Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the Fifthteenth of March

The Ides of March! I forgot to write a post about this! One of my most cherished days of the year!

The Ides of March, a day originally named to celebrate the Roman god Mars, is now known as the day Caesar was killed in the Roman Senate in 44 B.C. (or B.C.E. if you are a finicky secularist).

Shakespeare wrote about it in the play Julius Caesar and added in the heartbreaking line, "E tu Brute?" Below is video from Rome season one (the end of course!), a bit violent, but almost tragically beautiful, in its portrayal of Caesar's death--especially from Brutus.

Julius Caesar comes home to Rome a beloved hero after the war in Gaul and his victory over ex-best friend, Pompey. No mention of the Rubicon, thanks to James. All of this makes him a hero in the eyes of the Roman people. Basically, the Senators see this and some of them think he is a big threat to Rome's security. They think he will take away their "democracy". A guy named Cassius is at the root of the plot against Caesar. He knows that Caesar's beloved status would make it hard to gain momentum against him. So what he does is turn the nobleman Marcus Brutus, Caesar's long time com padre, against him. If someone that once loved Caesar like a Dad turned against him, surely the citizens might be more keen to listen to such an opposition.

A big storm comes to Rome. Metaphor? Brutus figures out that assassination might be the only option to oust Caesar from power. The fellow senators convince Brutus that "the greater good" is at stake. Brutus does convince them, though, to spare Caesar's chum Marc Antony.

On a few occasions, Caesar is warned of his iminent demise. A vagrant on the street warns, "Beware the Ides of March", and his wife also gives him some words of advice. But Caesar still goes to the Senate and is stabbed brutally by the "Liberators". Brutus, of course, included. The famous line, "And you, Brutus?" makes it clear that Caesar had a deep love for Brutus and was indeed, betrayed. Soap opera? That's what the TV series Rome was made for.

So Mark Antony is pretty pissed, but he makes a deal with Caesar's muderers. He asks to accompany Caesar's body and to give a speech at his funeral. At the funeral, Brutus beats him to the punch:


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.

Antony replies after Brutus leaves--with the famous first words, "Friends, Romans, country men".

through his masterful use of irony [he] stirs the crowd—which to this point had been solidly behind the conspirators—to call for the blood of Cassius, Brutus, and anyone else associated with Caesar's death.


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 answer'd 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 judgment! 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.
First Citizen
Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.
Second Citizen
If thou consider rightly of the matter,
Caesar has had great wrong.
Third Citizen
Has he, masters?
I fear there will a worse come in his place.
Fourth CitizenMark'd ye his words? He would not take the crown;
Therefore 'tis certain he was not ambitious.

Then Caesar's nephew, Octavius, plots with Marc Antony to gain control of Rome, forcefully. They kill a lot of people--some of the senators that killed Julius Caesar--and other people that were against them. But low and behold Brutus and that evil mastermind Cassius raise up a dark army against them. In the last battle, they gain some successes, but eventually Cassius kills himself when he falls on his own sword--a symbol of a man's failure. Then Brutus follows suit, unwilling to be taken captive by the heathens Antony and Octavius.

Upon discovering the body, Antony laments the tragic fall of Brutus, calling him the noblest of them all.

Julius Caesar is a man still talked about today, not just because of the Shakespeare play. Why is this? Many reasons, of course. But I think it is important to remember what happened in Ancient Rome--and to learn from it. So often human beings have let history repeat itself.
Is it right for a champion of democracy to kill to serve the interests of the nation?

Can any true democrat act in the "best interests of the people" if the people do not support his or her actions?

This raises questions about the nature of government and the ethics of revolution that have plagued political commentary for generations.
Do you think that Caesar's death inevitably helped or hurt the Roman Empire? Was Brutus justified? Has any modern day revolution/assassination ended up helping a nation?

Men at sometime were masters of their fates. / The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings (I.ii.140142)
Caesar declares: “It seems to me most strange that men should fear, / Seeing that death, a necessary end, / Will come when it will come” (II.ii.3537). In other words, Caesar recognizes that certain events lie beyond human control; to crouch in fear of them is to enter a paralysis equal to, if not worse than, death.

No comments: