Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ides Of March-44 BC...Long Live Caesar!



Shakespeare, Act III, Scene 2:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;

The evil that men do lives after them,

The good is oft interred with their bones,

So let it be with Caesar ... The noble Brutus

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Caesar answered it ...

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,

(For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all; all honourable men)

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral ...

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man….

He hath brought many captives home to Rome,

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?

O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason…. Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me.




















The Assassination of Julius Caesar, 44 BC:

In January of 49 BC, Julius Caesar led his army across the Rubicon River in Northern Italy (see Caesar Crosses the Rubicon, 49 BC) and plunged the Roman Republic into civil war. Caesar's rival, Pompey, fled to Greece. Within three months Caesar controlled the entire Italian peninsula and in Spain had defeated the legions loyal to Pompey.

Caesar now pursued Pompey to Greece. Although outnumbered, Caesar crushed the forces of his enemy but not before Pompey escaped to Egypt. Following Pompey to Egypt, Caesar was presented with his rival's severed head as a token of friendship. Before leaving the region, Caesar established Cleopatra as his surrogate ruler of Egypt. Caesar defeated his remaining rivals in North Africa in 47 BC and returned to Rome with his authority firmly established.

Caesar continued to consolidate his power and in February 44 BC, he declared himself dictator for life. This act, along with his continual effort to adorn himself with the trappings of power, turned many in the Senate against him. Sixty members of the Senate concluded that the only resolution to the problem was to assassinate Caesar.

Death of a Dictator

Nicolaus of Damascus wrote his account of the murder of Caesar a few years after the event. He was not actually present when the assassination occurred but had the opportunity to speak with those who were. He was a friend of Herod the Great and gathered his information during a visit to Rome. His account is thought to be reliable.

The Plan:

"The conspirators never met openly, but they assembled a few at a time in each others' homes. There were many discussions and proposals, as might be expected, while they investigated how and where to execute their design. Some suggested that they should make the attempt as he was going along the Sacred Way, which was one of his favorite walks. Another idea was for it to be done at the elections during which he bad to cross a bridge to appoint the magistrates in the Campus Martius; they should draw lots for some to push him from the bridge and for others to run up and kill him. A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show. The advantage of that would be that, because of the show, no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen prepared for the attempt. But the majority opinion favored killing him while he sat in the Senate, where he would be by himself since non-Senators would not be admitted, and where the many conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day."

Brutus Persuades Caesar to Ignore his Apprehensions:

"...his friends were alarmed at certain rumors and tried to stop him going to the Senate-house, as did his doctors, for he was suffering from one of his occasional dizzy spells. His wife, Calpurnia, especially, who was frightened by some visions in her dreams, clung to him and said that she would not let him go out that day. But Brutus, one of the conspirators who was then thought of as a firm friend, came up and said, 'What is this, Caesar? Are you a man to pay attention to a woman's dreams and the idle gossip of stupid men, and to insult the Senate by not going out, although it has honored you and has been specially summoned by you? But listen to me, cast aside the forebodings of all these people, and come. The Senate has been in session waiting for you since early this morning.' This swayed Caesar and he left."

Bad Omens:

"Before he entered the chamber, the priests brought up the victims for him to make what was to be his last sacrifice. The omens were clearly unfavorable. After this unsuccessful sacrifice, the priests made repeated other ones, to see if anything more propitious might appear than what had already been revealed to them. In the end they said that they could not clearly see the divine intent, for there was some transparent, malignant spirit hidden in the victims. Caesar was annoyed and abandoned divination till sunset, though the priests continued all the more with their efforts.

Those of the murderers present were delighted at all this, though Caesar's friends asked him to put off the meeting of the Senate for that day because of what the priests had said, and he agreed to do this. But some attendants came up, calling him and saying that the Senate was full. He glanced at his friends, but Brutus approached him again and said, 'Come, good sir, pay no attention to the babblings of these men, and do not postpone what Caesar and his mighty power has seen fit to arrange. Make your own courage your favorable omen.' He convinced Caesar with these words, took him by the right hand, and led him to the Senate which was quite near. Caesar followed in silence."

The Attack:

"The Senate rose in respect for his position when they saw him entering. Those who were to have part in the plot stood near him. Right next to him went Tillius Cimber, whose brother had been exiled by Caesar. Under pretext of a humble request on behalf of this brother, Cimber approached and grasped the mantle of his toga, seeming to want to make a more positive move with his hands upon Caesar. Caesar wanted to get up and use his hands, but was prevented by Cimber and became exceedingly annoyed.

That was the moment for the men to set to work. All quickly unsheathed their daggers and rushed at him First Servilius Casca struck him with the point of the blade on the left shoulder a little above the collar-bone. He had been aiming for that, but in the excitement he missed. Caesar rose to defend himself, and in the uproar Casca shouted out in Greek to his brother. The latter heard him and drove his sword into the ribs. After a moment, Cassius made a slash at his face, and Decimus Brutus pierced him in the side. While Cassius Longinus was trying to give him another blow he missed and struck Marcus Brutus on the hand. Minucius also hit out at Caesar and hit Rubrius in the thigh. They were just like men doing battle against him.

Under the mass of wounds, he fell at the foot of Pompey's statue. Everyone wanted to seem to have had some part in the murder, and there was not one of them who failed to strike his body as it lay there, until, wounded thirty-five times, he breathed his last. "

References:

Nicolaus of Damascus' account appears in Workman, B.K. They Saw it Happen in Classical Times (1964); Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics), translated by Robert Graves (1957).

Suetonius' Version:

On 15 March 44 BCE, the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was murdered. There are several accounts of this incident, but the most famous and probably most accurate is the one that was written by Caesar's biographer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c.70-c.135), who seems to have had access to imperial archives and may have consulted eyewitness accounts.

The following fragment from his Lives of the twelve Caesars (Caesar 80-82) was translated by Joseph Gavorse.

In order to avoid giving assent to this proposal the conspirators hastened the execution of their designs. Therefore the plots which had previously been formed separately, often by groups of two or three, were united in a general conspiracy, since even the populace no longer were pleased with present conditions, but both secretly and openly rebelled at his tyranny and cried out for defenders of their liberty.

On the admission of foreigners to the Senate, a placard was posted: 'God bless the commonwealth! Let no one consent to point out the House to a newly made Senator.' The following verses too were repeated everywhere:

The Gauls he dragged in triumph through the town
Caesar has brought into the Senate house
And changed their breeches for the purple gown.

When Quintus Maximus, whom he had appointed consul in his place for three months, was entering the theater, and his lictor in the usual manner called attention to his arrival, a general shout was raised: 'He's no Consul!' After the removal of Caesetius and Marullus from office as tribunes, they were bound to have not a few votes at the next elections of consuls. Some wrote on the base of Lucius Brutus' statue, 'Oh, that you were still alive' [1]; and on that of Caesar himself:

Because he drove from Rome the royal race,
Brutus was first made consul in their place.
This man, because he put the consuls down,
has been rewarded with a royal crown.

More than sixty joined the conspiracy against him, led by Gaius Cassius and Decimus and Marcus Junius Brutus. At first they hesitated whether to form two divisions at the elections in the Field of Mars, so that while some hurled him from the bridge [2] as he summoned the tribes to vote, the rest might wait below and slay him; or to set upon him in the Sacred Way [3] or at the entrance to the theater. When, however, a meeting of the Senate was called for the ides of March in the Hall of Pompey [4], they readily gave that time and place the preference.

Now Caesar's approaching murder was foretold to him by unmistakable signs. A few months before, when the settlers assigned to the colony at Capua by the Julian Law were demolishing some tombs of great antiquity, to build country houses, and plied their work with the greater vigor because as they rummaged about they found a quantity of vases of ancient workmanship, there was discovered in a tomb, which was said to be that of Capys, the founder of Capua, a bronze tablet, inscribed with Greek words and characters to this effect: 'Whenever the bones of Capys shall be discovered, it will come to pass that a descendant of his shall be slain at the hands of his kindred, and presently avenged at heavy cost to Italy.' And let no one think this tale a myth or a lie, for it is vouched for by Cornelius Balbus, an intimate friend of Caesar [5].

Shortly before his death, as he was told, the herds of horses which he had dedicated to the river Rubico when he crossed it, and had let loose without a keeper, stubbornly refused to graze and wept copiously. 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. On the day before the ides of that month a little bird called the king-bird flew into the Hall of Pompey with a sprig of laurel, pursued by others of various kinds from the grove hard by, which tore it to pieces in the hall.

In fact the very night before his murder he dreamt now that he was flying above the clouds, and now that he was clasping the hand of Jupiter; and his wife Calpurnia thought that the pediment of their house fell, and that her husband was stabbed in her arms; and on a sudden the door of the room flew open of its own accord.

Both for these reasons and because of poor health he hesitated for a long time whether to stay at home and put off what he had planned to do in the Senate. But at last, urged by Decimus Brutus not to disappoint the full meeting, which had for some time been waiting for him, he went forth almost at the end of the fifth hour. [6] When a note revealing the plot was handed him by some one on the way, he put it with others which he held in his left hand, intending to read them presently.

Then, after many victims had been slain, and he could not get favorable omens, he entered the House in defiance of portents, laughing at Spurinna and calling him a false prophet, because the ides of March were come without bringing him harm. Spurinna replied that they had of a truth come, but they had not gone.

As he took his seat, the conspirators gathered about him as if to pay their respects, and straightway Tillius Cimber [7], who had assumed the lead, came nearer as though to ask something. When Caesar with a gesture put him off to another time, Cimber caught his toga by both shoulders. As Caesar cried, 'Why, this is violence!', one of the Cascas [8] stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar caught Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus, but as he tried to leap to his feet, he was stopped by another wound.

When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, 'You too, my child?'

All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, until finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down. And of so many wounds none, in the opinion of the physician Antistius, would have proved mortal except the second one in the breast.

List of Conspirators:

* Gaius Cassius Longinus
* Marcus Junius Brutus
* Servius Sulpicius Galba
* Quintus Ligarius
* Lucius Minucius Basilus
* Publius Servilius Casca Longus (brother of Gaius Servilius Casca)
* Gaius Servilius Casca (brother of Publius Servilius Casca Longus)
* Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus
* Lucius Tillius Cimber
* Gaius Trebonius
* Lucius Cassius Longinus (brother of Gaius Cassius Longinus)
* Gaius Cassius Parmensis
* Caecilius (brother of Bucolianus)
* Bucolianus (brother of Caecilius)
* Rubrius Ruga
* Marcus Spurius
* Publius Sextius Naso
* Lucius Pontius Aquila
* Petronius
* Decimus Turullius
* Pacuvius Antistius Labeo

Related Links:

Plutarch's "Life of Caesar"

Notable quotes from Shakespeare's play

More regarding the assassination

The Julius Caesar Site

Fall of the Roman Republic

Historical Background


2 comments:

christian soldier said...

your history posts are true inspirations...thank you -my friend---
just attended the last of a 4 part art 'tour' of Rome....via a four Sunday study at a local church---my prayers are being answered --- Christians are starting to focus on art again!!!!
C-CS

Carlos Echevarria said...

CS, thank you for the kind remarks in terms of my posts...I am a huge admirer of Gaius Julius Caesar & the Roman Republic/Empire!

What a great program you have been attending!

I totally agree, we should focus on art, especially in America were our culture is so coarse and debased.