Ides of March: Cinna the Poet

 

CINNA THE POET

I dreamt to-night that I did feast with Caesar,
And things unlucky charge my fantasy:
I have no will to wander forth of doors,
Yet something leads me forth.
Enter Citizens

First Citizen

What is your name?

Second Citizen

Whither are you going?

Third Citizen

Where do you dwell?

Fourth Citizen

Are you a married man or a bachelor?

Second Citizen

Answer every man directly.

First Citizen

Ay, and briefly.

Fourth Citizen

Ay, and wisely.

Third Citizen

Ay, and truly, you were best.

CINNA THE POET

What is my name? Whither am I going? Where do I
dwell? Am I a married man or a bachelor? Then, to
answer every man directly and briefly, wisely and
truly: wisely I say, I am a bachelor.

Second Citizen

That’s as much as to say, they are fools that marry:
you’ll bear me a bang for that, I fear. Proceed; directly.

CINNA THE POET

Directly, I am going to Caesar’s funeral.

First Citizen

As a friend or an enemy?

CINNA THE POET

As a friend.

Second Citizen

That matter is answered directly.

Fourth Citizen

For your dwelling,–briefly.

CINNA THE POET

Briefly, I dwell by the Capitol.

Third Citizen

Your name, sir, truly.

CINNA THE POET

Truly, my name is Cinna.

First Citizen

Tear him to pieces; he’s a conspirator.

CINNA THE POET

I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.

Fourth Citizen

Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.

CINNA THE POET

I am not Cinna the conspirator.

Fourth Citizen

It is no matter, his name’s Cinna; pluck but his
name out of his heart, and turn him going.

Third Citizen

Tear him, tear him! Come, brands ho! fire-brands:
to Brutus’, to Cassius’; burn all: some to Decius’
house, and some to Casca’s; some to Ligarius’: away, go!
Exeunt

William Shakespeare,  Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene III

 

 

 

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.

This Ides of March we are focused on Cinna the Poet.  Helvius Cinna was a noted poet of the late Roman Republic.  In the riots that followed the funeral of Caesar, he was lynched by a pro-Caesar mob on March 20, 44 BC,, who confused him with one of the conspirators, the unrelated Cornelius Cinna.

Elizabethan England, was no stranger to riots in London, Shakespeare no doubt having witnessed several.  Judging from his plays, Shakespeare hated mobs, regarding them as unreasoning and dangerous.  We see this in the mob that murders Cinna the Poet.  Confusing him at first with the conspirator, they then decide, once Cinna says that he is the poet and not the conspirator, to slay him for his “bad verses”, which the mob members had no doubt not read a line of, blood lust accepting any excuse.  The scene can be played as a comic scene, but if today we laugh, we laugh uneasily, riots of recent times reminding us of how dangerous a mob can be.

Norman Lloyd died last year at 106.  He played Cinna the Poet in the 1937 Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar.  The death of Cinna the Poet was a show stopper in that performance, Welles portraying it as symbolic of the unthinking mob violence that had helped to bring Mussolini and Hitler to power in Europe.

 

Shakespeare holds up to us mirrors filled with light and dark.  The death of the Poet Cinna is one of the darker passages in the Bard’s work.

 

 

Published in: on March 15, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Cinna the Poet  
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Ides of March: The Soothsayer

Soothsayer. Caesar!

Caesar. Ha! who calls?

Casca. Bid every noise be still: peace yet again!

Caesar. Who is it in the press that calls on me? 100
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Soothsayer. Beware the ides of March.

Caesar. What man is that?

Brutus. A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March. 105

Caesar. Set him before me; let me see his face.

Cassius. Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.

Caesar. What say’st thou to me now? speak once again.

Soothsayer. Beware the ides of March.

Caesar. He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

Julius Caesar:  Act I, Scene 2

 

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.

This Ides of March we are focused on the unnamed Soothsayer in the play who warns Caesar to beware of the Ides of March.  From ancient sources we know the name of the Soothsayer, Spurinna.  Suetonius, that National Enquirer style ancient historian, mentions him in a passage, go here to read it, noting numerous signs that Caesar was the subject of a plot against his life:

Again, when he was offering sacrifice, the soothsayer Spurinna warned him to beware of danger, which would come not later than the ides of March.

