It’s Episode 4 of our Roman epic and the ailing Republic is divided in two. It’s East vs. West, brains vs. brawn and man vs. woman (okay that’s a stretch) as Gaius Octavius steps into the limelight to face off against Mark Antony and his Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. It’s been a long haul but we promise we’re almost done… as the Republic transforms into the Empire, most of the iconic figures are off the board leaving only two viable factions. But as we all know, there can be only one.
Michael has calmed down after last episode having put things right for poor Cicero but we learn that his dislike for young Gaius is almost as strong as his reverence of the old statesman. We learn how Gaius Octavius rose from being an overly protected and sickly boy, seemingly no threat to anyone, to becoming the world’s most powerful man. It’s the ultimate expression of brains over brawn as Gaius Octavius outmanoeuvres the experienced soldiers and politicians alike who sought to use him and instead becomes as great as his uncle. It’s the coming of age of a dictator, from Octavius to Caesar. From simply Gaius, to Augustus.
We also delve into one of history’s most famous romances – Antony and Cleopatra. Antony had it all, Rome was practically at his heel, only a sickly and unimpressive young boy with a famous name in his way. But Cleopatra had plans, the Queen of Kings used her relationship with Antony to firmly establish her rule over Egypt, finally crushing any dissent from those who supported her brother in Egypt’s long civil war. We’ll discuss what Antony got up to in the East while Gaius Octavius consolidated the west and how Cleopatra figured into things.
The century of civil wars are coming to a close as some of Rome’s most famous men (and women) clash for a final time… The great Cicero hopes to save the dying Republic while Octavius and Antony fight it out with Rome’s fate hanging in the balance.
The Grachi, Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus and Caesar all have shown the way and Gaius Octavius meant to outdo them all. His audaciousness and ruthlessness are the stuff of legend, daring to do what even Caesar himself had not.
But as he would put it: I am Caesar himself.
Adrian Goldsworthy: Augustus: The First Emperor of Rome (2015)
Mary Beard- SPQR
Plutarch- The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (Benediction Classics, Oxford 2015)