After the murder of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire is ruled by the noble triumvirs Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavius (Caesar’s nephew). Antony, given the Eastern sphere to rule, goes to Alexandria and there he sees and falls passionately in love with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. She is the flower of the Nile, but she is also the mistress of Julius Caesar and many others. Antony is so enamored of her that he ignores his own counsel and the warnings of his friends. As long as he can, he also ignores a request from Octavius Caesar that he return to Rome. Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey the Great, and a powerful leader, is gathering troops to seize Rome from the rule of the triumvirs, and Octavius Caesar wishes to confer with Antony and Lepidus. At last the danger of a victory by Sextus Pompeius, coupled with the news that his wife Fulvia is dead, forces Antony to leave Egypt and return to Rome.
Because Antony is a better general than either Lepidus or Octavius, Pompeius is confident of victory as long as Antony stays in Egypt. When Pompeius hears that Antony is returning to Rome, he is reduced to hoping that Octavius and Antony will not mend their quarrels but continue to fight each other as they did in the past. Lepidus does not matter, since he sides with neither of the other two and cares little for conquest and glory. Pompeius is disappointed, however, for Antony and Octavius join forces in the face of common danger. To seal their renewed friendship, Antony marries Octavia, Octavius’s sister. Pompeius’s scheme to keep Antony and Octavius apart fails, but he still hopes that Antony’s lust for Cleopatra will entice him back to Egypt. To stall for time, he seals a treaty with the triumvirs. Antony, accompanied by his new wife, goes to Athens to deal with matters relating to the Roman Empire. There word reaches him that Lepidus and Octavius had waged war in spite of the treaty they signed and that Pompeius was killed. Octavius next seizes Lepidus on the pretext that he aided Pompeius. Now the Roman world has but two rulers, Octavius and Antony.
Antony cannot resist the lure of Cleopatra. Sending Octavia home from Athens, he hurries back to Egypt. By so doing, he ends all pretense of friendship between him and Octavius. Both prepare for a battle that will decide who is to be the sole ruler of the world. Cleopatra joins her forces with Antony’s. Antony’s forces are supreme on land, but Octavius rules the sea and lures Antony to fight him there. Antony’s friends and captains, particularly loyal Enobarbus, beg him not to risk his forces on the sea, but Antony is confident of victory, and he prepares to match his ships with those of Octavius at Actium. In the...
(The entire section is 1100 words.)