At this time, Josephus claims, Antony had already met Cleopatra, and was so smitten with her that other matters became less important. Certainly he was not in the mood to listen to internal squabbling among the citizens of Judea. Unfortunately, the Jews felt that the fate of a country was more pressing than an illicit, scandalous romance between the respectably married Roman nobleman and the queen they rather feared and disliked. Possibly they would be less susceptible to the mental image that must have haunted Antony. Who can blame him? He expected her to come and defend herself in an official and unpleasant matter of treason they needed to clear up. Instead, he met a femme fatal. Josephus has little to say about her at this stage, but what Plutarch says about Cleopatra is extremely interesting. Apparently, she was no great beauty – which the coins with her image prove – but nevertheless, she was irresistible because of the power of her charm, personality, and intellect. Here is a quotation from Plutarch’s Life of Antony.
“For Caesar and Pompey had known her when she was still a girl and inexperienced in affairs, but she was going to visit Antony at the very time when women have the most brilliant beauty and are at the acme of intellectual power. Therefore she provided herself with many gifts, much money, and such ornaments as high position and prosperous kingdom made it natural for her to take; but she went putting her greatest confidence in herself, and in the charms and sorceries of
her own person.
"Though she received many letters of summons both from Antony himself and from his friends, he so despised and laughed the man to scorn as to sail up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded oop, its sails spread purple, its rowers urging it on with silver oars to the sound of the flute lended with pipes and lutes. She herself reclined beneath a canopy spangled with gold, adorned like Venus in a painting, while boys like Loves in paintings stood on either side and fanned her. Likewise also the fairest of her serving-maidens, attired like Nereïds and Graces, were stationed, some at the rudder-sweeps, and others at the reefing-ropes. Wondrous odors from countless incense-offerings diffused themselves along the river-banks. Of the inhabitants, some accompanied her on either bank of the river from its very mouth, while others went down from the city to behold the sight. The throng in the market-place gradually streamed away, until at last Antony himself, seated on his tribunal, was left alone. And a rumor spread on every hand that Venus was come to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia.
"Antony sent, therefore, and invited her to supper; but she thought it meet that he should rather come to her. At once, then, wishing to display his complacency and friendly feelings, Antony obeyed and went. He found there a preparation that beggared description, but was most amazed at the multitude of lights. For, as we are told, so many of these were let down and displayed on all sides at once, and they were arranged and ordered with so many inclinations and adjustments to each other in the form of rectangles and circles, that few sights were so beautiful or so worthy to be seen as this.
"On the following day Antony feasted her in his turn, and was ambitious to surpass her splendor and elegance, but in both regards he was left behind, and vanquished in these very points, and was first to rail at the meagerness and rusticity of his own arrangements. Cleopatra observed in the jests of Antony much of the soldier and the common man, and adopted this manner also towards him, without restraint now, and boldly. For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behavior towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with Barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. Nay, it is said that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language, and some actually gave up their Macedonian dialect.”
A most interesting woman, no doubt… but Antony had to wait to see her again, and now he faced a hundred of the most influential Jews demanding audience, to flatly accuse Herod and his brother Phasael of trying to usurp the power of ruling Judea. Hyrcanus, Herod, and Phasael were present, of course, and were quite united in their views. One must remember that Herod was already engaged to Hyrcanus’ granddaughter, the legendary beauty Mariamne. Their defense was taken by a man named Valerius Messala Corvinus, who was asked to represent them. It was a sham trial, since Antony was already a good friend of Herod and his entire family, a friendship started with their father, Antipater. The friendship was made even better by the large sums of money given to Antony by the brothers as a token of goodwill... none of them thought about it as a bribe. Nevertheless, Antony listened to both sides, and then asked Hyrcanus who he thought was the better leaders of the nation. Hyrcanus answered succinctly, “Herod and his people.” On the spot, Antony appointed Herod and Phasael tetrarchs. Hyrcanus was still the nominal head of the state, as ethnarch, but the real government of Judea was now in the hands of Herod and Phasael. Fifteen of the Jews were put in chains, and Antony meant to execute them. Strangely enough, Herod intervened, and got them released from prison...
What now? More trouble, of course. It's Judea!