Gaius Octavian (character of Rome)


Gaius Octavian (character of Rome)

Rome character


name= Gaius Octavian
class= Patrician
family= Atia of the Julii (mother) Octavia of the Julii (sister) Gaius Julius Caesar (great-uncle, adopted father) Livia (wife) Antonia (niece)
allies= Titus Pullo
Timon the Jew
Gaius Julius Caesar
Octavia of the Julii
Marcus Agrippa
Gaius Maecenas
enemies= Servilia of the Junii (ep 1.9-2.7)
Marcus Junius Brutus (ep 2.1-2.6)
Mark Antony (ep 2.2-2.5, 2.8-2.10)
appearances=Appears in every episode except 2-3.
portrayed= Max Pirkis (ep 1-1 to 2-2)
Simon Woods (ep 2-4 to 2-10)
fate= Alive at series end

Gaius Octavian is a character in the HBO/BBC2 original television series "Rome", played by Max Pirkis as a child in season one and the beginning of season two, and in the second season he is played by Simon Woods. He is portrayed as a shrewd, if somewhat cold, young man, with an understanding of the world, people, philosophy, and politics that go well beyond his years. The basis for this character is the early life of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.

Character history

Born to one of the most powerful families in Rome, the Julii, Octavian is the only son and youngest child of Atia of the Julii. His father died when he was young and was subsequently brought up by his mother and his older sister, Octavia. At the beginning of the series "Rome", Octavian is mere adolescent and his mother has him travel across a barren land with only a few slaves to take a white horse (brought to Rome by Timon), as a gift, to his great-uncle. However, along the way his slaves are killed and he is kidnapped by some of Pompey's men. He is rescued by Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus and with them, they recover the golden eagle from Pompey's men and return it to Octavian's great-uncle, Julius Caesar. Caesar is extremely impressed with the young boy's strength, intelligence and common beliefs about the Plebeians.

Octavian returns to Rome, accompanied by Pullo and Vorenus under the command of Mark Antony, Atia's lover, and is taken home to his mother. He demonstrates a large understanding about the state of Rome and its politics. As the result of the rebellion, the Julii family and their allies prepare to commit suicide. Upon being asked who he would wish to kill him, Octavian states that, "I can take care of myself." Caesar returns to Rome and the Julii family are spared, leaving many of the other nobility to ask the protection from them. In the rebellion, Octavia's husband is killed, and although it would seem that Octavian suspects his mother is involved, he says nothing.

His mother is ambitious for Octavian's future, encouraging him to risk his life to impress his great-uncle, having him eat goat's testicles to make him more of a man, and enlisting Pullo as a tutor to help Octavian in his battle, as well as copulation, skills. He is quite capable of killing; he is partly responsible for the deaths of Pompey's men and helping to murder Vorenus' brother-in-law, Evander Pulchio. Julius Caesar takes an interest in Gaius Octavian, giving him important political roles, including making him a pontiff despite his young age.

When Caesar's will is read shortly after his assassination it is revealed that he made Octavian his heir and adopted him as his son. Octavian then convinces Mark Antony to stay in Rome in order to stop Brutus and the other assassins from gaining power. However, after Brutus and the others flee Rome, Mark Antony refuses to transfer control of Caesar's money from Caesar's name to Octavian's. In retaliation against Antony and his mother, Octavian promises the plebeians the money that Caesar promised in the will. When Antony and Atia find out, he is attacked violently by Antony. Octavian is disgusted with his mother's choice of siding with Antony against him, and he runs away from home, taking all his belongings and a few soldiers. He travels south to Campania to stay with his friend Marcus Agrippa, who is well established there.

