Friends, Romans, Countrymen: The Relationships Of Mark Antony
CULTURE | October 17, 2019
James Purefoy as Mark Antony on HBO’s Rome. Source: (pinterest.com)
Fans of Shakespeare may remember the character of Mark Antony from The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. He’s the one whose loaded speech incites the crowd to turn against Brutus and the other conspirators. Antony is also featured prominently in the bard’s tragedy Antony and Cleopatra. While Shakespeare admittedly took some creative license, both plays are based on real events, including Antony’s relationships with Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.
He was born Marcus Antonius in Alexandria, Egypt, 83 B.C. and was named after his father and grandfather. However, his father is most commonly referred to as Creticus due to his military operations in Crete. From 57-55 B.C., Antony served as a cavalry officer under Aul Ganinius in Palestine and Egypt. In 54 B.C., he became a staff officer to Julius Caesar, his mother’s cousin. He was elected to the tribune in 49 B.C. and was Caesar’s second-in-command during his first year as a dictator.
That same year, the Civil War broke out between Pompey and Caesar. Antony’s continued support of Caesar led to him being forced to flee from Rome to Caesar’s headquarters. Pompey was eventually expelled from the Italian Peninsula. Antony was briefly removed from the Senate by anti-Caesar factions but was returned to Caesar’s side as co-consul in 44 B.C. It was during this time, during the festival of the Lupercalia, that Antony offered Caesar the diadem, a symbol of royalty, but Caesar refused, though it was likely the crowd’s reaction rather than a lack of ambition which led to the refusal. After Caesar’s assassination, Antony did indeed deliver a powerful eulogy before taking over Caesar’s papers.
Caesar’s will left his wealth and title to his adopted son Octavian and it was only a matter of time before Antony’s leadership was challenged. Antony’s unwillingness to hand over the reins led to a brief clash; however, the two eventually settled on a five-year agreement to lead jointly by a triumvirate with Antony, Octavian, and another rival by the name of Lepidus. Once united, they were able to defeat Caesar’s assassins, with Brutus and Cassius killing themselves, thus ending the Republican cause. Afterward, the empire was divided amongst the members of the triumvirate.
Apparently, Antony’s closeness with Caesar was the result of similar interests because in 41 B.C. Antony began an affair with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, who had been involved with Caesar before his death. She gave birth to their twins, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene before Antony returned to Rome where he married Octavius, the sister of Octavian, and renewed the triumvirate. Despite his marriage, he kept returning to Cleopatra, fathering another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, and appearing together publicly as Dionysus-Osiris and Venus-Isis. They also presented their children as royal heirs despite the fact that Rome would never recognize a marriage between Antony and Cleopatra as she was not Roman.
When Antony divorced Octavius in 32 B.C., it was the straw that broke the triumvirate’s back. Octavian, who had already dispatched Lepidus from the triumvirate, declared war on Cleopatra. While Antony and Cleopatra presented a united front, they were no match for Octavian’s general Agrippa. During the battle of Actium on Sept 2, 31 B.C., both Antony and Cleopatra’s fleets were defeated, and they were forced to flee to Alexandria. Knowing that Octavian’s forces were en route to take them captive, they made a suicide pact. Antony stabbed himself with a sword and died in Cleopatra’s arms, but she was captured before she could join him. Undeterred, she completed the deed later with the help of a poisonous snake.
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