Certainly it required no soothsayer to predict assassination attempts against Caesar.  The civil wars which had brought Caesar to power were in the recent past, and Caesar being made Dictator for life, displeased probably a majority of the Senate, now reduced to being a mere cheering section for Caesar.  However, the Romans lived by signs and portents and bringing in the supernatural gave a certain inevitable quality about it.

Long before he rose to rule Rome, Caesar had been elected Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion.  Caesar’s private life was a public scandal, but private morality and the state religion were two separate things.  For the good of the State the religious rites of the State had to be properly performed.  That the aristocrats performing the rites were often privately skeptical was of no matter, paganism tending to be intensely transactional in the Roman cults.

Skepticism also tended to march side by side with superstition.  Virtually anything could be taken as a sign from the gods of a future event.  The ancient histories are filled with them.  That they may have been concocted after the fact is no matter.  They accurately reflect the world view of the Romans where forces beyond their ken moved humanity around like pieces on a game board.

Spurinna was a haruspex, a religious official who divined the future by looking at the entrails of a slaughtered animal, and Spurinna perhaps read doom in the entrails of the animal that Caesar had just sacrificed.  (Our ancient sources of course recall the predictions that came true and consign to oblivion the ones that were erroneous.)

Plutarch provided the famous scene for Shakespeare regarding the last meeting of Caesar and Spurinna:

The following story, too, is told by many. A certain seer warned Caesar to be on his guard against a great peril on the day of the month of March which the Romans call the Ides; 6 and when the day had come and Caesar was on his way to the senate-house, he greeted the seer with a jest and said: “Well, the Ides of March are come,” and the seer said to him softly: “Ay, they are come, but they are not gone.”

For the Romans the assassination of Julius Caesar was a turning point in their history, and thus it was important that this event be surrounded in a supernatural wrapper.

Published in: on March 15, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: The Soothsayer  
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Ides of March: Caesar and Welles

 

 

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.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1

 

 

 

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.

One of the more celebrated performances of Julius Caesar was that of Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players on November 11, 1937.  Welles was all of 22 and playing the angry young genius in a hurry role to the hilt.  Welles was already a radio star earning the fantastic, for that time, salary of $1500 a week.  The average annual salary in Depression era America in 1937 was $890 a year.  However, Welles was determined to make his mark in the theater, and he plowed back almost every cent into his Mercury Theatre company, after he broke with the Federal Theater Project.  Julius Caesar was the first play of the company.  The play was performed in modern dress, partially because Welles could not afford costumes, and partially because he saw the play as a mechanism to warn about the rise of fascism in Europe.  The uniforms used could just have easily caused the play to be set in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

 

The play received laudatory reviews and caused a sensation in the theater world.  Orson Welles portrayed Brutus, the hero of the play, with such bravura that in one performance he accidentally stabbed the actor portraying Caesar.  The poor fellow was off for a few months recovering.

The play established the reputation of Welles as a genius, a reputation that would prove a considerable burden to Welles over his three score and ten in this Vale of Tears.  It also predicted much of Welles’ subsequent career:  the critics loved it but it failed to turn a profit.  Me and Orson Welles (2008) gives a fictional portrayal of the production.  Christian McKay gave a mesmerizing performance as Welles.

Published in: on March 15, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Caesar and Welles  
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Roma

 

Something for the weekend that contains the Ides of March.  Roman marching music as the Roman army deploys during the battle of the Silarius River, the decisive engagement of the Third Servile War, where the Roman legions under Marcus Licinius Crassus defeated the slave army under Spartacus.  As usual, the movie Spartacus (1960) got the details wrong.  By the time of the Spartacus slave revolt, the Roman army had long abandoned the checkerboard formations depicted, even if the Romans ever used such formations in battle.