It is later mentioned that he and Agrippa have organized an army ten thousand strong that includes a large number of veterans. Cicero eventually sides with them against Antony, who is then declared a traitor. Very soon afterwards, Octavian is reunited with his friend Titus Pullo, who is amazed to see that Octavian has defeated Mark Antony. Pullo tells Octavian that Vorenus' children are alive and that he wanted to tell Vorenus, but he fought on Antony's side. Nonetheless, Octavian straight away insists that they find Vorenus, and gives him food, a horse and the seal of Caesar so that he might pass through the crowds. When Octavian returns to camp with Agrippa, they meet up with their friend Gaius Maecenas who informs them that the two generals who aided in defeating Antony have died and that the victory is now solely theirs. Although Octavian insists that the victory was not to spite Antony, it appears that he intends to use his new found power as influence in Rome, much to Cicero's fears.

The meeting between Octavian and Cicero is congenial, if not tense. Cicero adamantly refuses to give Octavian a triumph for his victory, claiming that Antony is still alive and thus a total victory was not achieved. However, at Octavian's insistence (along with some pressure from Agrippa), Cicero agrees to make Octavian consul provided that he listen to his advice. Octavian apparently agrees but then goes back on his promise when he declares Brutus and Cassius as enemies of the state (much to Cicero's chagrin). Due to the presence of armed soldiers in the Senate House, no one, not even Cicero, dares to oppose the measure and it is passed unanimously.

Octavian also continues to harbor a certain grudge against Atia for allowing Antony to beat him despite the pleas from Octavia to forgive their mother. Although Octavian is cold and stubborn, he seems to loosen up considerably when Atia personally asks for forgiveness. It remains to be seen whether Octavian truly forgives his mother.

Eventually, Cicero brings forth a dilemma to Octavian. Brutus and Cassius have begun their march back to Rome with an alleged 20 legions (although Agrippa correctly guesses that this is an exaggeration) and will seek to remove Octavian. Octavian is initially quite distressed by the threat as he only has four legions but is quickly provided an answer by his mother. Going out to Cisalpine Gaul, Octavian (with some aid from Atia) creates an alliance with Antony in order to defeat Brutus and Cassius. While Antony proposes a direct attack, Octavian decides to first kill all supporters of Brutus before engaging in battle. Cicero being the most notable on his death list. Although the measure is greeted with shock by Lepidus, Antony enthusiastically adds the names of a couple of his own enemies onto the list and even Atia contributes.

During the decisive Second Battle of Philippi, Octavian endures Antony's taunts with severe coldness and anxiously watches the battle while Antony impassively munches on a loaf of bread. When the battle reaches a critical turning point, Antony personally leads an attack while Octavian stays behind. Realizing that Antony would receive all the credit for a victory, Octavian sends Agrippa into battle as well. When the battle is finally over, Octavian notes with disgust that the smell of victory is nothing but "blood, shit and rotting flesh".

In "Death Mask", Atia suggests that the marriage between her and Mark Antony finally occur as a show of unity between Antony and Octavian. The men agree that such an arrangement is necessary, but to Atia's surprise it is her daughter Octavia who is betrothed to Antony. Understanding that Octavia's childbearing age makes her more suitable for the match, Atia goes along with the marriage — but is furious.

Octavian's darker side emerges further in the episode "A Necessary Fiction". He meets Livia, the young wife of Claudius Nero (and mother of his son, Tiberius), and decides that she will divorce her husband and marry him. He later confides in her that he may beat or lightly whip her during their marriage, but only because it brings him "sexual pleasure", as does "her" slapping "him" repeatedly during sex in "Deus Impeditio Esuritori Nullus". When Maecenas reveals that Atia and Mark Antony have resumed their affair and that Octavia is involved with Agrippa, a furious Octavian invites them all to dinner. There he commands Antony to leave Rome indefinitely, or be publicly shamed with Octavia's adultery. He sends Atia and Octavia into seclusion (under armed guard) at Atia's villa, and solemnly forgives a shamed and remorseful Agrippa.

Personality

Highly intelligent and well read, Octavian is a young man whose formidable mind marks him out even among the upper classes of Rome. His astute understanding of those around him makes him observant and lethally sharp in guessing the motives and intent of others. He is, however, cold and distant. He also displays a cynicism which is most likely a product of exposure to his amoral mother and the morally corrosive nature of Roman politics. He does however occasionally display his insecurities such as self-doubt in front of his sister (for whom he has sexual feelings) and Titus Pullo, with whom he admits his mediocre skills in physical combat, "I dare say I can kill a man, so long as he's not fighting back." He has already demonstrated this upon Pullo's rescue of him from being kidnapped by bandits hired by Pompey, when he beats to death an already heavily wounded bandit.

He is also well-read in philosophy and is implied to be a monotheist and possibly a Deist (in contrast to his polytheistic society)--he does not believe in the Roman gods, but is open to the possibility of some kind of Prime Mover. He has clearly showed himself as a very liberal minded person when it comes to politics. Upon Lucius Vorenus asking why should the Republic be changed and the nobles out placed, Octavian counters by saying "Because the Roman people are suffering, because slaves have taken all the work, because nobles have taken all the land, and because the streets are filled with the homeless and the starving" thus demonstrating a sense of compassion for the Roman people, but not so much for his own social class, the nobles.

Following Caesar's death, Octavian is named Caesar's heir and he becomes confident that he can sort out Rome. Although his mother orders him to be respectful to Antony, Octavian refuses to rely on him and is determined to take control of his family, and when Atia says that Antony is family, Octavian replies "He's not, actually." When Antony tries to flee the city with them, Octavian refuses saying "I am head of the family. Strictly speaking, it is I who say where we go." He confides in Octavia that he believes the republic is "frail" and that it is in need of new leadership, "...and I can provide that." Although both Antony and his mother underestimate him, Octavian seems to know exactly what is best for the situation, as it was his idea to remain in Rome and challenge Brutus openly.

Octavian inevitably bumps heads with Antony when the latter refuses to give Octavian the money Caesar left him in his will. Impatient and yearning for public power, Octavian borrows a total sum of 3 million sesterti and has it distributed to the people of Rome, gaining him immense popularity. When confronted by his mother and a furious Antony, Octavian calmly explains his motives but nevertheless receives a beating from Atia. Unwilling to take anymore punishment from his mother, Octavian calls Atia a "fucking whore" and delivers a vicious blow to her face, knocking her onto a nearby bed. This in turn provokes a fierce retaliation from Antony. While Antony is considerably stronger, Octavian manages to smash a jug into his face which turns the fight even uglier. Octavia and Atia finally intervene to prevent Antony from strangling Octavian to death, but the hatred between Antony and Octavian is set and the two seem bent on the other's destruction.

Unable to stand Antony's presence, Octavian goes to stay with his friend Agrippa and leaves behind an angry letter reprimanding his mother for her lack of support for him. Octavian is seen again at the battlefield of Mutina (where Antony was defeated) by a shocked Pullo. Octavian is considerably more mature and efficient as he quickly provides Pullo and Vorenus with the necessary items required to retrieve Vorenus's kidnapped children. However, Octavian is much colder when dealing with Cicero and his family. Although he seems to warm up to Octavia and Atia later, he is nevertheless very hostile towards Cicero as shown when he growls for the complaining senator to "step away from my chair". When relations are "smoothed out" with Antony, Octavian reveals his plan to have a number of Brutus and Cassius's supporters murdered, Cicero included. This garners some praise from Antony who seems genuinely impressed at Octavian's grit. Yet despite his maturity, Octavian seems to be a no better fighter than when he left Rome as shown during the Battle of Philippi. Rather than assist Antony in combat, Octavian instead sends Agrippa to fight in his name and remains behind nervously watching the battle. Octavian also continues to maintain his disgust of war when he grimly complains of the smell in contrast to the happiness of a joyous Antony.He is latterly revealed to be a sadist, he mentions to his fiance, rather ashamed, that when they are married he will sometimes beat her with his hands or a light whip, citing that it's not out of anger, but it gives him sexual pleasure.

Comparison to the historical Octavian

The future Augustus was born Gaius Octavius in 63 BC, son of the elder Gaius Octavius, a Senator of obscure provincial origins, and Atia, niece of Julius Caesar. In 44 BC he learned that Caesar had named him in his will as his adopted son and heir, at which point he took the name Gaius Julius Caesar. He would have been expected to add the surname Octavianus to indicate his family of origin, although there is no evidence he ever used this name; but from this he is conventionally known as "Octavian" in English. In fact, the historical Caesar Augustus avoided the use of the name "Octavian" as it pointed to him having been born a plebian rather than a Patrician.

