BA English Hons
II – B
Paper IV Project
The Effects of the Affair of Caesar and Cleopatra on Calpurnia
After Hatshepsut, Cleopatra was the only Queen of Egypt who was seriously referred to as “Pharaoh”. The torrid love affair between one of the highest regarded Queens in history and that of the phenomenal Julius Caesar is considered to be one of the most romantic and grand ones in the world. Cecil B. Demille seems to agree in the trailer to his 1934 film "Cleopatra". Maybe this notion is true after all, but when falling head over heels with the idea of this romance, one tends to overlook many disreputable components of the affair. One of those elements if looked upon practically serves to radically reduce the grandeur of the torrid romance, and that is of the ill-treatment of Caesar’s wife Calpurnia. Sadly, audiences, readers, historians, poets, basically all lovers of the arts, rarely have a problem ignoring or throwing aside the plight of Calpurnia, and Caesar and Cleopatra aren’t usually looked upon with negativity. People probably choose to neglect the casual throwing aside of Calpurnia in an attempt to reduce the guilt felt by those who are starry-eyed with the apparent glamour of the love affair between Caesar and Cleopatra. I strongly feel that the people who are surrounded by this “glamour” ought to realize and be aware of Calpurnia’s situation. History is filled with extra marital affairs, but how often do we stop to think of the abandoned “Other”? If one just pauses to give attention to the woman thrown aside, one realizes that the affair that appears to be so grand may not be so grand after all. -------------------------------------------------
Of the feeble little that we know of history, we are told that Calpurnia was married to Caesar for twelve years. Even though the marriage was a political one, Calpurnia had a caring attitude towards Caesar which proves an attachment, and invokes a respect in their relationship. The most significant of her twelve years that is known to the current world, is the care she exhibited towards her husband in the last few days before his assassination, even though she was fully aware of Caesar’s adultery. Arthur Kahn in his narrative The Education of Julius Caesar says that “Caesar had grown gaunt and haggard as he lost the support of his colleagues in the Roman Senate. In his final days he often stared into space and spoke with little coherence. In his time of need Calpurnia glued herself to his bedside and although Caesar could not make conversation with anyone, Calpurnia listened attentively as he recited Homer's poems of Odysseus after he had returned home to Penelope.”(1) This paints a picture of the dependence of Caesar on his faithful Roman wife in greatest needs.
In William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Calpurnia begs Caesar not to attend the Senate as she fears for his life. She speaks of a nightmare that has tormented her: Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,
Yet now they fright me. There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn'd, and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
O Caesar! these things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them.
- Julius Caesar 2.2.22-26
This intuitive nightmare is evidently a sign of Calpurnia’s love for Caesar. She goes on to elaborate on her worry for him by wailing at his feet and requesting him to stay indoors with her: Do not go forth to-day: call it my fear
That keeps you in the house, and not your own.