Caesar and Cleopatra
Cleopatra's sousing in the east harbor of Alexandria was in October 48 B. C. In
March 47 she is passing the afternoon in her boudoir in the palace, among a
bevy of her ladies, listening to a slave girl who is playing the harp in the middle of
the room. The harpist's master, an old musician, with a lined face, prominent
brows, white beard, moustache and eyebrows twisted and horned at the ends,
and a consciously keen and pretentious expression, is squatting on the floor
close to her on her right, watching her performance. Ftatateeta is in attendance
near the door, in front of a group of female slaves. Except the harp player all are
seated: Cleopatra in a chair opposite the door on the other side of the room; the
rest on the ground. Cleopatra's ladies are all young, the most conspicuous being
Charmian and Iras, her favorites. Charmian is a hatchet faced, terra cotta colored
little goblin, swift in her movements, and neatly finished at the hands and feet.
Iras is a plump, goodnatured creature, rather fatuous, with a profusion of red hair,
and a tendency to giggle on the slightest provocation.
CLEOPATRA. Can I--
FTATATEETA (insolently, to the player). Peace, thou! The Queen speaks. (The
CLEOPATRA (to the old musician). I want to learn to play the harp with my own
hands. Caesar loves music. Can you teach me?
MUSICIAN. Assuredly I and no one else can teach the Queen. Have I not
discovered the lost method of the ancient Egyptians, who could make a pyramid
tremble by touching a bass string? All the other teachers are quacks: I have
exposed them repeatedly.
CLEOPATRA. Good: you shall teach me. How long will it take?
MUSICIAN. Not very long: only four years. Your Majesty must first become
proficient in the philosophy of Pythagoras.
CLEOPATRA. Has she (indicating the slave) become proficient in the philosophy
MUSICIAN. Oh, she is but a slave. She learns as a dog learns.
CLEOPATRA. Well, then, I will learn as a dog learns; for she plays better than
you. You shall give me a lesson every day for a fortnight. (The musician hastily
scrambles to his feet and bows profoundly.) After that, whenever I strike a false
note you shall be flogged; and if I strike so many that there is not time to flog you,