Critical Decision: Octavia or Cleopatra? Guest Blogger Brook Allen

Introduction

It is my pleasure to introduce Brook Allen, blogger and author of the Antonius series. The historical fiction series captures the life and essence of Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony). After reading Antonius: Soldier of Fate (Book 3), I was fascinated with the lesser-known historical figure, Octavia. She was the fourth wife of Marcus Antonius and sister of his political rival, Octavian, in the Second Triumvirate. Their marriage forged a political alliance between the two powerful leaders during the time when Cleopatra became Antonius’s lover and ally.

Below is a guest post by Brook Allen of how Cleopatra and Octavia influenced Marcus Antonius in their love triangle. Also provided are her biography contact information, and book links.

Author Brook Allen


Antonius’s Critical Decision: Octavia or Cleopatra?

Now that my final book in the Antonius Trilogy has launched, I look back as an author and feel as though I understand my “friend” Marcus Antonius a lot better.


I remember taking a tour with an archaeologist in Rome some years ago. She was a brilliant woman, eager to share her love of the city and experiences, as someone who had made a unique discovery there and had the opportunity to excavate it. However, as we were still introducing ourselves, and I mentioned I was writing on Marcus Antonius, a wall went up! The rest of the day, I felt as though she was on auto-pilot showing me around and staying distant. After talking with her more, her impassioned feelings poured forth: she HATED Antonius. She didn’t like talking about him because of what he did to Octavia.

Bust of Octavia


Wow. It was the first concrete evidence I had found of what a polarizing figure in history Marcus Antonius still is to this day. People who study the Roman world are still divided on their opinions of him. This incident really caused me to spend a lot of time researching WHY Antonius deserted his Roman wife. And I decided that I would make Octavia a pivotal figure in my story and attempt to explain his choice.

So let’s look at this “love triangle”, shall we?

Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) had his life story told by his enemies or by men who lived roughly a century or more after him. Artwork depicting his likeness, inscriptions bearing his name, and any evidence of whatever plans he and Cleopatra had made together were all destroyed following his death. What we do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was that he was like many Roman men in his day—a ravenous wolf when it came to women. He loved whoring, having a mistress, he craved and enjoyed sex, and he was proud of his expertise in bed and his masculine ability to have sons. Wine was his drug of choice, and he probably wasn’t above trying aphrodisiacs and varying positions during sexual encounters. Sexuality in the ancient world wasn’t for the modest.

Marcus Antonius Bust


But Antonius was also a figure of power—a great deal of power, especially following the assassination of Julius Caesar. To survive politically, he required enormous amounts of gold to pay his legions, was expected to govern well, add to Rome’s growing empire, and show the usual aloof and characteristic dignitas in dealing with provincial natives.

Antonius’s marriage to Octavia occurred right after his first liaison with Cleopatra. That makes me skeptical about it being a pleasing event for him. First, his previous wife had just died—literally only months or less prior to his betrothal to Octavia. Second—well, it was Octavian’s idea, NOT Antonius’s!

And what about Octavia? How did she feel about all of this? She had been married around the age of fifteen to a much older man—Gaius Marcellus—who opposed Julius Caesar. Though it’s unclear exactly what happened, Caesar wanted the couple to divorce at one point so that Octavia could marry the recently widowed Pompeius Magnus. This arrangement fell through. Nobody knows why, but I rather doubt that Marcellus wanted to divorce his wife just because his political opponent demanded it!

Octavia was a true example of the loyal, nurturing Roman matron all of her life, in both her marriage to Marcellus and then to Antonius. She spun her own wool, was described as being quite beautiful, and once married to Antonius, supported him as much as her brother until their divorce.

How did SHE feel about marrying her brother’s rival? Frankly, I doubt she was very happy about it, either. At the time, Octavia was in a late-term pregnancy by Marcellus, who had died before their baby was born. Octavian forced her betrothal to Antonius while she was heavy with child. What woman could be pleased with that? The poor thing was still in mourning, as was Antonius for his own wife who had just died.

Behold the marriage that was depicted in Roman propaganda as the salvation of the Republic, preventing more civil war. Silver cups with mythological analogies of Octavian’s and Antonius’s peace at Brundisium were crafted, coins with both Antonius’s and Octavia’s profiles, side by side were minted. Even Virgil, in some cryptic passages of poetry, proclaimed this marriage to herald a golden age.

