“Stephen Boyd, Since that Chariot Race” Detroit Free Press Interview, 1969 (50 Years Ago!)

Stephen Boyd Talks about “Slaves” , Civil Rights, Scientology and Cleopatra!

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August 1, 1969, Detroit Free Press by Bruce Vilanch

For a man who made his name getting dragged through the mud, Stephen Boyd is surprisingly clean.

His teeth really sparkle, his eyes shine bright, he appears to have full power in all his four limbs- he’s in great shape.

This will assure the thousands who became concerned when Boyd spent the better part of 15 minutes under the hoofs of eight galloping stallions pulling his chariot to oblivion in “Ben-Hur.”

A sizeable portion of skin and bone was sliced off the Boyd body during that scene, all so Charlton Heston could go on to victory in Rome and and Oscar in California.

Undaunted, Boyd picked up his pieces and headed for Hollywood, and Irish heartthrob-in-a-toga, to star in such treasures as “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” “Caper of the Golden Bulls” and America’s trash classic, “The Oscar.”

He married (a whirlwind union of 23 days), divorced and was quoted as proclaiming “the only difference between Doris Day, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot is their hair styles.”

He walked out of “Cleopatra” and into “Jumbo” (in which he shared billing with an elephant) and “Fantastic Voyage” (in which he plunged lymph gland rapids with Raquel Welch).

He even played the heavy in “Genghis Khan.”

It has not been a dull life for Stephen Boyd.

The new Boyd, minus the blue eyes (they were contact lenses) and the massive shoulders (that was padding), stands over six feet tall and is dashingly handsome, but in a decidedly un-Hollywood, non-glamour-boy way. He is finished with Biblical pictures, gladiator spectacles and other trappings of imperial majesty and, in his latest film, plays an enigmatic, yet evil plantation owner in Mississippi circa 1850.

The picture, “Slaves” and was shot on what in movies they call “a shoestring” (small fortune.) Boyd says no one would back “Slaves” until he signed on as its star. “That helped them raise at least some of the money,” he says.

“No one would back ‘Slaves’ because it is about an explosive situation which is explosive only because no one understands it.”

The picture tries to make a statement all about Now and how voices in the black community clamor alternatively for blood and quiet. Stephen Boyd thinks this is the value of “Slaves.”

“Civil rights 100 years from now should not be discussed. Civil rights of today is what is important. I joined the civil rights movement years ago,” the former British subject, now American citizen says. “I gave my word years ago to help. Now I want to find out if their programs are getting to the people they’re supposed to be getting to.”

“I feel a picture like ‘Slaves,’ which addresses itself to some of America’s current problems, is something of a moral obligation for me. As soon as I have fulfilled some of my moral obligations, I can begin making money doing other things so I can have time to fulfill some more.”

The whole idea of moral obligation and responsibility for one’s fellow man, as well as responsibility to oneself, fills up a great deal of Boyd’s conversation. He speaks of co-workers as if they were close relatives, not just contractual partners.

“I was a guest on one of those New York radio panel shows and they were talking about Judy Garland,” he says, “one fellow, I won’t mention his name its so sickening, was carrying on about how she was a no-talent, a faggot hero. It’s disgusting what some people will say in public.”

In an attempt to find his own  mind amidst such goings-on, Boyd has turned to scientology,  a voguish new faith whose speakers turn up regularly on college campuses to lecture for $2.50 a throw.

“I don’t think anything should be suspect because it costs money,” he says. He calls scientology “a process used to make you capable of learning.”

“Scientology is nothing. It means only what you want it to. It is not a church you go to to pray, but a church that you go to to learn. It is no good unless you apply it. It is the application.”

Basically, scientologists meditate, usually in the presence of a spiritual supervisor, teaching themselves to be open in order to learn. One who has truly opened himself can be elevated to the position of Clear. Stephen Boyd has elevated himself to OC 6, a position beneath that of Clear. It took him nine months.

“Slaves” did not take him quite so long to accomplish, and, hopefully, it will give him equal peace-of-mind. What it certainly will not do is anything big for Stephen Boyd’s career. This he knows and accepts, as he has accepted everything since he walked away from the most expensive movie of all time.

“It was in the original version of ‘Cleopatra,’ the one to be shot in London. I was to play Marc Antony opposite Elizabeth Taylor, with Rouben Mamoulian directing, but Elizabeth got sick and everything stopped.

““I was outside the hospital door that day with Eddie (Miss Taylor’s fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher) when the doctors came out and told us her had one hour to live. It was one of the saddest, most pathetic moments I can recall. But somehow she pulled through – nothing ever stops her when she wants something.

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait around until they decided to shoot. The script was being rewritten, there was a new director, the whole Shaw and Shakespeare concept of a personal drama was being thrown out in favor or spectacle. So I left. They gave my part to a fellow named Richard Burton. They even gave him my costume, and to this day every time he sees me, he says ‘Jesus, you’ve got big feet!”

“He doesn’t even mention my chest,” Stephen Boyd says, with that serene scientologist’s smile.
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Rare Stephen Boyd Clips on BritishPathe.com!

I love when a generous fan out there shares something amazing concerning Stephen Boyd! I want to thank Annette in the UK for pointing out a great website I had never perused before…www.britishpathe.com! Be sure to go to this website and search for Stephen ‘s name. You will find these video clips!

There are some great Stephen Boyd clips on this page!

*Stephen acting as guest-host on a British TV show Film Fanfare from 1957

*An interview of Stephen on the set of Shepperton Studios talking about “Seven Waves Away” and Tyrone Power!

*Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh visits the set of Cleopatra in 1960 and talks to Stephen Boyd

*The premiere of “Shalako” in London, December 1968. Brigitte Bardot, Sean Connery, Diane Cilento and Stephen Boyd meet Princess Margaret. Stephen arrives with a beautiful, elegant Black woman – does anyone know who this mystery woman is?

*A quick video of behind-the-scenes of The Fall of the Roman Empire in Spain. The video features Sophia (sitting in Stephen’s on set chair), and Stephen Boyd and Christopher Plummer enacting a scene which was eventually cut from the film! It’s a scene where Commodus and Livius dash wine (rather cruelly) on captive German prisoners below. You can see the 2 captive girls in the crowd (one of them, Lena Von Martens). This whole storyline was cut from the film, but you can read excerpts from the novel of The Fall of the Roman Empire on this tag here, https://stephenboydblog.com/category/harry-whittington-novelization-of-the-fall-of-the-roman-empire/

I always wondered what this scene was from! It was (wisely) replaced by the ‘drunken’ Livius/Commodus scene instead.

“It’s no sweat dining with Stephen Boyd”

by Wanda Hale Daily News, New York

October 23, 1960, Paris

ADMIRER RAVES

An American girl invited me to lunch with her and I told her I couldn’t because I was having lunch with Stephen Boyd. She went into ecstasy. “I envy you. Stephen Boyd is wonderful. I love him because he sweats. He is such a man he makes all the other young actors look like department store dummies.”

I hadn’t noticed that Stephen Boyd perspired –but I have noticed that he is an actor with masculine magnetism and is getting roles in which he can  exhibit his physical appeal as well as his acting ability.

Boyd was finishing up Darryl Zanuck’s “The Big Gamble” before reporting to London for the Marc Anthony role in 20th Century Fox’ Todd-AO Eastman-color historical spectacle, “Cleopatra.”

“The Big Gamble” he said, “is an adventure story with humor about a red-headed Irish seaman, his high-spirited Corsican bride and his meddling bank-clerk cousin when they try to establish a trucking business on the Ivory Coast of Africa.” He thinks they another “African Queen.”

Making the film was a rugged adventure for Boyd and his co-stars, Juliette Greco and David Wayne. It was photographed in actual locations, and living in Africa wasn’t exactly as comfortable as living in Paris where polishing and dubbing is being done.

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Stephen Boyd: Born to Play a Roman

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Anyone who has read this blog may have noticed I have a fondness for Ancient Rome and Greece. And I do – I have studied it most of my adolescent and adult life and is one of my great passions. One of the reasons I got into the history of that period was from seeing movies like Ben-Hur, Cleopatra & The Fall of the Roman Empire when I was a teen. So in honor of all the Romans I love to read about, I thought I would collect a few quotes from Stephen Boyd about Ancient Rome and the famous Romans he studied for many of the roles he played (or would have played). If anyone was born to play a Roman, it was Stephen Boyd.

Quotes about Mark Anthony/Cleopatra

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Never was any actor so prepared for a role. I had studied Anthony from every possible angle, reading everything about him I could lay my hands on. (July 11, 1961, Petaluma Argus Courier)

I am interested if Anthony is played as a warrior, as he was in the original script. But I’m not interested if he is only a lover. He can be shown as a warrior making love. But no actor can convincingly play a warrior-like figure as a lover. Marlon Brando found that out when he did Napoleon in ‘Desiree.’ (July 11, 1961, Corpus Christi Caller Times)

She (Cleopatra) was an ambitious housewife who dabbled in politics and who wanted Egypt to share the honors with Rome. So she romanced Ceasar, and they had a child. Then later with Anthony, with whom she had four children.

I love the Mark Anthony role; I believe the film will be a tremendous success. It’s not often you get to play a role summed up in the classic line: ‘Who lost Marc Anthony the world? A woman. (Screenland Magazine, July 1961)

Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon and Marcus Aurelius

And strangely enough, in a flash, the conversation veered off from romance to Stephen’s other interests: the science of cybernetics, self-hypnosis, and then to historian Edward Gibbon and his classic work, “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” as well as to the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome! ….But far more goes into a role. He (Boyd) reads everything he can find on the period of the film, particularly if it has an historical background. Before he portrayed the evil Messala, and while he was working on “Cleopatra,” he immersed himself in Roman history. All this scholarly reading paid off, for once again he will be involved in the Roman Empire, but this time on a broader canvas. It was this reading which gave him an interest in the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (Why, even Freud was influenced by him.) (Silver Screen Magazine, April 1963)

Quotes about Rome, Romans and Chariots

I may be tempted to settle down in Rome because I had such a big part in building the place. (September 17,1 1962, Standard Speaker)

Try walking down a street someday and make believe you’re a Roman. You have to walk like a Roman, talk like a Roman and act like a Roman. It’s much harder than just playing a modern man–then, all you have to do is act, but you don’t have to think about your walk or your costume or your speech. (June 26, 1966 Brownwood Bulletin)

Chariot racing cannot be mastered without complete muscular control. Enormous pressures challenge the driver every second of the way. To pull of galloping horseflesh, the weight of the Roman two-wheeler and unpredictable terrain features constantly threaten the charioteer. He must be prepared to react with violent resourcefulness to stay alive. (Salt Lake Tribune Nov 16, 1963)

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Stephen Boyd studies his Ancient Romans at the Prado Museum in Madrid before staring the filming of The Fall of the Roman Empire.

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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with statue of Nero (?)
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado viewing the statue of Agrippina, mother of Caligula
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with statue of the Emperor Vespasian
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Stephen Boyd at the Prado with the statue of the Emperor Augustus

Stephen Boyd in Roman costume

1962 Stephen Boyd Interview regarding the runaway production of “Cleopatra”

I sometimes wonder how Stephen’s career – and the 1960’s – would have turned out had he waited just a few months longer to start filming “Cleopatra.” He would have been a part of one of the biggest cultural movies of the 1960’s. The problem was, however, he would have spent literally two years filming (or waiting to film) this project! Stephen arrived on set in London in the later summer of 1960 to start filming “Cleopatra” (he was going to be Marc Anthony, of course). By late spring of 1961 he was still waiting. Stephen opted out “Cleopatra” in June of 1961 to start work on “Lisa” with Dolores Hart. When Richard Burton replaced Boyd in July and production on “Cleopatra” finally crawled to a start in late 1961 in Rome. “Cleopatra” was still filming in the summer of 1962 when Boyd was on hand in Rome filming “Imperial Venus” with Gina Lollobrigida! Below is a fascinating glimpse at this production from Stephen’s point of view while he was filming “Jumbo” in Hollywood.

Harold Hefferman, Philadelphia Daily News, March 8, 1962

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HOLLWOOD. – Behind movie headlines:

“Runaway production” is a terrifying term striking hard at every layer of the Hollywood foundation. As to its personal impact, no actor in town has greater reason for despising it than Stephen Boyd.

Boyd came back from two years movie making in Europe with little more than wasted time and the unhappy feeling both his career and personal life had been adversely affected by his absence.

The blond actor, who spent an earlier two year period villainizing Charlton Heston in “Ben-Hur,” went back to Europe in 1960 to make “The Big Gamble” with Juliette Greco. While there 20th-Fox notified him he was to play “Anthony” to Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra,” so he remained on- and on.

“The whole two years – minus a few weeks I spent back here in Hollywood – added up to nothing short of a fiasco,” growled Steve, on the set of “Billy Rose’s Jumbo” at MGM. “While waiting for ‘Cleo’ to get started, I went to Cairo for the big lighting of the Sphinx. That was when they were planning to shoot the picture in Egypt – but, of course, that fell through.

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“I’d say that about the personal high points of those 24 months was my trip to Cairo and Lebanon. The countries are beautiful, and it’s too bad so many things came up to prevent shooting ‘Cleopatra’ there.”

A few weeks after Steve reported for the big Queen of the Nile spectacle, Miss Taylor was stricken with her first and near fatal illness, followed by innumerable script and change-of-producer- director delays. Meanwhile, he was assigned by the studio to do “The Inspector” opposite Dolores Hart in Holland. This is a film he has yet to see.

“I can only say I hope it came out better than ‘The Big Gamble,’” Steve chided candidly, “because that one, I’m sure, won’t do a thing for my career. But that did save me from doing ‘Cleopatra,’ for which I am undyingly grateful.”

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Dolores Hart and Stephen Boyd in “Lisa”

Steve doesn’t put much stock in the “Roman holiday” rumors of a romance between Liz Taylor and Richard (Antony) Burton. He attributes the notoriety to “a dream creation” by the over-imaginative Italian press.

“Why, the fan magazines and even a couple of Italian newspaper columns had me linked romantically with Elizabeth- a month before I’d even met her!” he laughed. “One headline read: ‘Will Steve divide Liz and Eddie?’ And I’d never even seen the lady, except in a couple of her movies. She and Eddie and I joked about it when we finally did meet on the set – but sometimes rumor and gossip can get way beyond the amusing stage.”

Steve blasts “runaway” for two other personal reasons. It cut into his burning romance with Hope Lange – she didn’t wait, and took up with others – and financially he took a shellacking.

I didn’t get anything resembling tax breaks,” he explained, “and, in fact, I paid both British and U.S. taxes all the time I was away. (Steve is a British citizen, of Irish descent.) I’m not dead set against pictures being made in foreign countries—sometimes they really turn out better – but in far too many cases, such as ‘Cleopatra,’ if they don’t film them on the McCoy locations, they’d do better to stay right in Hollywood and let everyone relax, including the actor.”

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Hope Lange and Stephen Boyd, 1961

Stephen Boyd talks about Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and “Cleopatra”

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Stephen Boyd used to joke that he should have been invited to Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding with Richard Burton. If it wasn’t for Stephen, the biggest celebrity couple of the 1960’s might never have met! Boyd, as many of his fans know, was chosen to be the original Marc Anthony in the Twentieth Century Fox mega-production of “Cleopatra”.  Boyd had spoken to a Fox producer as early as late 1959 about the role, which Boyd seemed predestined to play.

“(Walter) Wanger talked with me about the role of Marc Anthony to ‘Cleopatra’…I told him I thought I was too young to play Anthony, who was 48 by the time he got together with Cleopatra. I’ve played it on stage, though.” (Hedda Hopper interview of Stephen Boyd from January 31, 1960, “Hollywood’s New Gable?”, https://stephenboydblog.com/2016/07/09/hollywoods-handsomest-hibernian-may-be-is-stephen-boyd-the-new-gable/)

Boyd was signed as Anthony in early 1960. “She (Taylor) had the approval of all the stars who were going to work with her, ” Boyd said proudly in a Film Show Annual interview in 1964, ” She approved of Peter Finch and myself…” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)

In late June, Taylor was struggling with acute bronchitis which left her unable to attend a lavish New York ‘Roman orgy’ party held by the studio. The worst was yet to come. When the movie began filming in October of 1960 with director Rouben Mamoulian, the film work was taking place at Pinewood Studios in London under cold, damp conditions. Almost immediately, the bronchitis Taylor had in June flared up again in and she was confined to bed with pneumonia.  By November, she was rushed to the hospital because of an infected tooth which had caused a viral infection of the tissue at the base of her brain (‘meningism‘). The movie was postponed in December of 1960. But Taylor had more drama to come. On March 4 of 1961, with heavy lung congestion and double pneumonia, she was again rushed to the hospital in grave condition for an emergency tracheotomy.

Stephen Boyd : “I was outside the hospital door that day with Eddie (Miss Taylor’s fourth husband, singer Eddie Fisher) when the doctors came out and told us her had one hour to live. It was one of the saddest, most pathetic moments I can recall. But somehow she pulled through – nothing ever stops her when she wants something.” (Detroit Free Press, “Screen Star Stephen Boyd Since That Chariot Race”, August 1, 1969)

The Pinewood Studio Production of “Cleopatra”, 1960, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Costumes by Oliver Messel, starring Peter Finch as Caesar, Stephen Boyd as Marc Anthony and Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

 

Stephen’s one regret about missing out on “Cleopatra” was not getting to work with Elizabeth Taylor.

“I think she’s marvelous. I remember one day when several of us were reading for the part, and Elizabeth was ill, and we went around to her house when she was just, as it were, getting up. And God! She’s the most beautiful thing. You know what you look like getting up? …Not Elizabeth. This vision came out of the bedroom.” (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)

“I think she’s a dream.” (Asbury Park Press, July 3, 1964)

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Stephen Boyd talks about Elizabeth Taylor: “She’s more sensational in her beauty, her lavender eyes, without make-up, just being her natural self.” (Valley Morning Star, Sep 18, 1966)

“The only thing I didn’t like about Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Cleopatra’ was her make-up – all that heavy eye-shadow and stuff.”  (Sunday Express London Interview, August 11, 1963)

“She’s more sensational in her beauty, her lavender eyes, without make-up, just being her natural self.” (Valley Morning Star, Sep 18, 1966)

“While waiting for ‘Cleo’ to get started, I went to Cairo for the big lighting of the Sphinx. That was when they were planning to shoot the picture in Egypt – but, of course, that fell through.

“I’d say that about the personal high point of those 24 months was my trip to Cairo and Lebanon. The countries are beautiful, and it’s too bad so many things came up to prevent shooting ‘Cleopatra’ there.” (Philadelphia Daily News, March 8, 1962)

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait around until they decided to shoot. The script was being rewritten, there was a new director, the whole Shaw and Shakespeare concept of a personal drama was being thrown out in favor or spectacle. So I left. They gave my part to a fellow named Richard Burton. They even gave him my costume, and to this day every time he sees me, he says ‘Jesus, you’ve got big feet!”  (Detroit Free Press, “Screen Star Stephen Boyd Since That Chariot Race”, August 1, 1969)

 

Boyd and Burton- sharing Roman costumes, other than footwear!

