2007-03-02

GALLIA·EST·OMNES·DIVISA·IN·PARTES·TRES

No, I'm not reading C. Iulius Caesar's De bello gallico, but Rex Warner's Imperial Caesar.

It's pretty interesting! Gaius Iulius has always been one of those historical personalities that irremediably attracts me and, at the same time, I absolutely repel. I am, after all, and despite my efforts to stay socioculturally and anthropologically neutral whe studying History, a product of my times.

When I think of the great heroes of the past, specially the military/political ones (not the only ones I hold dear in my heart, but we are talking about the greatest of them in impact, and let's face it, money makes the world go 'round), I find a mix of fascination and abomination that I find particularly confusing, but irresistible: Kūruš (Cyrus the Great), Dārayawauš (Darius I the Great), Bagābuxša (Prince Megabyzos), Perikles, Aléxandros (III of Makedonia, the Great), Hannibal (Barca of Carthage), Pyrros (of Epirus), C. Marius, L. Cornelius Sulla, Cn. Pompeius Magnus, C. Iulius Caesar, M. Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, Fl. Claudius Iulianus, Alaricus, Attila, Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi (Saladin), Chinggis Khan... All of them share an equal amount of brilliance and countless deaths.

When a modern author (or researcher) dives into such a personality (who was, invariable, a product of his time) I have found that they can fail absolutely, of make a wonderful job, in understanding the personality of the individual in his own time and circumstances. I found that in Gisbert Haefs' Hannibal, or Alexander books, in Gore Vidal's Julian, and I think I'm finding it in this book as well: a deeper connection between the superficiality of brilliance in battles and political maneuvers, and the personal circumstances that pushed them into a direction or another: even the biggest are helpless against the winds of Fate, and we assist to their triumphs and (almost invariably) ultimate demise with anticipation and--at least me--awe.

What do I think of C. Iulius Caesar? Well, I've read his most important books, and some of them with some intensity in parts (including the original latin), and I have read his life several times: the world is as it is today because of his. If we are forced to pick a few men and women that became capital, pivotal points in History, he would be one of the most important points (it's actually a very difficult question, because it's hard to separate cause from effect and new effects as they become causes, but I think we can all agree that, for one reason or another, C. Iulius Caesar was a pivotal point in ancient times, the same way Attila and Chingis Khan were in the middle age, or Napoleon in modern times...). At the same time he was the by-product of a long series of events that we can, ultimately, trace back to pre-History. Some things I can clearly and openly admire; others, however, make my heart feel crushed: I live different times (probably the cruelest, bloodiest times in all History so far)... But I think I can sort-of become a Roman (or a Gaul, or a...) of the Late Republic and like or dislike some things, but also understand him. And I think I'm gonna enjoy the book.

I'll let you know... :-)

KALLISTI!

2 comments:

Pacal said...

While I agree that Caesar was a extremelt important person in the history of Rome I can think of one person, who in my humble opinion, easily outranks in terms of importance and influence.

My problem with people like Caesar is that because Caesar was such a successful general and a all round razzle dazzle performer people tend to take the glitz for reality. lets face it for all Caesar's brillance has a politician he failed. After all he so alienated his own supporters that he got himself murdered by a a conspiracy led by them. Frankly I'm of the opinion that Caesar had no real solution to the impass that the Roman Republic was in. (Too put it over simply the disjunction between city-state government and a vast empire).

Caesar certainly dazzles but in the end despite his massive and very real brillance he failed.

The three things he did that were important are as follows.

1), His conquest of Gaul, which I might add was less important than the conquest of Greece by Rome, or of Egypt or, well you get the picture. In fact in this respect Scipio Africanus was a a more important figure.

2), He accelerated the decline of the Roman Republic into a autocratic Monarchy, which was something a great number of Roman politicians had been doing for c. 2 generations before him.

3), He selected Octavian (Augustus) as his heir.

Octavian was in my oinion the most important figure of the last 100 years of the Republic and the first century of Empire. He is one of the greatest figures of antiquity. He was also a vastly greater politician than Caesar. After all he managed the almost miraculous feat of melding Autocratic one man rule with Republican forms and reconciling the Roman Aristocracy with same. However unlike Caesar he was not a dazzling, glitzy figure. Has Robert Conquest said of Stalin and Trotsky. Trotsky he said was a brillant Zirkon and Stalin an uncut diamond when it came to politics. None of his of courser implioes any approval of Stalin's murderous rule or is it meant to convey that Augustus was a monster the way Stalin was.

The quiet and efficient was Agustus ruled the Roman Empire and setup a system of governement that lasted for centuries has few equals in history. I do not see how anything Caesar did was comparable.

Agustus was a poltical genius of the highest order, Caesar bungled and failed. THe fact the Agustus was to put it politely a rotton general and that he had to rely on others should in no way change that.

My opinion is that the most important thing Caesar ever did was too name Octavian has his heir, compared to that all his other spectacular doings fade away (with the exception of the conquest of Gaul).

Just some thoughts.

Pierre

Excalibor said...

Pierre,

interesting analysis... I don't think I was trying to mark C. Iulius Cæsar as the most important figure in the History of the Roman Culture (let's call it this way so we encompass the whole 1,000 years)... While Octavianus did was certainly capital (the pivotal between a Republic of sorts into the Empire proper), G. Iulius was still the key figure that opened all the possibilities.

OTOH, C. Iulius shone in a time of Names that still imply knowledge and power (Cicero, Pompey, Crassus, Cato, Sallust...) even nowadays, and throughout the whole Empire times, being Caesar was as important as to be exported to other languages (like German kaiser or Russian tsar, for example: true, the Augustus was the most important emperor when more than one (but that's actually a reflection of Octavianus's intelligence and good use of Caesar's heritance and example: Divus Filii).

And about his failure, I don't think Caesar was such a thing: his supporters didn't fail him, but they were forced to reject him because envy and fear of what he would be able to do: I am sure he would have done huge things in Parthia if he would have been able to depart that fatidic day: he could have left Aléxandros the Great well behind in military affairs if he would have been allowed: the Parthian empire was probably stronger those days than the Achaemenid empire in the days of Darius III, and he did raise his legions through military action (Gaul and then Civil War) while most veterans in Alexander's army were actually Phillipos's and Parmenion's trained soldiers...

Anyway, I won't discuss that Octavianus did change the world as it was known at the moment, because it's evidently true, in all senses of the word, but let's "give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's", eh? :-)

thanks for your elaborated thoughts!