus, ne a gentis suae moribus degeneraret, flens orare contra Caesarem coepit ne se dimitteret: non enim sibi regnum ipsum conspectu Caesaris esse iucundius. Compressis pueri lacrimis Caesar ipse commotus celeriter, si illa sentiret, fore eum secum adfirmans ad suos dimisit. Ille, ut ex carceribus in liberum cursum emissus, adeo contra Caesarem acriter bellum gerere coepit ut lacrimas quas in colloquio proiecerat gaudio videretur profudisse. Accidisse hoc complures Caesaris legati, amici, centuriones militesque laetabantur, quod nimia bonitas eius fallaciis pueri elusa esset. Quasi vero id Caesar bonitate tantum adductus ac non prudentissimo consilio fecisset. 

 

Alexandria by Rado Javor

[1] Appian, Civil Wars II 84 says Ptolemy was thirteen in September 48 BC.

[2] Saylor presents Ptolemy as aged 15, believing mistakenly that there is no evidence as to his real age.