It hath been taught us from the primal state
That he which is was wished until he were,
And the ebbed man, ne’er loved till ne’er worth love,
Comes feared by being lacked. This common body,
Like to a vagabond flag upon the stream,
Goes to and back, lackeying the varying tide
To rot itself with motion.
(Act 1, scene 4, lines 47–53)

Octavius addresses these lines to his fellow triumvir, Lepidus, after a messenger has informed them of Pompey’s growing naval strength and general popularity among Romans. Octavius responds to the message with a dense and nearly aphoristic reflection on the vagaries of power. He says that history all the way back to “the primal state” has witnessed how great men are desired as leaders only until they actually become leaders, at which point the people inevitably turn against them. Likewise, they only come back into favor once they have “ebbed” and are no longer in power. More than being about the instability of rule, however, Octavius seems to emphasize the shortcomings of the people—“this common body.” They are the ones who vacillate and become mere lackeys to “the varying tide.” Octavius’s perspective on the common people implicitly reflects his values as a leader: the people must be ruled by the iron fist of law and order.

                                  Cheer your heart.
Be you not troubled with the time, which drives
O’er your content these strong necessities,
But let determined things to destiny
Hold unbewailed their way.
(Act 3, scene 7, lines 93–97)

Octavius addresses these words to his advisors, Agrippa and Maecenas. Just prior to the sea battle with Antony, the Romans are evidently worried about the outcome. But Octavius insists on having faith that the future will bear out in their favor. A victory is already “determined” and assured by “destiny.” Octavius’s words may indicate the naïve boastfulness of an untested ruler, but they also reflect an overwhelming sense in the play that his star is on the rise. After winning the battle, Octavius will go on to insist further that he’ll soon preside over a new era: “The time of universal peace is near. / Prove this a prosp’rous day, the three-nooked world / Shall bear the olive freely” (4.6.5–7).

The breaking of so great a thing should make
A greater crack. The round world
Should have shook lions into civil streets
And citizens to their dens. The death of Antony
Is not a single doom; in the name lay
A moiety of the world.
(Act 5, scene 1, lines 17–22)

Octavius delivers these lines upon hearing from Dercetus that Antony has died. Despite all his prior rhetoric about Antony, which framed him as an emasculated traitor to his Roman heritage, Octavius now mourns the loss of a great man. In this way, Octavius’s eulogy recalls an earlier speech where he lamented how far Antony had declined from his glory days. In act 1, scene 4, Octavius recalled the enormous bravery Antony demonstrated when he had to retreat from a lost battle in Italy and survive in the Alps. Even though Antony ceased to cut such a heroic figure in the final part of his life, Octavius retains immense respect for the man he used to be—that is, a heroic, duty-bound, and hence honorable Roman.