PLUTARCH: Caesar

PLUTARCH: Caesar

  • Pirates captured Caesar, and held him ransom when Caesar was a teenager. Caesar thought so little of his captives that when he desired to sleep he would order them not to make any noise. He exercised and played games with his captives, as if the pirates were not his kidnappers, but his guards. He wrote speeches and poetry, and asked the pirates to give him their opinion about his writings. If the pirates did not like what he had written, Caesar would insult them, calling them barbarians and savages with no taste for literature, and threaten to kill them. Caesar’s friends and family finally paid the ransom, and Caesar was released. Immediately, Caesar manned some ships in the port, pursued the pirates, and eventually captured them. He took all their money, and then crucified them.
  • Caesar travelled to Rhodes to study rhetoric under Apollonius, who had been the pupil of Cicero. Caesar became a great statesman an orator, but could have been even more eloquent if he did not desire rather to be the best man in terms of war and power.
  • Caesar gained favor with the populace by his charismatic pleadings in court, his affability with the people, and the entertainments he gave at his dwelling. The patricians and senators believed that Caesar’s favor would vanish when he had no more money, but Caesar established his power to a point at which it could not be overthrown. In the beginning of Caesar’s rise to political power, only Cicero saw Caesar’s ambition for absolute power, and the potentiality that Caesar could subvert the Roman constitution.
  • In the Capitol, Caesar illegally erected statues that honored Marius, who previously held power in Rome, but died, and the Senate subsequently forbade any memorializing or mention of Marius, being an enemy to the Roman constitution. Upon discovering these statues honoring Marius, some members of the Senate inveighed against Caesar, and declared that Caesar was trying to overthrow the State. Caesar made an apology before the Senate, who were appeased. However, the people of Rome exhorted Caesar to never depart from his own thoughts about what is just; for the people of Rome love him, and will soon make him the first man of the commonwealth.
  • Caesar was elected praetor. During his praetorship, no difficulty faced Caesar in his public affairs, but he did meet with misfortune in his domestic affairs. A man named Clodius attempted to have sex with Caesar’s second wife, Pompeia, during a religious rite, but other women present at the ritual discovered Clodius and informed authorities. Caesar divorced Pompeia, but refused to testify against Clodius in court because the people were solicitous about Clodius, and desired that the judges release Clodius unpunished.
  • Caesar was given the governorship of a province in Spain, but before he left Spain for the province, his creditors demanded what was due to them from Caesar. Caesar appealed to Crasssus, who was the richest man in Rome, to pay his creditors. Crassus, who lacked the youth and charisma of Caesar, agreed to pay Caesar’s debts in exchange for an alliance against Pompey.
  • In Spain, Caesar read about the life of Alexander the Great. He wept after reading about Alexander’s accomplishments because he had done nothing as memorable and honorable as Alexander had done at such a young age.
  • In Spain, Caesar conquered many frontier tribes which had never before been conquered by Rome. His governorship was successful, enriching both him and his army. The army honored Caesar with the title of Imperator.
  • Caesar returned to Rome and reconciled Crassus with Pompey. The three men conspired to subvert the aristocracy.
  • Caesar, being supported by both Crassus and Pompey, was elected Consul. Caesar proposed bills in which he proposed dividing lands to please the general population. The Senate vehemently opposed it, so Caesar appealed to the citizens, who vehemently supported it. Accordingly, Caesar, Pompey and Crassus filled the forum with soldiers to help them pass their laws, threatening to kill anyone who opposed them. Caesar married his daughter to Pompey to further strengthen their relationship.
  • Caesar was an excellent soldier and commander. He was generous to his soldiers.
  • Caesar was so beloved by his soldiers that they displayed an indomitable courage whenever they were engaged in battle under Caesar’s command.
  • Caesar cherished honor and distinction above all else. He saw riches not as a means to satisfying his private pleasures, but to encourage and reward valor.
  • Caesar sought hardship. He never cited his epileptic condition as a reason to avoid hardships. He used war as a physic for his constitution. Through wearisome journeys, a coarse diet, frequent lodging in the field, and continual laborious exercise, he fortified his body against disease and degeneration.
  • Caesar won many battles in Gaul.
  • Caesar was the first Roman general to lead an army across the Rhine river. He built a bridge across the violent river in only ten days.
  • He was the first Roman general to lead an army to Britain. Many contemporaries even disputed the existence of Britain, wondering whether it was merely a name or fiction. The inhabitants of Britain were miserably poor, so Caesar was content to take some hostages, establish a king, impose a tribute, and then return to Europe.
  • When he arrived in Gaul, messages informed him that Julia, his sister who married Pompey, died in childbirth with the baby. Caesar and Pompey suffered tremendous grief over Julia and the unborn child’s death. Romans were also disconcerted because they perceived that the marriage of Pompey and Julia had prevented hostilities between Pompey and Caesar.
  • Vercingetorix led a Gallic revolt against Caesar. When Caesar repelled the intial Gallic attack, Vercingetorix and his army fled to a fortified city named Alesia. Caesar besieged the city, constructing two walls without the city – one to confine the army of Gauls within the city, and the other to oppose the allies of the Gallic army. Caesar conquered displayed much valor and courage during the siege of the city, and gained much honor and fame in Rome after conquering Alesia. When the battle was finished, Vercingetorix put on his best armor, and rode on a horse to Caesar. Vercingetorix made a turn about Caesar as he was sitting, quit the horse, and sat at Caesar’s feet. Caesar ordered his troops to lead Vercingetorix away, and reserve him for triumph.
  • Crassus had been killed in Parthia while Caesar campaigned in Gaul. Now, Caesar and Pompey were the two most powerful men in Rome. They wanted to overthrow each other so that one might rule Rome alone.
  • The situation in Rome had degenerated to such an extent that there was no government at all. Candidates for public office openly bribed people, and hired assassins to kill rivals. Many Romans declared that monarchy would be the only remedy to the current calamity. Accordingly, the Senate elected Pompey sole consul of Rome, hoping that he would not demand an absolute dictatorship.
  • Caesar made overtures to Pompey, proposing that he would lay down his arms if Pompey did, and they would retire as private citizens. Pompey rejected this.
  • Caesar resolved to invade Rome with 300 horse and 5000 foot soldiers, believing that it would be easier to throw Rome into consternation by attacking swiftly with so few men than conquer them if he gave them forewarning by making preparations for the invasion.
  • Caesar paused with his soldiers at the Rubicon River, and considered the greatness of the enterprise into which he was throwing himself. He contemplated the calamities his passing the river would bring upon mankind and what a relation of it would be transmitted to posterity. He struggled with hesitations and doubts until he finally resolved to cast aside calculation, and abandon himself to what might come, “The die is cast.”
  • The night before the crossing, he had an impious dream that he was unnaturally familiar with his own mother.
  • Upon hearing of Caesar’s intention, citizens in Italian towns fled to Rome. Rome degenerated into a state of chaos. Pompey fled Rome with some senators.
  • Caesar pursued Pompey and his army to the coast of Italy, but Pompey set to sea and Caesar lacked ships, so he returned to Rome, having conquered Italy without bloodshed in 60 days.
  • Caesar proceeded to Spain in order to defeat Pompey’s lieutenants and seize their armies. He accomplished this, and then returned to fight Pompey in Greece. He narrowly escaped defeat in a battle with Pompey.
  • Pompey and Caesar’s armies met at the city of Pharsalia. Pompey’s army were eager to fight, believing that their superior numbers would lead to an easy victory (5000 vs 1000 cavalry and 45000 vs 22000 infantry)
  • During the battle, Caesar repels Pompey’s cavalry and outflanks Pompey’s infantry, slaughtering them. Pompey flees to Egypt, where he is assassinated.
  • Caesar pursued Pompey to Egypt, and was devastated when a messenger presented Pompey’s head to him. Caesar released Pompey’s friends, who the Egyptian king had imprisoned. Caesar said that the greatest pleasure his victory gave him was the opportunity to save the lives of those who had fought against him.
