Story type: Essay
Marcus Antonius, commonly called Mark Antony, was a celebrated Roman general and successful politician, who was born in 83 B.C. His grandfather, on his mother’s side, was L. Julius Caesar, and it is thought that to Mark’s sagacity in his selection of a mother, much of his subsequent success was due.
Young Antony was rather gay and festive during his early years, and led a life that in any city but Rome would have occasioned talk. He got into a great many youthful scrapes, and nothing seemed to please him better than to repeatedly bring his father’s gray hairs down in sorrow to the grave. Debauchery was a matter to which he gave much thought, and many a time he was found consuming the midnight oil while pursuing his studies in this line.
At that time Rome was well provided for in the debauchery department, and Mr. Antony became a thorough student of the entire curriculum.
About 57 B.C. he obtained command of the cavalry of Gambinino in Syria and Egypt. He also acted as legate for Caesar in Gaul about 52 B.C., as nearly as I can recall the year. I do not know exactly what a legate is, but it had something to do with the Roman ballet, I understand, and commanded a good salary.
He was also elected, in 50, B.C., as Argus and Tribune–acting as Tribune at night and Argus during the day time, I presume, or he may have been elected Tribune and ex-officio Argus. He was more successful as Tribune than he was in the Argus business.
Early in 49, B.C., he fled to Caesar’s camp, and the following year was appointed commander-in-chief. He commanded the left wing of the army at the battle of Pharsalia, and years afterward used to be passionately fond of describing it and explaining how he saved the day, and how everybody else was surprised but him, and how he was awakened by hearing one of the enemy’s troops, across the river, stealthily pulling on his pantaloons.
Antony married Fulvia, the widow of a successful demagogue named P. Clodius. This marriage could hardly be regarded as a success. It would have been better for the widow if she had remained Mrs. P. Clodius, for Mark Antony was one of those old-fashioned Romans who favored the utmost latitude among men, but heartily enjoyed seeing an unfaithful woman burned at the stake. In those days the Roman girl had nothing to do but live a pure and blameless life, so that she could marry a shattered Roman rake who had succeeded in shunning a blameless life himself, and at last, when he was sick of all kinds of depravity and needed a good, careful wife to take care of him, would come with his dappled, sin-sick soul and shattered constitution, and his vast acquisitions of debts, and ask to be loved by a noble young woman. Nothing pleased a blase Roman so well as to have a young and beautiful girl, with eyes like liquid night, to take the job of reforming him. I frequently get up in the night to congratulate myself that I was not born, 2,000 years ago, a Roman girl.
The historian continues to say, that though Mr. Antony continued to live a life of licentious lawlessness, that occasioned talk even in Rome, he was singularly successful in politics.
He was very successful at funerals, also, and his off-hand obituary works were sought for far and wide. His impromptu remarks at the grave of Caesar, as afterward reported by Mr. Shakespeare, from memory, attracted general notice and made the funeral a highly enjoyable affair. After this no assassination could be regarded as a success, unless Mark Antony could be secured to come and deliver his justly celebrated eulogy.
About 43, B.C., Antony, Octavius and Lepidus formed a co-partnership under the firm name and style of Antony, Octavius & Co., for the purpose of doing a general, all-round triumvirate business and dealing in Roman republican pelts. The firm succeeded in making republicanism extremely odious, and for years a republican hardly dared to go out after dark to feed the horse, lest he be jumped on by a myrmidon and assassinated. It was about this time that Cicero had a misunderstanding with Mark’s myrmidons and went home packed in ice.
Mark Antony, when the firm of Antony, Octavius & Co. settled up its affairs, received as his share the Asiatic provinces and Egypt. It was at this time that he met Cleopatra at an Egyptian sociable and fell in love with her. Falling in love with fair women and speaking pieces over new-made graves seemed to be Mark’s normal condition. He got into a quarrel with Octavius and settled it by marrying Octavia, Octavius’ sister, but this was not a love match, for he at once returned to Cleopatra, the author of Cleopatra’s needle and other works.
This love for Cleopatra was no doubt the cause of his final overthrow, for he frequently went over to see her when he should have been at home killing invaders. He ceased to care about slashing around in carnage, and preferred to turn Cleopatra’s music for her while she knocked out the teeth of her old upright piano and sang to him in a low, passionate, vox humana tone.
So, at last, the great cemetery declaimer and long distance assassin, Mark Antony, was driven out of his vast dominions after a big naval defeat at Actium, in September, 31 B.C., retreated to Alexandria, called for more reinforcements and didn’t get them. Deserted by his fleet, and reduced to a hand-me-down suit of clothes and a two-year-old plug hat, he wrote a poetic wail addressed to Cleopatra and sent it to the Alexandria papers; then, closing the door and hanging up his pantaloons on a nail so as to reduce the sag in the knees, he blew out the gas and climbed over the high board fence which stands forever between the sombre present and the dark blue, mysterious ultimatum.