Sunday, November 07, 2004

Octavian Redux

To my thinking, there is an interesting parallel between George Bush's defeat of John Kerry in 2004 and Octavian's (Augustus Caesar's) defeat of Marc Antony some 2000 years ago in 30 b.c. In the years leading up to Actium, and, eventually, Alexandria, Antony luxuriated by Cleopatra's side in Alexandria, growing more and more out of touch with the ideals -- indeed, the values -- of the Romans. Antony's disdain for Rome (if it can be called disdain -- it may have been folly) is best witnessed in his decision to hold a Triumph in the gymnasium (a most un-Roman Hellenstic institution) of Alexandria in 34 b.c. As Colin Wells explains in "The Roman Empire," a Triumph was "a cherished piece of Roman public ceremonial and to celebrate it except at Rome was to strike at Rome's dominant position." Antony was, some have argued, besotted with the notion of a grander role than mere Triumver of Rome. In Alexandria, Antony saw an opportunity to bring the known world together under his umbrella, to serve, as it were, as a sort of Secretary General, head of an uber-government. Octavian, on the other hand, was for Rome, and Rome alone. Wells describes it thusly:
[Antony] was almost a generation older, and more widely travelled [than Octavian]. Roman proconsuls met Hellenistic monarchs as their equals or superiors, issuing orders, taking precedence, even leading them in triumphs. Antony had offered Caesar a diadem. Did he see himself ruling from Alexandria as a Hellenistic 'great king,' king of kings? He might well have seen the course of history leading logically to this next step[.] Vergil and Horace make Octavian's decision to hark back to the 'restored' Republic and Rome's 'traditional' values now seem inevitable, but in the decade before Actium, history might well have seemed to be on Antony's side.
This strikes me as amenable to translation to the so-called "moral values" election we have just been through. At its core lie great questions. What is America's role in the world? Deeper still -- and perhaps far more relevant -- what is the world's role in America? To the observer, history might well appear to have been on the side of the "global test" and nascent shedding of sovereignty that permeated Kerry's views on foreign relations and national security. As the battle between Antony and Octavian reveal, it is not the first time that the 'locals' have roundly rejected multi-national pretensions on the part of their would-be leaders.