I love a parade!

Stacy Schieff’s novel about Cleopatra is an excellent read!

Excerpt from the book:

The postwar festivities would certainly have included a victory procession, presumably down the Canopic Way.  Cleopatra needed to unite her people, to assert her political supremacy, and to cement her claim over her detractors.  Alexandria had long been a city of parades and pageantry, displays in which the wealth of the Ptolemies surpassed even the recreational fervor of their subjects.  Centuries earlier a Dionysian procession had introduced gilded twenty-foot floats to the city streets, each requiring 180 men to coax it along.  Purple-painted satyrs and gold-garlanded nymphs followed, along with allegorical representations of kings, gods, cities, season.  A center of mechanical marvels, Alexandria boasted automatic doors and hydraulic lifts, hidden treadmills and coin-operated machines.  With invisible wires, siphons, pulleys, and magnets the Ptolemies could work miracles.  Fire erupted and died down; lights flickered from statues’ eyes; trumpets blared spontaneously.  For the early procession, the city’s ingenious metalworkers outdid themselves:  A fifteen-foot tall statue in a yellowed spangled tunic floated through the streets.  She rose to her full height, poured offerings of milk, then magically reseated herself, enthralling the crowds.  Around her the air was thick with the buzz of anticipation, the murmurs of admiration, the music of flutes.  Clouds of incense–essentially moneyed air–settled on the spectators, for whom the burnished wonders continued: golden torch carriers, chests of frankincense and myrrh, gilded palm trees, grapevines, breastplates, shields, statues, basins, gold-adorned oxen.  Atop one cart, sixty satyrs trampled grapes, singing as they did so, accompanied by pipers.  Vast skins disgorged scented wine into the streets; the air was sweetened first by incense, again by those fragrant streams, a heady combination.  Attendants released doves and pigeons over the course of the procession, each with ribbons dangling from its feet.  A display of animals was obligatory for the subjects who had traveled to Alexandria and pitched tents for miles around.  The third-century procession had included troops of decorated donkeys; elephants shod with gold embroidered slippers; teams of oryxes, leopards, peacocks, enormous lions, an Ethiopian rhinoceros, ostriches, an albino bear, 2,400 dogs.  Camels carried loads of saffron and cinnamon.  Behind them paraded 200 bulls with gilded horns.  Lyre players followed, along with 57,000 infantry and 23,000 cavalry in full armor.  Cleopatra would not have had those battalions but would all the same have mustered an extravagant display.  The point was to advertise oneself, among monarchs, as “the shrewdest amasser of wealth, the most splendid spendthrift, and the most magnificent in all works.”  Affluence, power, and legitimacy were inextricably found together.  Especially after the convulsions of the previous decades, it was essential that she confirm her authority.

Canopic Way – Alexandria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: