In describing Cleopatra's barge, Enobarbus says "the oars were silver." Would oars made of silver even possible, or is silver too malleable a metal for that purpose? Or do you think he is merely implying that the oars were painted silver? I am trying to decide whether this whole description is meant to be taken seriously or is partly a deliberate exaggeration on the part of Enobarbus.

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I must admit I have to agree with #4 on this one. There does seem to be a deliberate attempt to exaggerate and this could be seen as an artistic hyperbole regarding how the wood of the oars and the deck appears in the light of day. Either that or they would be painted or have a veneer of silver. Plutarch is clearly trying to convey the beauty and majesty of the scene.

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Could it be that Plutarch was exaggerating here?

Certain wood might appear gold or silver when sanded and polished. The description of the boats colors would still be accurate if the deck is made of golden wood and the oars of silver-ish wood.

 

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Likely Shakespeare got his informstion from Plutarch? I would agree that they could be painted silver in color. It seems to me that silver would be very impractical. In addition to the properties of the metal making it to weak, wouldn't it also be too heavy? Other than for show, I don't know why you'd have silver oars.
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I don't think it's a deliberate exaggeration on the part of Enobarbus because what Enobarbus says comes pretty much directly from Plutarch.  Given that in both Plutarch and Shakespeare, we have a deck made of gold and oars of silver, I think that it has to be either paint or, at the most, a thin sheet of silver/gold over wood.  There's not way that silver oars could be functional given the malleability and the weight of silver.

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