When reading Roman history, it is good to recall that most ancient historians had little to no military experience.  Such was the case with Livy, and we depend upon him for many battle accounts of the early and middle Republic.  During this time period the basic maneuver element of the Roman legions was the maniple, consisting of two centuries, each maniple having between 120-200 men. It is alleged that the Roman legions deployed in checkerboard formations with maniple sized gaps between each maniple.  Now it doesn’t take much military experience to realize that maintaining such a formation on a battlefield would have been ferociously difficult, and probably require much more drill than the often hastily raised volunteer legions of the early and middle Republic received.  Such gaps would also have been tailor made for the enemy to launch endless flank attacks on the opposing maniples.  Unlikely in the extreme.  I suspect the checkerboard formation was purely a parade ground formation for inspections, with the maniples arrayed in that manner to allow inspecting officers to easily keep the maniple they were inspecting straight in their minds.  It would be an easy, and erroneous, conclusion for a non military historian to assume that such a formation was also used in battle.

Under the Marian reforms the cohort, six centuries, between 400-600 men, became the basic unit for the legions.  Roman historians of the first century BC who had a lot of military experience, Caesar and Sallust for example, depicted Roman legions deploying in three lines of heavy infantry, with the most veteran infantry in the final line, ready to strike the decisive blow.  Light troops were deployed in the front lines, with cavalry on the flanks.  It was a simple formation, and it usually worked for the Romans.

And Caesar, did he serve in the Third Servile War?  Likely, but we have no record of it.  He was a military tribune at the time, and during the Gallic Wars he did encourage his troops fighting Germans by noting that the defeated slave army of Spartacus contained a high percentage of Germans.  Ah ancient history, an attempt to put together puzzles with most of the pieces either missing or gnarled by the dogs of time.

Published in: on March 14, 2020 at 3:45 am  Comments Off on Roma  
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Ides of March: Octavian

ANTONY
Why do you cross me in this exigent?

OCTAVIUS
I do not cross you; but I will do so.

Julius Caesar: Act V, Scene 1

 

 

 

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.

Octavian is almost a bit player in Julius Caesar with very few lines.  Eighteen at the time of his uncle’s assassination, the future Augustus masterfully played a rather weak hand in the chaos that reigned after Caesar was dead.  Almost completely devoid of the military skill of Julius Caesar, his political genius far outshone that of his uncle.  Fortunately for him Antony, not a bad general, was, contrary to his image in the play, not extremely skilled in political intrigue and it was not that hard for Octavian to outmaneuver him in the political game of chess.  Octavian quickly became stronger than Antony both in political support and number of troops, but Octavian shrewdly used Antony’s military acumen, by forming with him the Second Triumvirate and smashing the forces of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi.    Octavian then embarked on the twelve years of political intrigue and military conflicts that would leave him the sole ruler of Rome.  As Dictator for Life, in effect, he forged the creation of a new state, the Empire, all the while protesting that he was merely a humble servant of the Republic.   Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatra would give Octavian his due:

OCTAVIUS CAESAR

Let our best heads
Know, that to-morrow the last of many battles
We mean to fight: within our files there are,
Of those that served Mark Antony but late,
Enough to fetch him in. See it done:
And feast the army; we have store to do’t,
And they have earn’d the waste. Poor Antony!

The play Julius Caesar is filled with great characters, exuding charisma and given great lines to recite.  Yet the audience and Shakespeare know that it is the colorless Octavian, given only a few brief lines in the play, who will take all.

 

 

 

Published in: on March 15, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Ides of March: Julius Caesar

Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,
Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,
And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.

Stephen Vincent Benet

 

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.

The shade of Caesar probably would have objected to his portrayal by Shakespeare.  Caesar comes off as a stuffy dodo, almost reduced to a plot device, his assassination setting the play in motion.  To his contemporaries Caesar was a prodigy of nature.  Coming from a largely impoverished aristocratic family of no special note, Caesar rose to the front rank of the Roman political scene largely due to his political daring and his mastery of the intricate Roman political machinations of his time.  His military genius, which so fascinates us, he was able to exercise because of his political ability and intrigues, his political career in no way resting upon his military career.  His military genius did allow him to seize power and to begin the funeral ceremonies for the Republic which had been manifestly dying since the time of the Gracchi brothers decades before the birth of Caesar.  Caesar was a great destroyer in historical terms, but it would be up to his nephew Octavian, who lacked all of Caesar’s military skill but who was a greater political genius, to erect on the ruins of the Republic the Principate, that would morph in time into the Roman Empire, all while Octavian/Augustus protested that he was a Republican and that he was merely restoring the Republic.

