Ides of March: Continuing Fascination

 

CASSIUS

Stoop, then, and wash. How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

BRUTUS

How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,
That now on Pompey’s basis lies along
No worthier than the dust!

CASSIUS

So oft as that shall be,
So often shall the knot of us be call’d
The men that gave their country liberty.

 

(I posted this on The American Catholic on March 15, and I thought the Shakespeare Mavens of Almost Chosen People might find it interesting.)

 

I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded.  It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.

In the above video William Shatner gives a pretty poor rendition of the Mark Antony speech.  Charlton Heston, below, shows him how it should be done:

It is strange the fascination that the assassination of Caesar, more than twenty centuries ago, continues to exert.  Popular historian Barry Strauss has just released a book on the assassination of Caesar, to join the ranks of the many volumes on the subject that came before.  (Strauss is a first rate historian, and I have purchased this book although I have not yet read it.)  Why should this assassination remain of interest?  I think the clue is Dante placing Brutus and Cassius, the chief assassins, in the maws of Satan in his Inferno.  Dante was a partisan of the Empire, and thus the murders of Caesar, the man who gave the dying Republic its final, fatal blow and set the stage for the Empire, were worthy to be placed in the mouths of Satan, along with Judas who betrayed Christ.

 

 

In each mouth he mashed up a separate sinner         

With his sharp teeth, as if they were a grinder,         

And in this way he put the three through torture.          

For the one in front, the biting was as nothing         

ompared to the clawing, for at times his back      

Remained completely stripped bare of its skin.          

“That soul up there who suffers the worst pain,”         

My master said, “is Judas Iscariot —        

His head within, he kicks his legs outside.          

“Of those other two, with their heads hung down,     

he one who hangs from the black snout is Brutus:         

Look how he writhes and mutters not a word!          

“That other one is Cassius, who seems brawny.         

But nightfall rises once again, and we now         

Must take our leave, since we have seen the whole.

 

For those who longed for the days of the Republic, the assassination of Caesar was a noble if doomed attempt to resurrect the Republic.  This was an impossible task, because the Republic had been failing for almost a century prior to the death of Caesar.  Once violence became endemic in Roman politics, and once ambitious politicians overrode the taboo against using the legions against Rome, the Age of the Dictator was at hand, awaiting only the man daring enough to place the Republic into the realm of yesterday.

The fall of the Roman Republic is ever a chilling and melancholy example that political liberty in this Vale of Tears can easily die.  Both those who prize liberty above all, and those who prize order above all, have much to contemplate in the death of Caesar and that is why it will always be remembered.

 

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Published in: on March 20, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Continuing Fascination  
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