The Banquet of Cleopatra by Giambattista Tiepolo (1674)



Cleopatra’s magestry of pearl,

Offered in toast, it simmers in crystal.

Plucked from her gold-studded ear, and yonder

Plucked from the nacre bosom of Venus’ shell,

The drops of Venus, borne from her fin-streamed shell,

“And in the cup an union shall be thrown.”

A jubilant quaff to drown Antony,

Her Roman bacchanalia, in excess.

Dangled o’er mercurial feasts

It gleams in vapor from another time.

Vaporous hues – a flush of marigold

& crimson lusting – hammocked in a sling

Of madness. The adversaria are flanged

& horns sound through curly silhouettes.

A cluster of sparrows disperse for reprieve;

To fly beyond the cracking tarnish of blue.

At right, an estranged whippet dog is

Whistled up & pries his head around.

This band of fools – an architecture of forms –  a blush of wonder, drear:

     Betwixt & balanced upon stone, Greek


        A sinuous banquet, a forked feast of eyes in sextile


        Necks arched, fingers hooked, glances that careen &


        A carom of fury and frisson they swarm the


         Amass, they unfurl and yield to Cleopatra’s

flagrant feat.

Abyssus abyssum invocat:

Her pearl paradigm returns to natural form,

Like the fate of two lovers forlorn.

Post Script:

And what of the other pearl? Wedged in the impending lobes of Venus – the mother of pearl, the bearer of beauty and opulent grace, the Immortal, the breathless renouncer – it towered in the arena of the Pantheon. And thus leers the looming tale of Cleopatra in the lyric mass of Cytherian form.

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