Little is recorded of his childhood, so his trip to Gaul in "The Stolen Eagle" is entirely fictional. His appointment to the College of Pontiffs at the age of 15, however, is accurate. Suetonius reports that he was accused by Mark Antony of having a homosexual relationship with Caesar (dramatised in the series as a misunderstanding following Caesar's epileptic seizure), but dismisses the accusation as political slander.

In 47 BC, on his return from Egypt, Caesar asked the now 16-year-old Octavian to join his staff for his campaign against Cato and Scipio in Africa, but his mother refused to let him go. Even so, Caesar presented him with military honours after his victory at the Battle of Thapsus, and allowed him take part in his Triumph.

The following year he obtained Atia's permission for Octavian to join him in Spain for his campaign against Pompey's sons, but Octavian fell ill and was unable to travel. He eventually set out for the field, but was shipwrecked. Washed up on a beach with a handful of soldiers, Octavian managed to make it through enemy territory to Caesar's camp. After Caesar's victory in the Battle of Munda, Octavian travelled back to Rome in Caesar's carriage.

It was after this campaign that Caesar secretly changed his will, naming Octavian as his heir. He officially enrolled the boy as a Patrician, and sent him to Macedonia to study rhetoric under Apollodorus of Pergamon. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Octavian was in Apollonia, Illyria, studying and undergoing military training. Rejecting the advice of some army officers to take refuge with the troops in Macedonia, he sailed to Italia. After landing at Lupiae near Brundisium, he learned of the contents of Caesar's will. [Appian, "Civil Wars" [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Appian/Civil_Wars/3*.html#9 3.9–11] .] In the series, Octavian is in Rome when Caesar is killed, and convinces his mother and Mark Antony not to flee the city; they hear the contents of Caesar's will soon after.

In "Philippi" Octavian does not object to Mark Antony's desire to proscribe and kill Cicero wheras historical sources indicate that Octavian only very reluctantly went along with Antony's wishes after two days of arguments and objections.

In "A Necessary Fiction", Octavian meets and plans to marry his first wife, Livia; historically, Octavian had already been married to and divorced Clodia Pulchra (daughter of Fulvia, wife of Mark Antony before Octavia) by this time. Furthermore, when Octavian met future wife Livia he was married to Scribonia, whom he divorced the same day she gave birth to his only child, Julia the Elder. "Rome" ignores these former relationships, but does acknowledge the existence of Livia's child, Tiberius Nero, by her first husband Tiberius Claudius Nero. Historically, Livia was pregnant with her second child Nero Claudius Drusus when she met Octavian, whom she married mere days after giving birth to her son.

The personality of Octavian as presented in the show is different from that presented in the sources. "Rome" presents Octavian as an emotionless and openly calculating member of the elite, while Suetonius presents him as more of a home-spun populist and a lover of other men's wives (including the wife of Maecenas, which led to their falling out). It is possible that both these portrayals are true to some extent, reflecting different facets of his persona. The eminent classicist Ronald Syme, whose work "The Roman Revolution" has been highly influential in the English-speaking world, famously called Octavian a 'chill terrorist' [Syme, R. "The Roman Revolution", 1939.] . But the position he put himself in, as Augustus, rebuilding Rome from deep division and near-catastrophe to peace and stability, necessitated the subtle and complex portrayal of a wide range of facets of personality, real and simulated. In the words of Julius Caesar's biographer, Christian Meier, Octavian "had to be an actor, and he knew this" [Meier, C., "Caesar", Fontana, London, 1996] . Suetonius reports that on the day he died, Augustus summoned his friends and asked them if he had played his part well. They assured him that he had, and he replied, "Since well I've played my part, all clap your hands, and from the stage dismiss me with applause." [Suetonius, de Vita Caesarum, divus Augustus, 99.]

References


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