  • Caesar sent for Cleopatra, who ingeniously concealed herself in a coverlet which was carried by her assistant Apollodorus to Caesar’s bedchamber. Caesar was so overcome by the charm of her company that he made her the queen of Egypt.
  • Caesar fought a war with the general of the Egyptian forces and the eunuch who had assassinated Pompey. During the war, the library of Alexandria was burned down. Caesar eventually conquered the rebellion and left for Syria. Cleopatra gave birth to Caesar’s son, named Caesarion.
  • Caesar destroyed the Asian armies led by the king of Pontus, and while recounting the swiftness of his victories over the opposing armies he remarked “I came, saw, and conquered.”
  • Caesar returned to Rome where the people elected him dictator for a year, and then consul for the next. Some Romans criticized Caesar for the extravagance and debauchery of his followers.
  • Caesar travelled to Africa to eradicate the last of Pompey’s senatorial supporters.
  • Cato committed suicide rather than give Caesar the pleasure of pardoning him. Cicero wrote an encomium upon Cato, and Caesar wrote a scathing derogation of Cato to justify his hatred for the dead man.
  • He returned to Rome and held three triumphs for Egypt, Pontus, and Africa. After the triumphs, he rewarded his soldiers, and treated the citizens to feasts and shows. At one feast, 22,000 dining couches were laid out. He produced gladiatorial displays and reenactments of naval battles.
  •  Then Caesar traveled to Spain in order to subdue Pompey’s sons. He defeated the sons at the battle of Munda. The triumph which celebrated this victory greatly displeased the Romans because it celebrated a victory over Romans rather than barbarians.
  • The Romans, believing that the government of a single person would give them peace and end civil wars, elected Caesar as dictator for life.
  • Caesar’s enemies conferred honors, which were beyond the limits of ordinary human moderation, upon Caesar to incite resentment for Caesar amongst the Romans.
  • Caesar refused to keep a guard about him, saying that it is better to die once than always live in fear of it.
  • The noble exploits Caesar had done in the past did not induce him to sit still and reap the fruit of those past labors, but were incentives to attain new and even greater glories. He conducted an emulous struggle with himself, attempting to outdo his past actions.
  • He resolved to expand the Roman Empire. He reformed the calendar, making it more accurate than ever before. Caesar’s success with the calendar offended his enemies, who felt oppressed by his power. When someone told Cicero that the constellation Lyra would rise tomorrow, Cicero replied, “Yes, in accordance with the edict,” implying that Caesar compelled the stars to move.
  • Caesar’s desire to be king offended the Romans.
  • During the feast of Lupercal, young nobleman and magistrates run around the city with their upper garments off, striking all they meet with thongs of hide. Many women place themselves in the runners’ way and hold their hands out to the lash, believing that it procures an easy labor to those who are with child, and makes those conceive who are barren.
  • After Antony had run the course, he publicly presented Caesar with a laurel crown, at which a few Roman citizens who had been bribed applauded. However, when Caesar refused the crown, there was universal applause. Antony offered again, Caesar denied, and there was universal acclamation. Perceiving that the people would not support him if he accepted the crown, Caesar rose from his seat and ordered Antony to take the crown away. Afterwards, Marullus and Flavius, two tribunes of the people, removed the laurel crowns which they found on statues of Caesar throughout the city, and imprisoned those citizens who saluted Caesar as king. The Romans followed Marullus and Flavius with acclamations, and called them Brutus because Brutus was the man who ended the succession of kings and placed power in the hands of the Senate and the people. Caesar resented this so much that he slandered the two tribunes and brought formal charges against them in court. This infuriated the Romans, and made them turn their thoughts and appeals to Marcus Brutus.
  • Citizens who desired change placed letters upon Brutus’ chair in the Senate which stated “You are asleep Brutus.” When Cassius perceived these letters raised Brutus’ ambition a little, Cassius encouraged him further.
  • Caesar’s friends informed him that Antony and Dolabella conspired against his life. Caesar stated that he did not fear such fat and luxurious men, but rather lean and pale men like Brutus and Cassius.
