Literary daybook, Aug. 30

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

the Salon Books Editors
August 30, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

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


- - - - - - - - - - -

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.

the Salon Books Editors

MORE FROM the Salon Books Editors

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Richard Blumenthal


Read Now, Pay Later - no upfront
registration for 1-Hour Access

Click Here
7-Day Access and Monthly
Subscriptions also available
No tracking or personal data collection
beyond name and email address


Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •