Greco-Roman Influence in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra
Greco-Roman mythological images seem to dominate Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Ever since the humanist revolution started, Renaissance writers, including Shakespeare, systematically tried to revive Greek literature and Greek mythology. It was an attempt to establish an alternative authority to Catholic scholastic dogma that has the stamp of antiquity.
Shakespeare's knowledge of mythology was almost exclusively Roman, especially in relation to love and war. As a matter of truth, the Romans did not have created gods of their own, because '' They were a people of deep religious feeling, but they had little imagination.'' In fact, the influence of Greek art and literature were powerful in Rome. Thus, they adopted Greek gods, and the Greek mythological figures turned into Roman mythological figures to suit their society. For example, Ares, who is the Geek deity of war, turned into Mars, the Roman god of war. ''The Roman liked Mars better than the Greeks liked Ares,'' because Ares was not a typical deity of war, so Mars became the embodiment of military virtues and the defender of Rome.
In fact, a thorough understanding of the mythological figures and images in Antony and Cleopatra like Phoebus, Furies, Venus, Mars, Hercules and Bacchus, can be the best guideline to a perceptive interpretation of the play. These mythological figures can be mirrors which reflect the nature of a specific character or the culture of a society. Therefore, the function of these myths is very important in Antony and Cleopatra being one of the ways to approach the play.
The values and culture of the Egyptian society are exposed in Enobarbus' speech:
Ha, my brave Emperor,
Shall we dance now the Egyptian bacchanals
Bacchus was the Greek god of wine. The ''Egyptian bacchanals'' means that the Egyptians, like the Romans, adopted Greek mythology and made it suitable to their society. For this reason, the Egyptians are not selves enclosed and they know other cultures, which is a positive value in the Egyptian society.
Cleopatra's nature and royalty are reflected in the images of Phoebus and Fury. The Furies were the Greek goddesses who were sent to punish the crime. They had black bodies and snakes in their hair. Cleopatra says: ''If not well, /Thou shouldst come like a Fury crowned with snakes'' . This means that she will make this Messenger like a Fury to punish him because of his bad news about Antony. At the same time, that image is a reference to her primitive nature, when she becomes angry. Her anger is always connected with the snakes' images, and her primitive nature brings to her mind such fearful figures from the dim past. In addition, in her speech she uses another image to reflect her shape ''Think on me/That am with Phoebus' amorous pinches black'' . Phoebus was the ...