A Frank Exchange of Views
In order to discuss a number of issues that have accumulated during a certain triumvir’s dallying in the east, Antony and Octavius are to meet at a country retreat once owned by Lepidus. Conveniently located in a place the exact geocoordinates of which are not available for reasons of imperial security, the primary mansion and the buildings adjacent to it form a structure typical of a luxe Roman-style settlement of the time. The stark interiors are in contrast to the lush gardens outside; the only artworks in evidence are some Greek vases and terracotta objects — few in number, but so expensive as to be close to invaluable.
“Hey Octavius, how’s it going?” — Antony, of course.
“Antony. We have much to discuss.”
“Well, let’s get to it then.”
Antony and Octavius sit down at the conference table — tumblers, jugs of water, tablets and styluses, and little bowls of nuts are the predictable materials — and Agrippa and his counterpart Enobarbus follow suit.
Antony has decided not to complain about the unsatisfactory feast and instead concentrates on the business at hand. “So, what’s up?”
“I have not a few grievances.”
“Well, that’s too bad. But understandable. I don’t know what is worse, the dumb pigheaded farmers who don’t want to support our troops here or those Parthians skulking about in the east.”
Octavius would not be Octavius if he didn’t know to delegate the bulk of his argument to his subordinate. “Agrippa?”
“While Octavius certainly appreciates Antony’s now meeting him in such free and friendly conference, Antony’s past misdeeds need to be addressed. Acting on behalf of Antony and in gross violation of previous accords, his late wife Fulvia, along with his brother Lucius, not only stirred up Roman citizens against the rightful rule of Octavius as triumvir, but also led armed units against him in the name of their kinsman. Moreover, Antony himself has repeatedly failed to honor the terms of the second triumvirate and Octavius as his comrade: no public stance in support of Octavius and against the insurgents was taken, emissaries sent to the court of Alexandria were ignored or rebuffed in the curtest manner thinkable, and the provision of reserve troops and military materials as well as the shipment of grain and other foodstuff as laid out and agreed upon in Articles 14, 15, 16, and 17 subsections a, b, and d have not been forthcoming or only in a haphazard and fitful manner, even upon express request. Shall I go on?”
Since Antony fails to reply and seems to be lost in thought, Enobarbus responds in his place.
“Speaking for Antony, I most forcefully disavow any culpability concerning recent events in the homeland. It is not upon Antony to enforce compliance with the aforementioned treaty or other Roman laws in the case of an unruly private citizen such as Fulvia if said citizen resides in another triumvir’s domain; in addition, to become party to the conflict in such a manner would have conveyed a lack of trust in Octavius’ ability to keep his own house in order. And, as we all know, Fulvia and Lucius were acting on their own initiative; Antony’s having been the word of war is anything but conclusive evidence of any endorsement or other type of involvement on his part. As for the issue of the supposed mistreatment of Octavian messengers, I can only restate what I have communicated to your office, in more than one memorandum. When in Egypt, we have to — up to a point — do as the Egyptians do and follow the local court protocol; it should really come as no surprise that failure to do so leads to swift ejection from the royal grounds.
Finally, it is simply not feasible to maintain our ongoing commitment to Egypt without certain infractions; strictly adhering to SPQR rules and arrangements would lead to massive upheaval, if not catastrophe. There are several reasons why troop contingents could not be met: first of all, considering the extent of the eastern part of the Empire and the manpower needed to control it, there are not that many legions to begin with; secondly and more specifically with our presence in Egypt in mind, it would be unwise to squander the hard-won expertise of our desert regiments by uprooting them to milder climates; and most recently, Antony had to make a command decision to send troops to the Syrian theater to help stave off the worst of the attacks by the Parthians — would you rather have them whistling to the air in Etruria or Spain?”
Although the question was meant rhetorically and Agrippa knows so, he feels bound to defend himself. “There is much work to be done in the west!”
“Which is why, undoubtedly, troop rotation out of Gaul has proven to be so problematic. But let me refute the last of your accusations.”
“Enobarbus, it’s okay.” He has been interrupted again, but this time by Antony.
“It’s okay. I screwed up. I screwed up and I’m sorry.”
Now nobody is interrupting anybody, but everybody is trying to make sense of Antony’s sudden confession.
At last, Octavius finds the words to express his astonishment: “Well, I’ll say … What do we do now?”