Marcus Antonius, or Marc Antony, grandson of Antonius the orator, and son of Antonius Creticus, seems to have been born about 83 B.C. While still a child he lost his father, whose example however, had he been spared, would have done little for the improvement of his character. Brought up under the influence of the disreputable Cornelius Lentulus Sura, whom his mother had married, Antony spent his youth in profligacy and extravagance.
For a time he co-operated with the reprobate Clodius in his political plans, chiefly, it is supposed, through hostility to Cicero, who had caused Lentulus, his stepfather, to be put to death as one of the Catiline conspirators; but he soon withdrew from the connection, on account of a disagreement which, appropriately enough, arose in regard to his relations to his associate’s wife, Flavia. Not long after, in 58 B.C., he fled to Greece, to escape the importunity of his creditors; and at length, after a short time spent in attendance on the philosophers at (p. 038) Athens, found an occasion for displaying some of the better features of his character, in the wars that were being carried on by Gabinius against Aristobulus in Palestine, and in support of Ptolemy Auletes in Egypt.
A new chapter in his life was opened by the visit which he made to Julius Cæsar in Gaul (54 B.C.). Welcomed by the victorious general as a valuable assistant in his ambitious designs, and raised by his influence to the offices of quæstor, augur, and tribune of the plebes, he displayed admirable boldness and activity in the maintenance of his patron’s cause, in opposition to the violence and intrigues of the oligarchical party. At length his antagonists prevailed, and expelled him from the curia; and the political contest became a civil war. The Rubicon was crossed; Cæsar was victorious, and Antony shared in his triumph. Deputy-governor of Italy during Cæsar’s absence in Spain (49), second in command in the decisive battle of Pharsalia (48), and again deputy-governor of Italy while Cæsar was in Africa (47), Antony was now inferior in power only to the dictator himself, and eagerly seized the opportunity of indulging in the most extravagant excesses of luxurious licentiousness—excesses which Cicero depicted in the “Philippics” with all the elaborate eloquence of political hatred. In 46 he seems to have taken offence at Cæsar, because he insisted on payment for the property of Pompey which Antony professedly had purchased, but had merely appropriated. But the estrangement was not of long continuance, for we find Antony meeting the dictator at Narbo the following year, and rejecting the advances of Trebonius, who endeavored to discover if there was any hope of getting Antony to join in the conspiracy that was already on foot. In 44 he was consul along with Cæsar, and seconded his ambition by the famous offer of the crown on the 15th of February, thus unconsciously preparing the way for the tragedy on the 15th of March. To the sincerity of his adherence to Cæsar, the conspirators themselves bore witness on that memorable day, by the care which they took to keep him engaged without, while the daggers were doing their work within.
This was the second great epoch in Antony’s life. A brighter prospect than ever was then opened to his ambition. By his eloquence—a hereditary gift—he managed to stir up the minds of the populace against the assassins of Cæsar, and drove them from the city. He made peace with the remaining representatives of the senatorial party, and seemed almost to have succeeded to the power and position of his unfortunate patron. But the youthful Octavius, whom Cæsar had adopted as his son, arrived from Illyria, and claimed the inheritance of his “father.” Agreement was impossible, and war ensued. Octavius obtained the support of the Senate and of Cicero; and the veteran troops of the dictator flocked to his standard. Antony was denounced as a public enemy; and the city gave its loudest applause to the tirades of his most eloquent accuser. His cause gradually lost ground, and seemed to be totally ruined when his army was defeated in the siege of Mutina (43 B.C.). But escaping to Cisalpine Gaul, he formed a junction with Lepidus, and they marched toward Rome with 17 legions and 10,000 cavalry.
The wily Octavius now betrayed his party, and entered into terms with Antony and Lepidus. It was agreed that they three should adopt the title—so beautifully ironical—of Triumviri reipublicæ constituendæ, and share the power and the provinces among them. Gaul was to be Antony’s; Spain fell to the lot of Lepidus, and Africa, Sardinia, and Sicily were to belong to Octavius. A conjunct proscription followed, each of the partners in the villanous design bartering the life of his friends, for the pleasure of destroying his foes. The detested author of the “Philippics” was given up to Antony’s revenge; and, according to Appian, the number of the victims amounted to 300 senators and 2,000 knights. In the following year Antony and Octavius proceeded against the conspirators, Cassius and Brutus, who still maintained themselves in Macedonia; and, in the battles of Philippi, stamped out the last embers of republican Rome.
While Octavius returned to Italy, Antony proceeded to Greece, and thence to Asia Minor, for the sake of recruiting his funds, completing the subjugation of the Eastern provinces, and obtaining satisfaction about the conduct of the Egyptian queen during the recent contest. On his passage through Cilicia, in 41, he was visited by Cleopatra, who came to answer the charges in person. She sailed up the Cydnus in a gorgeous bark, with a fantastic and brilliant equipage, and brought all her allurements to bear on the heart of the voluptuous Roman. Her success was complete; and he who was to have been her judge, was led captive to Alexandria as her slave. All was forgotten in the fascination and delight of the passing hour; and feasting and revelry found perpetual and ever-varying renewal.
At length Antony was aroused by the Parthian invasion of Syria, and the report of an outbreak between Fulvia, his wife, and Lucius, his brother, on the one hand, and Octavius on the other. On arriving in Italy he found that the war was over, and Octavius the victor; and the chief cause of disagreement being soon after removed by the death of Fulvia, a reconciliation was speedily effected between the triumvirs, and cemented by the marriage of Antony with Octavia, the sister of his colleague. A new division of the Roman world was agreed on at Brundusium, Lepidus receiving Africa, Octavius the West, and Antony the East.
Returning to his province, Antony was for a time successful; his general, Ventidius, beating the Parthians, and Socius capturing Jerusalem and conquering Antigonus. But after another visit to Italy, during which the triumvirate was prolonged for five years, Antony sent away his wife, yielded himself completely to the evil influence of Cleopatra, indulged not only in licentiousness, but in tyranny, and allowed his affairs to be neglected or delayed. An expedition against the Parthians was a failure; but for this, his success against Artavasdes, the Armenian king, in some measure compensated. Octavius at length determined to get rid of Antony, and had little need of invention to bring charges sufficient against him. About two years were spent in preparations and delays on both sides, and it was not till the year 31 that the fate of Antony was decided by the battle of Actium.
Defeated and deserted, he once more sought refuge and repose in the society of Cleopatra, but was followed even there by his relentless rival. At first he made a gallant effort to defend himself, and partially succeeded. But convinced of the hopelessness of his position, and assured of the suicide of his mistress, he followed the example which he was falsely informed she had given (30 B.C.). Antony had been married in succession to Fadia, Antonia, Fulvia, and Octavia, and left behind him a number of children. A short but vivid sketch of Antony is given by De Quincey in his “Essay on the Cæsars.”
[from Great Men and Famous Women. Vol. 1 of 8, by Various]