When Cæsar at length came to Egypt with his army, he landed at Pelusium. Before the soldiers had rested after the fatigue of their journey, Antony fell upon them and won a slight victory, which encouraged him to face a general battle.
The night before the battle, he feasted with his friends, in gayer mood than since his flight from Actium, for now he hoped to conquer or to die honourably on the battlefield.
Early in the morning he led his infantry to a position from which he could see his fleet, for he believed that two battles would be fought that day, one on sea and one on land.
But to his dismay, as his fleet drew near to Cæsar's vessels, he saw that his men saluted the enemy and then joined it. A moment later his cavalry also went over to Cæsar's army, while his infantry was soon after utterly beaten.
Crushed and humiliated, Antony tried to escape on board a vessel, but finding that he was watched by the enemy he stabbed himself to death. Such, say the history books, was the sad end of Mark Antony, but Plutarch, who writes his life, tells us of his last days in another way.
After his defeat, Plutarch says that Antony went back to Alexandria, complaining that he had been betrayed by Cleopatra into the hands of Cæsar.
His anger against the queen was so fierce that she was afraid and hastened to shut herself into the mausoleum or tomb which she had built in preparation for her death.
She then bade servants go tell Antony that she was dead. Such tidings would, she knew, speedily change his anger into sorrow.
But she had not stayed to think to what desperate step his grief might drive Antony. He no sooner believed that she was dead, than he determined that he too would die.
"I am not troubled, Cleopatra," he said, "to be at present bereaved of you, for I shall soon be with you, but it distresses me that so great a general should be found of a tardier courage than a woman." Then he called his servant Eros, who had sworn to put him to death when he should demand it, and bade him now fulfil his promise. Silently the faithful servant drew his sword, not to kill his master—that he found he could not do—but to slay himself.
When Antony saw that his servant was dead, he cried, "It is well done, Eros; you show your master how to do what you had not the heart to do yourself." He then threw himself upon his sword, but the wound did not at once cause his death.
As Antony lay dying upon his couch, a messenger came from Cleopatra to tell him that she was not dead, but alive and in the mausoleum.
The dying man begged to be taken to her, and his servants carried him to the door of the tomb.
Then the queen, looking out of her window, saw him lying below wounded and near to death.
She had only her two women Iras and Charmian with her, and so, instead of tarrying to open the heavy door with its numerous bolts, she let down cords from the window.
When these had been fastened round Antony, Cleopatra and her two women, slowly and painfully pulled up the wounded man and dragged him through the window into the mausoleum.
Gently the queen laid Antony on her bed and wept over him, calling him her Emperor and her Lord.
But Antony, after drinking a little wine, bade her not to mourn for him, for he had "fallen not ignobly, a Roman by a Roman overcome." With these words upon his lips he died.
When Cæsar heard of the death of Antony, he wept, for he thought of the many dangers that they had shared together, and of the friendship that Octavia had tried to foster between them.
Then he quickly sent one of his officers named Proculeius to Cleopatra, bidding him see that she was safe, for he still cherished the wish to take her alive to Rome, that she might adorn his triumph.
When he reached the door of the mausoleum Proculeius found that it was barred, so he took a ladder, fixed it on to the window and climbed up, and entered the room before the queen was aware.
"Miserable Cleopatra, you are taken prisoner," cried one of her women.
Then quick as lightning the queen drew a dagger which she had hidden in her dress, and would have stabbed herself had not Proculeius seized her hands, at the same time reproaching her for not trusting Cæsar to prove a generous foe.
He then took away the dagger, and shook her clothes lest she had hidden poison in them.
A few days later, Cæsar himself came to see the queen. She, grown wise since the visit of Proculeius, deceived him, making him believe that she had now no desire save to live. So artful was she that she told Cæsar that she had kept some of her treasures that she might have gifts to bestow on Livia his wife and on Octavia his sister, when she went to Rome. Then Cæsar left her, satisfied that she would yet adorn his triumph.
Now by the queen's desire, a basket of figs was brought to her from the country.
The guards stopped the countryman who brought it to the gate of the mausoleum, asking to see the contents of his basket.
He, pushing aside the leaves that lay on the top, showed them the figs. The men admired their size, and bade him take them to the queen.
But at the foot of the basket, although the guards did not suspect it, there lay concealed under the fruit, an asp, whose bite was deadly poison.
When Cleopatra had the basket safe in her possession, she wrote to Cæsar to beg that she might be buried beside Antony. Then she bade her women array her in her royal robes and set her diadems upon her head.
And when this was done she lifted the asp from the basket and placed it upon her arm.
No sooner did the queen's letter reach Cæsar, than he sent in great haste to the mausoleum, for he feared that Cleopatra had found a way to die, although she had neither poison nor a dagger in her possession.
When Cæsar's messengers reached the guards, they asked if all was well. "All is well," answered the soldiers, but "when they had opened the door they found Cleopatra stark-dead, laid upon a bed of gold, attired and arrayed in her royal robes, and one of her women, called Iras, dead at her feet, but her other woman, called Charmian, half dead and trembling, trimming the diadem which Cleopatra wore upon her head.
One of the soldiers seeing her, angrily said unto her, "Is this well done, Charmian?"
"Very well," she said again, "meet for a princess descended from the race of so many noble kings." She said no more, but fell down dead, hard by the bed.
The queen's last request was granted, for she was buried with royal splendour by the side of Antony.