On Caesar

(I originally posted this on The American Catholic, and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)


Caesar was and is not lovable. His generosity to defeated opponents, magnanimous though it was, did not win their affection. He won his soldiers’ devotion by the victories that his intellectual ability, applied to warfare, brought them. Yet, though not lovable, Caesar was and is attractive, indeed fascinating. His political achievement required ability, in effect amounting to genius, in several different fields, including administration and generalship, besides the minor arts of wire pulling and propaganda. In all these, Caesar was a supreme virtuoso.

Arnold Toynbee

Among the gifts my bride gave me at Christmas was a copy of The Landmark Julius Caesar, a new translation of Caesar’s Gallic War and Civil War, along with The Alexandrine War, The African War and The Spanish War, authored by unknown contemporaries of Caesar, and which rounded out the tale of Caesar’s campaigns during the Civil War.  Go here to download 334 pages of essays on Caesar that accompany this volume.


Of all the “bold, bad men” that infest the pages of human history, Caesar has always had a special fascination for me.  He completed the suicide of the Roman Republic, that had been initiated a third of a century before he was born.  A man of genius, and so recognized by his contemporaries, he had not a scintilla of sentiment for the political forms that had governed Rome for perhaps five centuries and clearly had lived beyond their time.  It is beyond ironic that he did not live to create the new state that his life was clearly dedicated to bringing into being.  That task was left to his great nephew, the colorless Octavius, aka Augustus Caesar, who was devoid of military talent, but who knew how to make good use of men of genius in all spheres, and who, while creating permanent one-man rule in Rome, constantly proclaimed himself a Republican, and actually at one point proclaimed that he had restored the Republic.  (He had learned the lesson well of his great uncle’s assassination, that one man rule in Rome needed to be disguised and not flaunted, even if everyone could see through the fig leaf.)   Elite opinion in Rome was intensely Republican during his life, but almost all realized that a return to the Republic meant a return to endless Civil War.  Thus Octavian gave to Rome a century of civil peace, and banished from the ancient world the concepts of liberty that inspired  “the Glory that was Greece and the Grandeur that was Rome.”  Men like Caesar remind us how swiftly that political freedom can die an unmourned death.


SCOTT: I must confess, gentlemen. I’ve always held a sneaking admiration for this one.
KIRK: He was the best of the tyrants and the most dangerous. They were supermen, in a sense. Stronger, braver, certainly more ambitious, more daring.
SPOCK: Gentlemen, this romanticism about a ruthless dictator is
KIRK: Mister Spock, we humans have a streak of barbarism in us. Appalling, but there, nevertheless.
SCOTT: There were no massacres under his rule.
SPOCK: And as little freedom.
MCCOY: No wars until he was attacked.
SPOCK: Gentlemen.
KIRK: Mister Spock, you misunderstand us. We can be against him and admire him all at the same time.
SPOCK: Illogical.
KIRK: Totally. This is the Captain. Put a twenty four hour security on Mister Khan’s quarters, effective immediately.

Star Trek, Space Seed



Published in: on January 4, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on On Caesar  
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