 

Burton and Boyd  were no strangers to epics:  Burton in Alexander the Great (1956) and Boyd in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

Boyd was also apparently mistaken for Burton occasionally in Hollywood, which caused Boyd to explain himself once : “He’s Welsh, I’m Irish. He sings Welsh songs, I sing Irish songs. He drinks, I don’t drink.” (Tintypes, Stephen Boyd, by Sidney Skolski) 

Boyd also gave his opinion at the time about the most infamous love affair in the world between Taylor and Burton, and about his own lost chance with Taylor.

“Why, you know, they were starting rumors about Liz and me before we’d even met! I think Burton is a fine actor and I like Elizabeth as an actress – during the time I spent on the picture, she was marvelous – but I think Burton would be foolish to leave Sybil. I was amused by his reply when asked if he was going to divorce her and marry Liz;  ‘It’s not bloody likely.'”  (Hedda Hopper Interview, June 16, 1962)

“She’s not my type, and I don’t think I’m hers…I’m sure the reason she fell in love with him (Burton) is because he has the strength of mind and body of Mike Todd….True, Richard Burton became a big star in Rome, because of all the gossip and slander. He’s one of the finest actors, but he was not important until his love affair with Elizabeth. I find that shocking. “ (Courier Journal Dec 30, 1962, ‘ Stephen Boyd is Glad he Escaped Cleopatra Role with Liz Taylor) 

Stephen Boyd: “My only regret is not getting a chance to be on screen with Elizabeth Taylor…the fact the I dropped out allowed them to meet, and Richard makes a great Anthony” (The ABC of Stephen Boyd interview, 1965)

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Taylor and Burton

 

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What could have been-  Taylor and Boyd…
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On set at Pinewood filming “Cleopatra” – Stephen Boyd in full costume among a crowd of spectators, including British royalty. 

More about Cleopatra

For more about Cleopatra the Movie, see this excellent website, http://www.elizabethtaylorthelegend.com/Elizabeth%20Taylor%20-%20Cleopatra%20Contents.html

For more about Cleopatra the Historical Person, I have found that there is almost too much information out there about her and it is hard to find the right book. For an excellent historical novel about Cleopatra, I highly recommend Margaret George’s “The Memoirs of Cleopatra” . Having just started reading it recently, I find that it really brings her personality, as well as Caesar and Antony, to life.

 An iconic romantic duo for more than two millenia! Gorgeous Antony and Cleopatra in modern pop culture artwork…on a slot machine!

Horace’s Ode to Cleopatra

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Now drink we deep, now featly tread
A measure; now before each shrine
With Salian feasts the table spread;
The time invites us, comrades mine.

‘Twas shame to broach, before today,
The Caecuban, while Egypt‘s dame
Threaten’d our power in dust to lay
And wrap the Capitol in flame,

Girt with her foul emasculate throng,
By Fortune’s sweet new wine befool’d,
In hope’s ungovern’d weakness strong
To hope for all; but soon she cool’d,

To see one ship from burning ‘scape;
Great Caesar taught her dizzy brain,
Made mad by Mareotic grape,
To feel the sobering truth of pain,

And gave her chase from Italy,
As after doves fierce falcons speed,
As hunters ‘neath Haemonia’s sky
Chase the tired hare, so might he lead

The fiend enchain’d; she sought to die
More nobly, nor with woman’s dread
Quail’d at the steel, nor timorously
In her fleet ships to covert fled.

Amid her ruin’d halls she stood
Unblench’d, and fearless to the end
Grasp’d the fell snakes, that all her blood
Might with the cold black venom blend,

Death’s purpose flushing in her face;
Nor to our ships the glory gave,
That she, no vulgar dame, should grace
A triumph, crownless, and a slave.

https://throughtheeyeofapegasus.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/ode-137-on-the-death-of-cleopatra-a-poem-by-horace/