  • Prodigies and apparitions were seen prior to the assassination.
  • A soothsayer bade Caesar prepare for danger on the ides of March.
  • The day before the assassination, as he dined with friends, there arose a question what sort of death was the best. Caesar, before anyone else could reply, answered that a sudden death was best.
  • Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, dreamt that she held Caesar’s butchered body in her arms, and therefore implored Caesar to remain at home and adjourn the Senate to another time. Caesar was struck with suspicions and fears because Calpurnia never was superstitious. Caesar’s priests made sacrifices, which were all inauspicious. Accordingly, Caesar resolved to send Antony to dismiss the Senate.
  • Decimus Brutus, who was part of the conspiracy despite being so loved by Caesar that he was Caesar’s second heir, persuaded Caesar to go to the Senate, scoffing at Calpurnia’s nightmares, asking what his enemies would say if someone told them that the Senate should meet again when Calpurnia chances to have better dreams. Decimus also tells Caesar that the Senate plans to elect him king of all provinces out of Italy, and that he will be allowed to wear a crown in any place but Italy.
  • Artemidorus, a teacher of Greek logic, knew about the conspiracy, and handed Caesar a note informing him of the impending assassination as Caesar walked to the meeting place. Caesar attempted to read it several times, but was hindered by the crowd of those who came to speak with him.
  • The place was destined for the scene of the murder. It was the theater in which Pompey dedicated to public use and housed his statue.
  • Although Cassius followed the doctrines of Epicurus, he silently implored the statue of Pompey to aid him in the intended endeavor. The danger of the occasion cast out all of Cassius’ reasonings, and filled him with a sort of divine inspiration.
  • Decimus kept Antony out of the meeting place.
  • Tillius petitioned for his brother, who was in exile. Caesar denied his petition, and reproached him for his importunity. Tillius pulled Caesar’s robe down from the neck, which was the sign, and Casca gave Caesar the first cut in the neck. The wound was not mortal or dangerous. Caesar turned about, grabbed hold of the dagger, and exclaimed “vile Casca, what does this mean?!” Casca yelled in Greek to his brother, “Brother, help!” Those who were not privy to the conspiracy were paralyzed with astonishment, and neither fled nor aided Caesar.
  • Each conspirator made a thrust at Caesar. Caesar attempted ot repel all the blows, but when he saw Brutus approach him with a drawn dagger, he covered his face with his robe and allowed Brutus to stab him in the groin.
  • Caesar fell at the feet of Pompey’s statue. Pompey seemed to preside over the revenge done upon his adversary, as Caesar lay at the foot of the statute and breathed out his soul through his multitude of wounds.
  • After Caesar died, Brutus stood forth to give a reason for the assassination, but the Senate would not listen to him. The senate fled the theater and informed the people of what had transpired. The people were filled with such alarm and distraction that some shut up their houses, some ran to see the spectacle, and some ran away.
  • Brutus and the conspirators marched to the capitol with their swords drawn with an air of confidence and assurance. Brutus gave a speech to the people who expressed neither pleasure nor resentment, but displayed by their silence that they pitied Caesar and respected Brutus.
  • To reconcile all parties, the Senate ordered that Caesar be worshipped as a divinity, and gave Brutus and his followers command of provinces and other considerable posts.
  • But when Caesar’s will was read, and the Roman citizens discovered that Caesar left a considerable legacy to each citizens, and when his body was carried through the marketplace mangled with wounds, the multitude could no longer contain themselves within the bounds of tranquility and order, and burned Caesar’s body on a pyre, and then took brands from the fire, intending to burn the houses of the conspirators.
  • The multitude tore to pieces an innocent man named Cinna, who the crowd mistook as the conspirator named Cinna.
  • A comet was seen in the sky for 7 nights after Caesar’s death. The sun was dim for the whole year, for which reason the fruits never properly ripened.
  • Cassius killed himself with the very dagger with which he stabbed Caesar.
  • A phantom appeared to Brutus, who then committed suicide.

