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Becoming Mark Antony: A Metabiographical Study of Characterization and Reception

  • Author(s): Lessie, Alexander James
  • Advisor(s): Richlin, Amy E
  • et al.

The subject of this dissertation is the nexus of Greek and Latin texts that feature Mark Antony. Cicero’s Philippics and Plutarch’s Life of Antony are the key components of this corpus, but this dissertation also encompasses writings about Antony by authors ranging from Propertius to Cassius Dio and covers the reception of this material in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Each chapter uses a metabiographical approach to examine a particular stylized persona that these authors project onto Antony. Chapter 1 investigates why authors invest Mark Antony with the attributes of a stage actor with a frequency rivaled only by similar treatments of later emperors like Caligula and Nero. Chapters 2 and 3 analyze the representation of Antony as a tyrant in Latin-language authors and Greek-language authors, respectively. Chapter 4 delineates the different ways that authors conceive of Antony’s love for Cleopatra as a type of madness. Chapter 5 uses Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as a test case for applying the metabiographical methodology to a post-classical literary text and focuses on Shakespeare’s innovative deployment of Antony as a paragon of eloquence.

By analyzing the manifestations these personae in different authors, I uncover new ways of understanding why competing portrayals of Antony take shape across time and across genre, and I map out the evolution of the idea of Mark Antony as it is manufactured over time in literature. I argue that the distortion of Antony that takes place in our sources is less an artifact of his rivals’ propaganda than a product of the historio-biographical process itself. I show how recurring biographical motifs exhibit subtle variations from author to author that signal alignments with particular rhetorical traditions, highlight key themes, or encode commentary upon the authors’ own cultural milieux.

The principal contribution my project makes to our understanding of Greco-Roman literature is to demonstrate how Mark Antony is exploited as a malleable cultural touchstone. Recent work in metabiography has illuminated how Julius Caesar and Cleopatra perform this role as well, but our understanding of the processes that produced icons like these remains incomplete without a comparable study of Mark Antony. This dissertation fills this gap.

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