The Ides of March deserve to be carefully marked in our contemporary time, because it demonstrates how swiftly a political system of great antiquity could be swept away, and one man rule installed.  Republics tend to be fragile things, and tend to die unless carefully tended and guarded.

 

BRUTUS

Be patient till the last.
Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my
cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me
for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that
you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and
awake your senses, that you may the better judge.
If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar
was no less than his. If then that friend demand
why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
–Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I
slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his
fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his
ambition. Who is here so base that would be a
bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended.
Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If
any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so
vile that will not love his country? If any, speak;
for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.

All

None, Brutus, none.

BRUTUS

Then none have I offended. I have done no more to
Caesar than you shall do to Brutus. The question of
his death is enrolled in the Capitol; his glory not
extenuated, wherein he was worthy, nor his offences
enforced, for which he suffered death.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2

 

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Julius Caesar  
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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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Ides of March: Cato the Younger

And, in general, Cato thought he ought to take a course directly opposed to the life and practices of the time, feeling that these were bad and in need of great change.

Plutarch, Life of Cato the Younger

 

 

 

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.

Caesar was assassinated because he had established himself as absolute ruler of Rome as Marius and Sulla had done before him.  Once again the Senate was to be reduced to a rubber stamp.  However unlike the brief periods of one man rule engaged in by Marius and Sulla, Caesar, a much abler man, was clearly aiming to turn Rome into a monarchy to be ruled by him alone, and his successors after him.  The Republic, clearly dying for the last half century, was now dead and Caesar was the undertaker.  However, some Romans refused to accept this fact.  Foremost among them was Cato the Younger.  A living anachronism, Cato longed for the Republic that his ancestor Cato the Elder had helped to create and stood against those who sought to hurry on the death of the Republic.  Fate has allowed only one speech of Cato to survive, his powerful brief oration that convinced the Senators to impose the death penalty on the Cataline conspirators.  In this speech we see Cato’s love of the Republic and his clear eyed awareness that it was unlikely to survive the corrupt generation among whom he lived.  Cato understood that the Republic was a lost cause, but he viewed this lost cause as worth fighting for and dying for.  Here is the text of his speech:

MY feelings, conscript fathers, are extremely different when I contemplate our circumstances and dangers, and when I revolve in my mind the sentiments of some who have spoken before me. Those speakers, as it seems to me, have considered only how to punish the traitors who have raised war against their country, their parents, their altars, and their homes; but the state of affairs warns us rather to secure ourselves against them, than to take counsel as to what sentence we should pass upon them. Other crimes you may punish after they have been committed; but as to this, unless you prevent its commission, you will, when it has once taken effect, in vain appeal to justice. When the city is taken, no power is left to the vanquished.

But, in the name of the immortal gods, I call upon you, who have always valued your mansions and villas, your statues and pictures, at a higher price than the welfare of your country, if you wish to preserve those possessions, of whatever kind they are, to which you are attached; if you wish to secure quiet for the enjoyment of your pleasures, arouse yourselves and act in defense of your country. We are not now debating on the revenues, or on injuries done to our allies, but our liberty and our life is at stake.

Often, conscript fathers, have I spoken at great length in this assembly; often have I complained of the luxury and avarice of our citizens, and, by that very means, have incurred the displeasure of many. I, who never excused to myself, or to my own conscience, the commission of any fault, could not easily pardon the misconduct, or indulge the licentiousness, of others. But tho you little regarded my remonstrances, yet the republic remained secure; its own strength was proof against your remissness. The question, however, at present under discussion, is not whether we live in a good or bad state of morals: nor how great, nor how splendid, the empire of the Roman people is; but whether these things around us, of whatever value they are, are to continue our own, or to fall, with ourselves, into the hands of the enemy.