There is no beginning so mean, which continued application will not make considerable.

A good pilot is apprehensive of a storm when the sea is most smiling.

Do not depart from your own thoughts for anyone.

This love of honor and passion for distinction were inspired into them and cherished in them by Caesar himself, who, by his unsparing distribution of money and honors, showed them that he did not heap up wealth from the wars for his own luxury, or the gratifying his private pleasures, but that all he received was but a public fund laid by for the reward and encouragement of valor, and that he looked upon all he gave to deserving soldiers as so much increase to his own riches.

He did not make the weakness of his constitution a pretext for his ease, but rather used war as the best physic against his indispositions; whilst by indefatigable journeys, coarse diet, frequent lodging in the field, and continual laborious exercise, he struggled with his diseases, and fortified his body against all attacks.

At last, in a sort of passion, casting aside calculation, and abandoning himself to what might come, and using the proverb frequently in their mouths who enter upon dangerous and bold attempts, “The die is cast.”

Veni, vidi, vici.

It is better to suffer death once, than always to live in fear of it.

You are asleep Brutus.

Fate is more unavoidable than unexpected.

Pompey himself seemed to have presided, as it were, over the revenge done upon his adversary, who lay here at his feet, and breathed out his soul through his multitude of wounds, for they say he received three and twenty.

Much like Alexander, Caesar loved honor and glory. He considered wealth a means to encourage and reward his soldiers’ valor, not to gratify private pleasures. Upon further reflection, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes, Lycurgus, Numa, Alexander the Great, and Caesar all share the same resentment and contempt for wealth. I wonder when I will read a text praising the virtues of money – perhaps in Adam Smith’s Wealth of the Nations there is an ode to the virtues of money.

Many people confuse the desire to attain wealth with the desire for happiness. Aristotle asserts that the telos, or purpose, of man is to attain happiness. Caesar and Alexander seem to believe that the purpose of man is to attain honor and glory. Numa believed that the purpose was to attain religious devotion, tranquility, and peace. Lycurgus believed the purpose of man was to attain virtue through am ascetic and military life. Plato and Socrates believed that the purpose of man is to contemplate the Good. In my opinion, the individual decides his own particular purpose.

Caesar was diligent in his pursuit of honor. After having earned much honor because of his past exploits in Gaul, Egypt, Africa, and Pontus, he did not sit idly and reap the fruits of his past heroism. He emulously struggled with himself to outdo his past glories with new and better glories. He was never content with what he achieved, he always desired greater glory. In this way, he was much like Alexander the Great, who would not be satisfied until he had conquered the whole world (he likely would not have been satisfied after conquering the whole world either, but I digress).

Caesar was afflicted with epilepsy, but never used his disease or his rank as general to avoid sharing the hardships of his troops. He used war as a physic against his maladies, and a preventive measure against future illnesses. With wearisome journeys, a coarse diet, strenuous daily exercise, and frequent lodging in the field, his body was inured to difficulty and strife, and fortified against all bodily attacks of disease.

I admire and abhor those who conspired to assassinate Caesar. I admire those conspirators who killed Caesar in order to preserve the power of Rome in the hands of the Senate and people; for history has demonstrated that a monarchy almost inevitably transforms into a tyranny. I also admire those conspirators who killed Caesar in order to attain honor and glory; for their actions are no different than those brutal acts of Caesar and Alexander the Great made during their own pursuit of fame and glory. This type of motivation is reminiscent of Prince Hal “cropping” the honors from Percy’s head and taking them as his own in Henry IV, Part one by William Shakespeare. I abhor those conspirators who killed Caesar in order to attain power. I believe that power is not a virtuous goal, but my opinion might change after reading selections of Nietzsche.

I believe a difference exists between waging war for power and for glory. Alexander and Caesar both sought honor and fame, but Caesar also sought power, while Alexander did not.

Plutarch’s Lives (Modern Library Classics)

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “PLUTARCH: Caesar”

  1. I do agree with all of the ideas you have offered for your post.
    They’re very convincing and will certainly work.
    Nonetheless, the posts are very brief for beginners.
    May you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time?
    Thanks for the post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s