In early life, Antony was remarkable, as we have already seen, for a certain savage ruggedness of character, and for a stern and indomitable recklessness of will, so great that it seemed impossible that any thing human should be able to tame him. He was under the control, too, of an ambition so lofty and aspiring that it appeared to know no bounds; and yet we find him taken possession of, in the very midst of his career, and in the height of his prosperity and success, by a woman, and so subdued by her arts and fascinations as to yield himself wholly to her guidance, and allow himself to be led about by her entirely at her will. She displaces whatever there might have been that was noble and generous in his heart, and substitutes therefor her own principles of malice and cruelty. She extinguishes all the fires of his ambition, originally so magnificent in its aims that the world seemed hardly large enough to afford it scope, and instead of this lofty passion, fills his soul with a love of the lowest, vilest, and most ignoble pleasures. She leads him to betray every public trust, to alienate from himself all the affections of his countrymen, to repel most cruelly the kindness and devotedness of a beautiful and faithful wife, and, finally to expel this wife and all of his own legitimate family from his house; and now, at last, she conducts him away in a most cowardly and ignoble flight from the field of his duty as a soldier—he knowing, all the time, that she is hurrying him to disgrace and destruction, and yet utterly without power to break from the control of his invisible chains.
The indignation which Antony’s base abandonment of his fleet and army at the battle of Actium excited, over all that part of the empire which had been under his command, was extreme. There was not the slightest possible excuse for such a flight. His army, in which his greatest strength lay, remained unharmed, and even his fleet was not defeated. The ships continued the combat until night, notwithstanding the betrayal of their cause by their commander. They were at length, however, subdued. The army, also, being discouraged, and losing all motive for resistance, yielded too. In a very short time the whole country went over to Octavius’s side.
In the mean time, Cleopatra and Antony, on their first return to Egypt, were completely beside themselves with terror. Cleopatra formed a plan for having all the treasures that she could save, and a certain number of galleys sufficient for the transportation of these treasures and a small company of friends, carried across the isthmus of Suez and launched upon the Red Sea, in order that she might escape in that direction, and find some remote hiding-place and safe retreat on the shores of Arabia or India, beyond the reach of Octavius’s dreaded power. She actually commenced this undertaking, and sent one or two of her galleys across the isthmus; but the Arabs seized them as soon as they reached their place of destination, and killed or captured the men that had them in charge, so that this desperate scheme was soon abandoned. She and Antony then finally concluded to establish themselves at Alexandria, and made preparation, as well as they could, for defending themselves against Octavius there.