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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Cleopatre the Cypassis and Arminius episode


[Sidenote:

_Cleopatre_--the Cypassis and Arminius episode.]

This is among the numerous _divertissements_ of _Cleopatre_ (not the earliest, but perhaps the chief of its author's novels[200]), the heroine of which is not

The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands

herself, but her daughter by Antony, who historically married Juba of Mauretania, and is here courted by him under the name of Coriolanus, while he is in disgrace with Augustus. La Calprenede (all these romancers are merciful men and women to the historically unlucky, and cruel only, or for the most part, to fictitious characters) saves her half-brother Caesarion from his actual death, and, after the due thousands of pages, unites him happily to Queen Candace of AEthiopia. There is the same odd muddle (which made a not unintelligent Jesuit label this class of books "historia _mixta_") with many other persons. Perhaps the most curious of all episodes of this kind is the use made of Ovid's "fusca Cypassis." If Mrs. Grundy could be supposed ever to have read the _Amores_, the mere sight of the name of that dusky handmaid--to whom Ovid behaved, by his own confession, in such an exceedingly shabby as well as improper fashion--would make her shudder, if not shriek. But La Calprenede's Cypassis, though actually a maid of honour to Julia, as her original was a handmaid to Corinna, is of unblemished morality, flirted with

certainly by Ovid, but really a German princess, Ismenia, in disguise, and beloved by, betrothed to, and in the end united with no less a compatriot than Arminius. This union gives also an illustration of the ingenious fashion in which these writers reconcile and yet omit. La Calprenede, as we have seen, does not give Arminius's wife her usual name of Thusnelda, but, to obviate a complaint from readers who have heard of Varus, he invents a protest on "Herman sla lerman" part against that general, who has trepanned him into captivity and gladiatorship, and makes him warn Augustus that he will be true to the Romans _unless_ Varus is sent into his country.[201]

[Sidenote: The book generally.]

This episode is, in many ways, so curious and characteristic, that it seemed worth while to dwell on it for a little; but the account itself must have shown how impossible it is to repeat the process of general abstract. There are, I think, in the book (which took twelve years to publish and fills as many volumes in French, while the English translation is an immense folio of nearly a thousand pages in double column, also entitled _Hymen's Praeludia_[202]) fewer separate _Histoires_, though there are a good many, than in the _Cyrus_, but the intertwined love-plots are almost more complicated. For instance, the Herod-and-Mariamne tragedy is brought in with a strictly "proper" lover, Tiridates, whom Salome uses to provoke Herod's patience, and who has, at the very opening of the book, proved himself both a natural philosopher of no mean order by seeing a fire at sea, and "judging with much likelihood that it comes from a ship," and a brave fellow by rescuing from the billows no less a person than the above-mentioned Queen Candace. From her, however, he exacts immediate, and, as some moderns might think, excessive, payment by making her listen to his own _Histoire_.


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