Ancient Coin of Marcus Antonius and Octavia

Never had a marriage been so lauded. And never had a marriage been so doomed.

In the winter preceding his return to Italy and betrothal to Octavia in late 41 BC, Antonius tasted Cleopatra’s charms for the first time. Nobody really knows whether real love existed between them. But their meeting and physical attraction became legendary in their own time.

Plutarch wrote a splendid description of the Queen (though he lived a century after her!) Still, he must have had some superb primary sources in comparison to what we have today:

For her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another…”

I’m not suggesting that Octavia was UN-educated, but she probably wasn’t fluent in seven languages like Cleopatra. Egypt’s Queen had the world’s foremost library at her fingertips, along with the university at Alexandria, and the draw of countless men of science and literature. She had also proven herself capable of ruling well. She was managing increasing revenue, led Egypt through several years of drought, and had built a strong relationship with the native Egyptians in Upper Egypt—something none of her Ptolemaic forbears had achieved. In short, she was a brilliant woman and though certain examples of her coinage looks a little witch-like, her busts look attractive, if not rather pretty.

Bust of Cleopatra


As the final decade in his life continued, Antonius’s relations with Octavian had broken down. Twice, Octavian set up meetings in Italy to which Antonius arrived promptly, only to find his brother in law not just absent, but having failed to allow Antonius entry into his own country. Then there was the question of troops with which Antonius had provided Octavian, only to receive nothing in return. Really, there was very little keeping this alliance alive.

Still planning to take up Julius Caesar’s banner against the Parthian Empire, Antonius needed coin. He wasn’t getting much from his brother in law. His mother and brothers had all died, and he had already propagated a solid alliance with Egypt—the world’s breadbasket—for support in this endeavor. When he finally headed East again, he did so alone. To succeed, he’d need to renew the alliance with Egypt.

He made his choice for good or ill. He chose Cleopatra—her wealth and the side benefits of their physical relationship must have meant something to him, for many scholars agree that they married by Egyptian law prior to his Parthian adventure. He needed secure allies at his back and gold to pay his army, which was one-hundred THOUSAND strong! Yes, he made concessions to the Queen, too—ones that he may have lived to regret later. But the appearance of this “love triangle” was one of practicality, regardless of any emotion involved. Did Antonius and Cleopatra love one another? This author is convinced that they did, but hey—I’ll save that for another blog!

And what of poor Octavia?

Though it’s recorded that she spoke up on her husband’s behalf and even served as a mediator between Antonius and Octavian, she had proven that she was best at the art of domesticity and mothering. She proved it again by taking in Antonius’s children by Cleopatra after their parents’ deaths. After all she did for her brother, he allowed her a place in his households, along with all of the kids, but never “forced” her to marry again. He also built her a large entryway near the Theater of Marcellus—smaller theater that was started by Caesar and completed by her son, Marcellus. She must not have thought the porticus built in her honor was enough, for after her son Marcellus died, she gifted Rome with a library near the “Porticus Octavia”.

Porticus Octavia

Did Octavia love Antonius? Was she jealous once he left her for Cleopatra? Or did she possibly encourage him to go? We’ll never know, but people intrigued with Antonius and Cleopatra’s romance should be mindful that before Antonius was ever fully committed to Cleo, there was this unusual and unwanted love triangle adding a lot of angst to the whole story.

Biography Brook Allen

Author Brook Allen has a passion for ancient history—especially 1st century BC Rome. Her Antonius Trilogy is a detailed account of the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she has worked on for the past fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s second book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the civil war against Brutus and Cassius. Antonius: Soldier of Fate is the last book in the trilogy, spotlighting the romance between Antonius and Cleopatra and the historic war with Octavian Caesar.

In researching the Antonius Trilogy, Brook’s travels have led her to Italy, Egypt, Greece, and even Turkey to explore places where Antony once lived, fought, and eventually died. While researching abroad, she consulted with scholars and archaeologists well-versed in Hellenistic and Roman history, specifically pinpointing the late Republican Period in Rome. Brook belongs to the Historical Novel Society and attends conferences as often as possible to study craft and meet fellow authors. In 2019, Son of Rome won the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award. In 2020, it was honored with a silver medal in the international Reader’s Favorite Book Reviewers Book Awards.

Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies, which helped prepare her for authoring her present works. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia. Her personal interests include travel, cycling, hiking in the woods, reading, and spending downtime with her husband and two amazing Labrador Retrievers. She lives in the heart of southwest Virginia in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.

Contact Information Book Allen

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Books by Brook Allen

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Interview Brook Allen, Author of Antonius Trilogy

INTRODUCTION

 

It is my pleasure to introduce Brook Allen, author of the Antonius Trilogy, historical fiction about Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony). Her first book, Antonius: Son of Rome, caught my attention when it was awarded the must-deserved 2019 Book of the Year Award by The Coffee Pot Book Club. Mark Antony is one of the most fascinating historical figures from Ancient Rome. He is an enigma because most of the accounts about him were written by his enemies. Author Brook Allen realistically captures the essence of Mark Antony and Roman politics. The second book, Antonius: Second in Command), is also an engaging, must-read book for those who love historical fiction set in ancient Rome.

Below you will find a brief biography, interview, and contact information.


BIOGRAPHY

Brook Allen has a passion for ancient history—especially 1st century BC Rome. Her current work is a trilogy on the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published on March 15, 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s newest book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the bloody civil war against Brutus and Cassius.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

Would you provide an overview of the books you’ve published in the Antonius series about Marcus Antonius who is considered one of history’s most controversial men?

I guess I’ve always felt a little sorry for Marcus (Marc Antony). Octavian not only demanded his death, but in treating his memory with damnatio memoriae—the damning of one’s memory, his statues and busts were destroyed, his name chiseled off of inscriptions, and even his birth date was designated as a day of “bad omens”. All that is pretty heavy stuff. To this day, he gets Classicists rattled, and they always have opinions about him. Usually it’s either “love him or hate him”!

Certainly, Marcus Antonius had an agenda, but truthfully, nobody knows what it was. There had to be reasons he acted as he did. In approaching his life story, I decided to begin at his father’s death, since it must have been a humiliation for his family. As my book Son of Rome progresses, the Antonii deal with repeated misfortune and humiliation. And all of this was going on in the middle of so much political and social upheaval—the Spartacan Revolt, the Catiline Conspiracy… Patricia Southern, who wrote a fantastic biography on Antonius said it best, stating that he grew up never seeing the Roman Republic work properly. The death throes of the Republic provide a thrilling and breathtaking panorama of events on which to depict his story since not much of his early years is known.

In my second book, Second in Command, Marcus comes into his own. This is where writers like Plutarch especially, kick in and give a lot more details about what he was doing—especially once he joins Caesar in Gaul. Second in Command is one fast-paced read. There’s scandal, political intrigue, tragedy (Marcus’s life was marred by multiple tragedies, poor guy!), and war. Battle scenes have become a personal hobby now and I actually enjoy writing them. Thank you, Adrian Goldsworthy—a man who knows Roman legions and warfare like the back of his hand.

The final book in my trilogy should be out a little later this year. I’m hoping by early fall. It will be tragic and dark, as that’s the sort of life Antonius endured in his later years. However, to lighten that is one of history’s most celebrated love stories; that of Antonius and Cleopatra. I am doing my best to treat it with justice and empathy. There were kids involved, sadly, and life at its best in the 1st century BC could be brutal. Expect plenty of warfare and emotional torment, both physical and propaganda-driven.

What inspired you to write about the legendary historical enigma, Marcus Antonius?

Way back in high school is where it all began. I had a fabulous Sophomore English teacher and she had us read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. By then, I’d already been bitten by the writing bug, but after studying it, I was hooked on Roman history. I knew I wanted to write on the 1st century BC/end of the Republic dilemma somehow.

