Literary daybook, Aug. 30

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published August 30, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On Aug. 30, Nickel goes to the Curl 'n Twirl where Mr. Pierre is doing her mother's hair.
-- "Bingo" (1988)
by Rita Mae Brown

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in literary history
On this day in 30 B.C., Cleopatra committed suicide. Cleopatra's response to losing Antony and Egypt to Rome was well-researched: Her desire for a painless death caused more than one unfortunate to be force-fed this or that drug or snake while the Queen made notes. As told in Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra," it was the Roman idea of entertainment that made death-by-asp so attractive in the first place:

"Nay, 'tis most certain, Iras: saucy lictors
Will catch at us, like strumpets; and scald rhymers
Ballad us out o' tune: the quick comedians
Extemporally will stage us, and present
Our Alexandrian revels; Antony
Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I' the posture of a whore."

Something of this sort must have already been happening at home. Those "Alexandrian revels" were so popular that Plutarch reports Antony and Cleopatra having formed a high-living club called the "Association of Inimitable Livers." This seems to be the target of a joke made by a 34 B.C. statue: The base reads, "Antony, the Great, lover without peer," and the figure, though not survived, can be imagined.

Shakespeare has such a joke carried in by his clown, who delivers the suicide asps, buried in a basket of figs, with the hope that the Queen have "joy o' the worm." Cleopatra was last in the 300-year line of Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt; her final speech shows her rising regally above such snickers:

"Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have
Immortal longings in me: now no more
The juice of Egypt's grape shall moist this lip:
Yare, yare, good Iras; quick. Methinks I hear
Antony call; I see him rouse himself
To praise my noble act; I hear him mock
The luck of Caesar, which the gods give men
To excuse their after wrath: husband, I come:
Now to that name my courage prove my title!
I am fire and air; my other elements
I give to baser life ..."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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