Marc Antony as Neo-Ceraunus

Ceraunus, the former Heracles (firstborn son of Barsine/Roxane), had not reappeared in Macedon to bring peace, freedom or renewed glory to the world-conquering Macedonians, but to incite rebellion and kill off its remaining out-and-proud patriots. The royal sting operation was concluded by summoning the most fearsome foreign invader of the day, and under the leadership of two famous generals, Bolgios/Belgius and Brennus/Brennius, who likely corresponded to the two sons of Alexander the Great, i.e., Alexander IV/Ptolemy II and Ptolemy Epigone/Onias. In response, we are told by Justin that Ceraunus taunted the invaders and gathered only a small force of primarily untrained soldiers to oppose them. Their main qualification was that they were quite specifically “the sons of those who had served under Alexander the Great, and had been victorious throughout the world.” In other words, the reward of the men who followed Alexander and were killed off mercilessly by him was to ensure that their progeny would be likewise sacrificed back home. In effect, the sons of Alexander the Great were taking revenge on the sons of those soldiers who had “failed” their father (for having refused to march with him to the ends of the earth).

The royal family did not care to feel indebted to anyone. (From the perspective of the royal family, if the Macedonians had achieved renown, it was because they had brought it about.) And the royal family had conceived of a many methods to rid themselves of people that insisted on having inalienable rights rather than revocable privileges. The disaster of Macedon’s ravaging by the Gauls was variously attributed to the youthfulness/immaturity, arrogance and especially the “madness” of Ceraunus. It was not blamed on the royal family as a whole. As artificial as it may seem, the fabled madness of the demi-god Hercules was a useful precedent for the Ptolemies. Their adaptation of the precedent in turn became useful to the Julio-Claudians that followed. The exploitation of precedent was a fundamental aspect of royal culture and a critical means of understanding that culture now.

The identification of Antony/Herod with both Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy Ceraunus is a bit surprising. Although playing multiple roles was often necessary, it was not strictly necessary in Antony’s time. In fact, it would be far more expected for the role of Ceraunus to have been given to the second prince of the younger generation, namely Ptolemy XIV/Marcus Agrippa, because Ceraunus/Hercules was the second prince of his day (born after Ochus/Antiochus and before Alexander IV). Yet, it is a prince of the older generation that becomes obsessed with the leading princess, Cleopatra, and to the point that he cannot be bear to be separated from her. He also has a name, Antony (“most praiseworthy”) that reflects a Judah typecasting, which was associated not only with praise, but also war and thunder (from an association with the fourth god of the pantheon, Horus/Adad). Also, unlike Octavius (Ptolemy XIII) and Marcus Agrippa (Ptolemy XIV), Antony was denied the status of pharaoh in Egypt and was perhaps the most dejected over his rule there being terminated.

As it turns out, Antony/Herod may have had only one royal daughter, and no actual royal sons. (One or both of Antony’s putative daughters may have been sired by Marcus Agrippa. His two “sons” are quite clearly alter egos of Caesarion and Tiberius.) Antony’s “punishment” for this “failure” was to receive the undesirable role of Ceraunus, and to also play that particular role in the volatile and vituperative Jerusalem of Israel. Yet, even as traditional Jewish standing was being restored, their next “downsizing” was already being planned. Antony was giving up his inimitable life in Egypt, not simply to adorn the fig tree of Israel, but to also hang people on it and then cut it down. The role of Ceraunus not only foreshadowed a gruesome death for Herod, but also declared royal intentions to make Jerusalem and Israel pay for Herod’s crimes. Herod, like his role model Ceraunus, was a fall guy or scapegoat, but his presumed guilt was going to be transferred to the Jewish nation. The painful nature of Herod’s death was likely greatly exaggerated. On the other hand, the suffering caused later on by Rome’s brutal crushing of the so-called Jewish Revolt was quite visceral.

Antony would have understood his double role (as the neo-Ptolemy Soter and neo-Hercules/Ceraunus) fairly early on. The name Herod is related to that of Hercules. Even more significantly, the reported killing of Orodes (Crassus, the neo-Seleucus) by Phraates IV (another likely alias of Antony/Herod) also pigeon-holed Antony as the Ceraunus of the new Roman Era. However, it seems that Antony was tapped to play the role of Ceraunus primarily because the royal family wanted to keep the Jews on a very short leash. In other words, bad blood had arisen between the royal family and the Jews during the Ptolemaic Period and the Jews were therefore to remain as if “under the sword of Damocles.”

The royal family was using much the same methods in Greece as they did elsewhere, including and especially among the Jews. The Jews functioned as the “business end” of the royal empire by facilitating military, economic and cultural enterprises. Although they were allowed certain privileges and exemptions, they were never allowed to grow too high and mighty. At the end of the day, they existed only at the pleasure and benefit of the royal house. When the Jews became a bigger problem than blessing to the royal family, they were brutally disenfranchised. A remnant was spared, but seemingly only so the royal family could continue tormenting them for the next 2,000 years!

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