Today’s blot on world literature will take another walk down memory lane. We shall visit our old friends Antony and Cleopatra in their dust-up with Octavian at the naval battle of Actium, which occurred in September 31 B.C.
Replenish your caffeine level by popping a handful of No-Doze, eating a giant Hershey chocolate bar and drinking a huge cup of Bojangles’s coffee to stay awake while having some Roman history tossed in your direction. Our old philosopher buddy George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Another of our buddies, Bluto in “Animal House,” started a food fight with the evil Omegas listening to Sam Cooke’s song “Wonderful World,” which included the lines “Don’t know much about history/ Don’t know much biology/ Don’t know much about the French I took.”
I am unsure if Santayana’s warning and Bluto’s imitation of a pimple means that if you don’t recall the Battle of Actium that you, gentle reader, are doomed to be defeated by a Roman Emperor in a naval battle or to be chased around a college dining hall by a bunch of evil preppies. But why take a chance? You have already read most of the first few paragraphs. You are invested now in avoiding becoming a galley slave of a Roman Emperor or an Omega pledge. You might as well finish the rest of this column.
Once upon a time, Julius Caesar had a funny thing happen to him on the way to the forum. After being ventilated by a number of sharp objects held by some Roman senators, Julius expired, leaving a vacuum at the top of Rome. Three would-be emperors took over, Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus.
The plan was to divide up the Roman Empire with each taking a slice to rule. This did not work out so well, as the boys had not learned to share in kindergarten. Mark Anthony got the section of the empire that included Egypt, which was ruled by Cleopatra. Cleo was a major babe and political strategist in her own right. She had beguiled Julius Caesar, providing him with a son named Caesarion, which meant in Latin, “You are going to be a target for any other Roman leader.”
Mark sent word to Cleo to come see him because he thought she was helping his enemies. Cleo got herself gussied up and came down the Nile in the Royal Yacht dressed as Venus, the goddess of love. Mark was so smitten by Cleo’s false eyelashes that he became a fool for love. He hooked up with her and began making whoopee.
Word in Rome was that the other two Emperors were not happy with this turn of events.
After a winter of content with Cleo, Mark left Egypt and went back to Rome. In an effort to show he was a team player, Mark married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Alas, the marriage to Octavia could not last. Mark had left his heart in Alexandria. Mark took Route 66 back to Egypt to hang with Cleo. In his absence, Cleo had produced a life insurance policy in the form of twins for whom Mark was the Baby Daddy.
Octavian was not amused at this affront to his sister. He declared war on Cleo and Mark. Near Actium, off the coast of Greece, Octavian’s, Cleo’s and Mark’s navies lined up for the Naval Rassle Mania Battle of the millennium.
After a mighty ruckus, Octavian’s fleet whupped Cleo’s and Mark’s navy. Recognizing that the battle was lost, Cleo and Mark skedaddled back to Egypt – where, like today’s politicians, they blamed others for their loss.
Octavian eventually had a final land battle with Mark, defeating him once again. After Cleo heard about this loss, she went to the mattresses in the tomb she had built for herself. Mark received fake news that Cleo had killed herself. Distraught, he fell upon his sword, mortally wounded but alive enough to learn from a second messenger that reports of Cleo’s death had been greatly exaggerated and she still lived. Mark managed to get to Cleo before he died. He asked her to try to make peace with Octavian.
Cleo dolled herself up, intending to seduce Octavian as she had done with Julius Caesar and Mark, but Octavian was having none of it.
Scorned by Octavian, Cleo clutched an asp to her bosom and expired rather than become a high-profile prisoner. Like a mafia Don, Octavian cleaned up the rest of the family by having Cleo’s son Caesarion terminated with extreme prejudice. Egypt then became part of the Roman Empire. Octavian changed his name to Caesar Augustus, renamed the eighth month August, and ruled Rome for the next 41 years.
So, what have we learned today? Bluto didn’t like the Omegas any more than Octavian liked Mark Antony. If warned to beware the Ides of March by a soothsayer, you better beware. Cleopatra may have been the first woman to have been a victim of #MeToo. Marrying and then dumping the sister of a Roman Emperor may not turn out as well as you hope. The grass on the other side of the pyramid is not always greener. Roman emperors played for keeps. Or finally, as Jim Morrison once said: “Nobody gets out of here alive.”