Fast-forward now to 2005. I had just completed my Masters with an emphasis in Roman Studies and decided, “It’s time.” By then, I’d had enough life experiences and deep research into Roman culture that I felt as though I could manage the world-building aspect, which, to me—is possibly even more important to historical fiction writing than building character. Anyway, Robert Harris was in the midst of his Cicero trilogy, so Cicero was out. Several series had recently been done on Julius Caesar, who would have been a blast to write on. So, I skipped him. Honestly, I didn’t like Octavian enough to focus on him. I just kept coming back to Antonius. And I’m so glad I did. He’s been my close friend now for fifteen years and my husband even tolerates him well!

How much research was involved in writing your books?

If I was going to make this worthwhile… to succeed with this trilogy, then I had to build a world and character that was so believable and irresistible that people would have no choice but want to read it.

My parents were still alive when I began writing it, and they sent me to Egypt. It was the most incredible trip I’ve ever taken. I spent a week just in Alexandria, walking the beach, taking a boat out into the Great Harbor, exploring the foundations of the ancient Pharos Lighthouse inside Fort Qaitbay, and visiting helpful folks at the Center for Alexandrian Studies.

Naturally, Rome and Greece have been on my itinerary multiple times, and I even made a brief visit to Ephesus. For a guy who lived two-thousand years ago without jet service, Marcus got around! I have some incredible guide-friends now—two in Greece whom I depend on, and one in Rome. They have all been such integral resources for these books and walking ancient sites with them was an experience that I’ll never forget. Several times, either the Greek or Italian government had shut down sites I needed to see. However, with the help from my Classics professor, the Italian government, and even a humble security guard—I’ve been everyplace from Actium in western Greece to Taposiris Magna in Egypt, to the House of Livia in Rome!

Truthfully, I’m still researching, and even as I continue my drafting process, I sometimes take research breaks to fine-tune something I want to be sure of.

How did you go ABOUT researching the history, language, and culture of the 1st Century BC ancient Romans?

The Classics professor with whom I did my Masters thesis, Dr. Christina Salowey, provided me with a Latin book and I self-taught myself a few basics. Fortunately, I speak French, and that helped quite a bit. However, I’ll admit that I never got as far along with Latin as I wanted.

There is so much material out there and sometimes when writing you have to be careful not to “kitchen-sink”—stick in too much detail. Readers want to be immersed but not overwhelmed. When I did my Masters, I did it in order to write this trilogy. Everything I focused on had a place in my story. Once, while in Rome, I remember slipping on my sports sandals and jogging from the Palatine Hill in Rome all the way down to the Curia to determine how long it took to get there in a hurry! And I spent nearly a week in Pompeii, visiting that site multiple times with a friend, just to feel the pulse of ancient Rome. That was time very well-spent.

Were there any unexpected surprises about Marcus Antonius that you found in your research?

Indeed! Perhaps the very thing that is so surprising about him is that he’s still soooooo controversial. Classicists and historians either love him or hate him. After researching the guy for fifteen years, I see communication as having been his biggest issue. Poor Marcus lived in the wrong age. Today, he would’ve been on SKYPE in Greece, defending himself to the Senate in Rome, or on Twitter, tweeting about his REAL intentions regarding his plans in governing the East. Really, I think distance was one of the things that wound up defeating him in the end. Distance from Rome and not being able to be there to stand up for what he believed. Why didn’t he go back? Maybe it was due to Cleopatra… Who knows? I do know that he governed the East and that when Octavian finally took over, he didn’t make immediate changes. Something had to be going fairly well!

Is there any sub-character in the Antonius series that is your favorite? Explain why?

YES! I love Julia Antonia, Marcus Antonius’s mother. Granted, they don’t always see eye-to eye in Antonius: Son of Rome, but I think readers will come to love and respect her. She was one brassy lady, to say the least. During the proscriptions, she confronted a group of soldiers at her doorstep, hunting her brother down, opening her stola and challenging them to kill her first—the mother of their general—before forcing their way in to kill her brother. Needless to say, her brother was safe! Later, in the final book that I’m writing, she winds up on a pirate’s ship! This was a Roman matron—high-born! Ancient sources are chock-full of some pretty incredible stuff. Love it!

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

When I have the time to really sit down and focus on a scene, that’s when it happens. And seldom during the first draft, either. It’s when I’m working on the second, third, fourth drafts that stuff just starts flowing and the characters just take total control. I start visualizing the scene and BOOM! For any author, that’s utter bliss. And in a way, when your characters speak to you and work through you like that, I guess it’s sort of creepy, too!

