Pliny the Elder, Natural History

LCL 353: 244-245

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Book IX

had come down to her through the hands of the Kings of the East. When Antony was gorging daily at recherché banquets, she with a pride at once lofty and insolent, queenly wanton as she was, poured contempt on all his pomp and splendour, and when he asked what additional magnificence could be contrived, replied that she would spend 10,000,000 sesterces on a single banquet. Antony was eager to learn how it could be done, although he thought it was impossible. Consequently bets were made, and on the next day, when the matter was to be decided, she set before Antony a banquet that was indeed splendid, so that the day might not be wasted,a but of the kind served every day—Antony laughing and expostulating at its niggardliness. But she vowed it was a mere additional douceur, and that the banquet would round off the account and her own dinner alone would cost 10,000,000 sesterces, and she ordered the second course to be served. In accordance with previous instructions the servants placed in front of her only a single vessel containing vinegar, the strong rough quality of which can melt pearls.b She was at the moment wearing in her ears that remarkable and truly unique work of nature. Antony was full of curiosity to see what in the world she was going to do. She took one earring off and dropped the pearl in the vinegar, and when it was melted swallowed it. Lucius Plancus, who was umpiring the wager, placed his hand on the other pearl when she was preparing to destroy it also in a similar way, and declared that Antony had lost the battle—an ominous remark that came true. With this goes the story that, when that queen who had won on this important issue was captured, the second of this pair of pearls was

  • aCf. XI 14 nullus perit otio dies.
  • bNo such vinegar exists; Cleopatra no doubt swallowed the pearl in vinegar knowing that it could be recovered later on.
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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.pliny_elder-natural_history.1938