Ides of March: Two Antonies




I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded.  It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.

The late Charlton Heston played Antony twice in films: in 1950 at age 27, the videos at the beginning of this post are from the 1950 film, and in 1970 at age 47:

Mark Antony was 39 at the time of the events depicted.  Plutarch tells us what happened:

And therefore, when Caesar’s body [22] was brought to the place where it should be buried, he made a funeral oration in commendation of Caesar, according to the ancient custom of praising noblemen at their funerals. When he saw that the people were very glad and desirous also to hear Caesar spoken of, and his praises uttered, he mingled his oration with lamentable words, and by amplifying of matters did greatly move their hearts and affections unto pity and compassion. In fine, to conclude his oration, he unfolded before the whole assembly the bloody garments of the dead, thrust through in many places with their swords, and called the malefactors cruel and cursed murderers. With these words he put the people into such a fury, that they presently took Caesar’s body, and burnt it in the market-place with such tables and forms as they could get together. Then, when the fire was kindled, they took firebrands, and ran to the murderers’ houses to set them afire, and to make them come out to fight.

At this time Antony had a well deserved reputation as a wastrel and a well deserved reputation as a military man from his service under Caesar, but he had no reputation as an orator.  However, Antony’s paternal grandfather had been the foremost orator in Rome in his time, so there was a family tradition which Brutus and other conspirators would have done better to take into consideration before granting Antony a forum at Caesar’s funeral.

Ironically, the will of Caesar that  Antony uses to great effect in Shakespeare’s speech would ultimately be his undoing, Caesar having named his nephew Octavius, the future Augustus, as his principal heir and successor.  After some initial fighting between them, Antony and Octavius would join forces and crush the conspirators.  Dividing the Roman Empire between them in 42 BC with the third member of the triumvirate given North Africa, this uneasy division endured until Octavius managed to take North Africa from Lepidus in 36 BC, and exiling him, with Octavian gaining control of the entire Empire after Antony’s loss at the battle of Actium and his subsequent suicide along with Cleopatra.  Antony played a major role as one of the grave diggers of the Republic, but it would be Octavius, as Augustus, who would build upon the ashes of the  dead Republic the new Empire.



Published in: on March 15, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Two Antonies  
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