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that surprise you? In what way?

This whole “being an author” thing has been mind-blowing in a lot of ways. I have a reader in Australia who has been so kind—so encouraging. She writes something positive to me almost weekly now. I don’t think there’s any way I could convey how much of a difference it makes when somebody believes in your work in that way. And here she is, literally on the other side of the world from me. And yet, we have this special connection. Then there’s a manager in my local Barnes & Noble who believes in hometown authors and completely supports my work. This guy has become a champion for me. When I walk in and see my books on his shelves, always facing out so that the cover shows… it seems like nothing to most people, but to an author? It means the world.

I think it’s these kindnesses that totally eclipse an agent’s rejection or overshadow negative reviews. Loyal readers truly have the power to make an author. I can see that now.

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

This one’s hard, as honestly, I’m pretty hard to pin-down and become really close to, friendship-wise. I suppose it would be somebody who has commonality with me in some way—like writing, perhaps. A person who’s forgiving and forbearing, for sure. I’m not always likable. That’s why my sweet husband it such a diamond.

 If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I’ve always thought it would be super-cool to be able to communicate with animals. I’m talking Dr. Doolittle, here. I would LOVE to be able to touch a grizzly bear’s head, stroke it gently, and tell the biologist, “His tummy hurts because he’s been hibernating for seven months and hasn’t pooped in all that time! That’s the reason he’s so lethargic!” Wow. If I could understand animals, I could quit my day-job!

What might we be surprised to learn about you?

All of the riding scenes and cavalry/horse-related scenarios in my trilogy are from personal experience. Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an equestrienne and did pre-training for the Olympics. But again… that was LONG, long ago. However, my memory of riding and how it felt, and the way I trained— it brought a lot of fine-tuned action into my scenes with young Marcus.

What makes you laugh?

My husband. He’s hilarious—even when he doesn’t mean to be funny.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Just being with my dogs. I’m a dog-person to the max and I’d prefer being in their company any day compared to the company of people. Not that I’m anti-social or anything, but we introverted folk are like that!


You can contact Brook Allen and learn more about her books at:

Amazon Author Page

Website/Blog

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Book Review Antonius: Son of Rome by Brook Allen

Antonius: Son of RomeAntonius: Son of Rome by Brook Allen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I purchased “Antonius: Son of Rome” by Brook Allen, I was excited to read the novel about the early life of Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), an enigma in Roman History. Though the book is fictional, it captures the true essence of the controversial Roman figure, whose reputation was smeared by his enemies and Augustus Caesar. The story begins when the eleven-year-old Marcus Antonius grieves for his father who has died in disgrace. His mother soon marries Publius Cornelius Lentulus, a consul in Rome. As a teenager, Marcus possesses the promise of military talent, but he succumbs to the excesses of whoring, gambling, and drinking that leads to calamitous consequences. Even so, Marcus shows unyielding loyalty to his step-father, Publius Cornelius Lentulus, who is executed for leading the conspiracy to murder Cicero and set fire to Rome. He also demonstrates undying love for Fadia, a slave he frees and marries. After he is forced to leave Rome to escape creditors, he is educated in Greece where he adopts many of their beliefs and lifestyle. To redeem himself, Marcus joins the military staff of Aulus Gabinius, the Proconsul of Syria, as chief of the cavalry. His reputation as a military leader rises when he successfully fulfills his mission to defeat rebels in the middle east. His accolades pave the way for him to serve with Julius Caesar in Gaul (to be continued in the next book).

Author Brook Allen has written an engaging story of a young Roman nobleman born into a family that has fallen from grace. Although Marcus Antonius has major character flaws, his attributes as a military leader and his courage and loyalty to those he loves are qualities that help him on his journey to greatness. The author has masterfully weaved the historical accounts of Antonius into a tale that rings true. The story is suspenseful and provides insight into Marcus Antonius and Roman politics.

“Antonius: Son of Rome” is one of the best historical fiction books that I’ve read. I highly recommend this novel to those who relish reading historical fiction set in ancient Rome. I’ve purchased the second book, “Antonius: Second in Command,” and look forward to reading it.

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