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golden barge

Plutarch describes the magnificent sight of Cleopatra in her barge, on the way to meet Mark Antony. The passage is followed closely by Shakespeare in the famous speech by Enobarbus, in Antony and Cleopatra, beginning 'The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne..':

'She came sailing up the river Cydnus in a barge with a poop of gold, its purple sails billowing in the wind, while her rowers caressed the water with oars of silver which dipped in time to the music of the flute, accompanied by pipes and lutes. Cleopatra herself reclined beneath a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed in the character of Venus, as we see her in paintings, while on either side to complete the picture stood boys costumed as Cupids, who cooled her with their fans. Instead of a crew the barge was lined with the most beautiful of her waiting-women attired as Nereids and Graces, some at the rudders, others at the tackle of the sails, and the while an indescribably rich perfume, exhaled from innumerable censers, was wafted from the vessel to the river-banks.

Great multitudes accompanied this royal progress, some of them following the queen on both sides of the river from its very mouth, while others hurried down from the city of Tarsus to gaze at the sight. Gradually the crowds drifted away from the market-place, where Antony awaited the queen enthroned on his tribunal, until at last he was left sitting quite alone.'

Plutarch Makers of Rome, translated Ian Scott-Kilvert, Penguin 1965, page 293

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