In such a case, does any one talk to me of gentleness and compassion? For some time past, it is true, we have lost the real names of things; for to lavish the property of others is called generosity, and audacity in wickedness is called heroism; and hence the State is reduced to the brink of ruin. But let those who thus misname things be liberal, since such is the practise, out of the property of our allies; let them be merciful to the robbers of the treasury; but let them not lavish our blood, and, while they spare a few criminals, bring destruction on all the guiltless.

In such a case, does any one talk to me of gentleness and compassion? For some time past, it is true, we have lost the real names of things; for to lavish the property of others is called generosity, and audacity in wickedness is called heroism; and hence the State is reduced to the brink of ruin. But let those who thus misname things be liberal, since such is the practise, out of the property of our allies; let them be merciful to the robbers of the treasury; but let them not lavish our blood, and, while they spare a few criminals, bring destruction on all the guiltless.
Caius Cæsar, a short time ago, spoke in fair and elegant language, before this assembly, on the subject of life and death; considering as false, I suppose, what is told of the dead—that the bad, going a different way from the good, inhabit places gloomy, desolate, dreary and full of horror. He accordingly proposed that the property of the conspirators should be confiscated, and themselves kept in custody in the municipal towns; fearing, it seems, that, if they remained at Rome, they might be rescued either by their accomplices in the conspiracy, or by a hired mob; as if, forsooth, the mischievous and profligate were to be found only in the city, and not through the whole of Italy, or as if desperate attempts would not be more likely to succeed where there is less power to resist them. His proposal, therefore, if he fears any danger from them, is absurd; but if, amid such universal terror, he alone is free from alarm, it the more concerns me to fear for you and myself.
Be assured, then, that when you decide on the fate of Lentulus and the other prisoners, you at the same time determine that of the army of Catiline, and of all the conspirators. The more spirit you display in your decision, the more will their confidence be diminished; but if they shall perceive you in the smallest degree irresolute, they will advance upon you with fury.
Do not suppose that our ancestors, from so small a commencement, raised the republic to greatness merely by force of arms. If such had been the case, we should enjoy it in a most excellent condition; for of allies and citizens, as well as arms and horses, we have a much greater abundance that they had. But there were other things which made them great, but which among us have no existence—such as industry at home, equitable government abroad, and minds impartial in council, uninfluenced by any immoral or improper feeling. Instead of such virtues, we have luxury and avarice, public distress and private superfluity: we extol wealth, and yield to indolence; no distinction is made between good men and bad; and ambition usurps the honors due to virtue. Nor is this wonderful; since you study each his individual interest, and since at home you are slaves to pleasure, and here to money or favor; and hence it happens that an attack is made on the defenseless State. (more…)

Published in: on March 15, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Cato the Younger  
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Ides of March: Two Antonies

 

 

 

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.

The late Charlton Heston played Antony twice in films: in 1950 at age 27, the videos at the beginning of this post are from the 1950 film, and in 1970 at age 47:

Mark Antony was 39 at the time of the events depicted.  Plutarch tells us what happened:

And therefore, when Caesar’s body [22] was brought to the place where it should be buried, he made a funeral oration in commendation of Caesar, according to the ancient custom of praising noblemen at their funerals. When he saw that the people were very glad and desirous also to hear Caesar spoken of, and his praises uttered, he mingled his oration with lamentable words, and by amplifying of matters did greatly move their hearts and affections unto pity and compassion. In fine, to conclude his oration, he unfolded before the whole assembly the bloody garments of the dead, thrust through in many places with their swords, and called the malefactors cruel and cursed murderers. With these words he put the people into such a fury, that they presently took Caesar’s body, and burnt it in the market-place with such tables and forms as they could get together. Then, when the fire was kindled, they took firebrands, and ran to the murderers’ houses to set them afire, and to make them come out to fight.

At this time Antony had a well deserved reputation as a wastrel and a well deserved reputation as a military man from his service under Caesar, but he had no reputation as an orator.  However, Antony’s paternal grandfather had been the foremost orator in Rome in his time, so there was a family tradition which Brutus and other conspirators would have done better to take into consideration before granting Antony a forum at Caesar’s funeral. (more…)

Published in: on March 15, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ides of March: Two Antonies  
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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. (more…)

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