From the blazing pyre the crowd rushed, eager for vengeance, to the houses of the conspirators. But all had fled betimes.
Continuing Death of Antony and Cleopatra,
our selection from A History of Rome by Henry George Liddell published in 1855. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously on Death of Antony and Cleopatra.
Time: August 30 BC
Place: Alexandria, Egypt
Two or three days after this followed the funeral. The body was to be burned, and the ashes deposited in the Campus Martius, near the tomb of his daughter Julia. But it was first brought into the Forum upon a bier inlaid with ivory and covered with rich tapestries, which was carried by men high in rank and office. There Antony, as consul, rose to pronounce the funeral oration. He ran through the chief acts of Caesar’s life, recited his will, and then spoke of the death which had rewarded him. To make this more vividly present to the excitable Italians he displayed a waxen image marked with the three-and-twenty wounds, and produced the very robe which he had worn, all rent and blood-stained. Soul-stirring dirges added to the solemn horror of the scene. But to us the memorable speech which Shakespeare puts into Antony’s mouth will give the liveliest notion of the art used and the impression produced. That impression was instantaneous. The senator friends of the liberators who had attended the ceremony looked on in moody silence. Soon the menacing gestures of the crowd made them look to their safety. They fled; and the multitude insisted on burning the body, as they had burned the body of Clodius, in the sacred precincts of the Forum. Some of the veterans who attended the funeral set fire to the bier; benches and firewood heaped round it soon made a sufficient pile.
From the blazing pyre the crowd rushed, eager for vengeance, to the houses of the conspirators. But all had fled betimes. One poor wretch fell a victim to the fury of the mob–Helvius Cinna, a poet who had devoted his art to the service of the dictator. He was mistaken for L. Cornelius Cinna the praetor, and was torn to pieces before the mistake could be explained. *
[*: This story is, however, rendered somewhat doubtful by the manner in which Cinna is mentioned in Vergil’s ninth Eclogue, which was certainly written in or after the year B.C. 40.]
Antony was now the real master of Rome. The treasure which he had seized gave him the means of purchasing good will, and of securing the attachment of the veterans stationed in various parts of Italy. He did not, however, proceed in the course which, from the tone of his funeral harangue, might have been expected. He renewed friendly intercourse with Brutus and Cassius, who were encouraged to visit Rome once at least, if not oftener, after that day; and Dec. Brutus, with his gladiators, was suffered to remain in the city. Antony went still further. He gratified the senate by passing a law to abolish the dictatorship forever. He then left Rome to win the favor of the Italian communities and try the temper of the veterans.
Meanwhile another actor appeared upon the scene. This was young Octavius. He had been but six months in the camp at Apollonia; but in that short time he had formed a close friendship with M. Vipsanius Agrippa, a young man of his own age, who possessed great abilities for active life, but could not boast of any distinguished ancestry. As soon as the news of his uncle’s assassination reached the camp, his friend Agrippa recommended him to appeal to the troops and march upon Rome. But the youth, with a wariness above his years, resisted these bold counsels. Landing near Brundusium almost alone, he there first heard that Caesar’s will had been published and that he was declared Caesar’s heir. He at once accepted the dangerous honor. As he travelled slowly toward the city he stayed some days at Puteoli with his mother, Atia, who was now married to L. Philippus. Both mother and stepfather attempted to dissuade him from the perilous business of claiming his inheritance. At the same place he had an interview with Cicero, who had quitted Rome in despair after the funeral, and left the orator under the impression that he might be won to what was deemed the patriotic party.
He arrived at Rome about the beginning of May, and demanded from Antony, who had now returned from his Italian tour, an account of the moneys of which the consul had taken possession, in order that he might discharge the obligations laid upon him by his uncle’s will. But Antony had already spent great part of the money in bribing Dolabella and other influential persons; nor was he willing to give up any portion of his spoil. Octavius therefore sold what remained of his uncle’s property, raised money on his own credit, and paid all legacies with great exactness. This act earned him much popularity. Antony began to fear this boy of eighteen, whom he had hitherto despised, and the senate learned to look on him as a person to be conciliated.
Still Antony remained in possession of all actual power. Cicero, not remarkable for political firmness, in this crisis displayed a vigor worthy of his earlier days. He had at one moment made up his mind to retire from public life and end his days at Athens in learned leisure. In the course of this summer he continued to employ himself on some of his most elaborate treatises. His works on the Nature of the Gods and on Divination, his Offices, his Dialogue on Old Age, and several other essays belong to this period and mark the restless activity of his mind. But though he twice set sail from Italy, he was driven back to port at Velia, where he found Brutus and Cassius. Here he received letters from Au Hirtius and other friends of Caesar, which gave him hopes that, in the name of Octavius, they might successfully oppose Antony and restore constitutional government. He determined to return, and announced his purpose to Brutus and Cassius, who commended him and took leave of him. They went their way to the east to raise armies against Antony; he repaired to Rome to fight the battles of his party in the senate house.