Ides of March: The Noblest Roman of Them All

Saturday, March 15, AD 2014

This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He, only in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.

Mark Antony on Brutus

Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5

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 Roman Republic had been visibly dying for generations before Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger was born into this vale of tears in 85 BC, amidst one of the Roman Civil wars that were becoming the new norm, with the Republic awaiting with trepidation the eventual return of Sulla from Greece after he defeated Mithridates, and the slaughters that he would doubtless inflict on his enemies.  This was the world Brutus was born into:  a world in which he was taught the glories of the Republic as a boy, but as he grew into manhood he could see old Roman morality being forgotten, a growth of decadence fueled by ever more wealth from foreign conquests, endless amounts of slaves flooding into Italy from the same foreign conquests, factions in the Senate engaging in what amounted to a cold civil war between bouts of hot civil war, the Roman Republican government teetering on the brink of permanent military dictatorship.

Ironically the man who would establish the permanent military dictatorship, Julius Caesar, was ever his friend and mentor, Caesar being the long time lover of his mother Servilia.  Nevertheless, from his first entry into the Senate, Brutus aligned with the Optimates ” the best”, against the Populares, “the people” .  The names are really beside the point between these two factions.  By the late Republic, political and military power had become one and the same, and pretty wrappers of claims to loyalty to the Republic or to the People usually were merely masks to hide naked ambition.  However, that was not the case with Brutus, who, like his uncle Cato the Younger, was a true idealist who wished to preserve the Republic.

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17 Responses to Ides of March: The Noblest Roman of Them All

  • How much, one wonders, was Brutus influenced by the story of his famous ancestor, L Junius Brutus, who had played a leading rôle in the expulsion of the kings and the founding of the republic and whose bronze statue on the Capitol he must have seen so often.
    Did the words of Brutus’s famous oath echo in his ears: never to suffer any man to rule over Rome?

  • History was quite the vogue in the time of Brutus, and I would be surprised if were not frequently being remind of his ancestor, the founder of the Republic.

  • If Brutus was willing to kill his friend and mentor to preserve his Republic, then what should you and I be willing to do to preserve ours? I do not want to kill.

  • from his first entry into the Senate, Brutus aligned with the Optimates ” the best”, against the Populares, “the people” . The names are really beside the point between these two factions. By the late Republic, political and military power had become one and the same, and pretty wrappers of claims to loyalty to the Republic or to the People usually were merely masks to hide naked ambition.

    Why does that sound familiar?

    The life of Brutus might be regarded as one long act of futility, his devotion to a Republic manifestly in its death throes doing nothing to stop the inevitable death of the Republic. However, his example would inspire men and women across the centuries who lived under despotisms, and whenever liberty arose again, the name of Brutus was usually on the lips of those who contended for it.

    That might be the final irony of his life, given that the liberty Brutus and the other conspirators sought to preserve was the freedom of the oligarchs to continue to vie with one another for mastery over all that wealth flowing from the spoils of conquest.

  • Ernst Schreiber wrote, “[T]he liberty Brutus and the other conspirators sought to preserve was the freedom of the oligarchs to continue to vie with one another for mastery over all that wealth flowing from the spoils of conquest.”

    The Romans were a people who hated work, despised commerce and lived by plundering and enslaving their neighbours. To be successful at this (and they were very successful) it was necessary to cultivate certain very real virtues: courage, perseverance, self-control, prudence, discipline, constancy in misfortune, devotion to the community. Patriotism meant hatred of foreigners – indeed, the very word “foreigner” (peregrinus) is a late one, in Latin, as Cato observes; before the end of the Second Punic War (218 – 201 BCE), they simply made do with hostis or servus – enemy or slave.

    Liberty meant sharing in the government, that is overseeing the sharing of the spoils and the most honourable as well as the most lucrative professions were those of the soldier, the politician and the jurist.

    As Lord Acton says, “The Roman republic laboured to crush the subjugated nations into a homogeneous and obedient mass; but the increase which the proconsular authority obtained in the process subverted the republican government, and the reaction of the provinces against Rome assisted in establishing the empire. The Cæsarean system gave an unprecedented freedom to the dependencies, and raised them to a civil equality which put an end to the dominion of race over race and of class over class. The [Augustan] monarchy was hailed as a refuge from the pride and cupidity of the Roman people and the love of equality, the hatred of nobility, and the tolerance of despotism implanted by Rome became, at least in Gaul, the chief feature of the national character.”

  • “That might be the final irony of his life, given that the liberty Brutus and the other conspirators sought to preserve was the freedom of the oligarchs to continue to vie with one another for mastery over all that wealth flowing from the spoils of conquest.”

    To many Romans the Republic meant much more than that and Brutus was among their number. To Brutus it meant liberty:

    “After reflecting on this, Cassius made Brutus his first visit since the quarrel above mentioned,13 and when they were again on a friendly footing, asked him whether he had made up his mind to attend the meeting of the senate on the Calends of March; for it had come to his ears, he said, that Caesar’s friends would then move to have him made king. 4 When Brutus answered that he should not attend, “What, then,” said Cassius, “if we should be summoned?” “It would at once be my duty,” said Brutus, “not to hold my peace, but to defend my country and die in behalf of liberty.””

    That is from Plutarch’s life of Brutus written about a century and a half after Brutus died and long after the establishment of the Empire. Many of the Optimates were mere self seekers, but not Brutus nor his uncle Cato. They fought for liberty under the Republic and the mos maiorum, the ways of their ancestors.

  • Donald M McClarey wrote, “Many of the Optimates were mere self seekers, but not Brutus nor his uncle Cato.”

    I would add Cicero, who deserves to be remembered above all for his 14 Philippicae, delivered between September 44 and April 43. He must have known they could well cost him his life as, in fact, they did. Mark Anthony, one recalls insisted that the hands that wrote the Philippicae should be nailed, along with Cicero’s head, to the rostrum in the Forum.

  • Brutus committed suicide rather than working to restore the Republic that he loved. Quitter.

  • The Romans were a people who hated work, despised commerce and lived by plundering and enslaving their neighbors [at which they were very successful].

    In my humble opinion, and with great respect, I believe you have cause and effect backwards. Because of the existence of slavery, the Roman oligarchs hated work and despised commerce. The guy to read is Aldo Schiavone, The End of the Past: Ancient Rome and the Modern West. Sorry I can’t provide a link right now –computer’s acting up.

  • “Brutus committed suicide rather than working to restore the Republic that he loved. Quitter.”

    No Mary he understood that with the Senate armies defeated the wheel of history had turned and the Republic was one with Nineveh and Tyre.

  • “No Mary he understood that with the Senate armies defeated the wheel of history had turned and the Republic was one with Nineveh and Tyre.”
    .
    And Socrates became an accomplice to his own death by imbibing the hemlock with his own hand. Jesus did nothing to cause or bring about his death. Christ was as innocent as a lamb.

  • The following words are from what seems to be a tangentially contemporary Brutus. This is copy/pasted from a piece in a comment found on Zero Hedge today which title concerned Turkish news from its Brutus.

    “President Museveni of Uganda 24 February 2014-

    It seems the topic of homosexuals was provoked by the arrogant and careless Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism, just as they carelessly handle other issues concerning Africa.

    Initially, I did not pay much attention to it because I was busy with the immediate issues of defense, security, electricity, the roads, the railways, factories, modernization of agriculture, etc.

    When, eventually, I concentrated my mind on it, I distilled three problems:

    1. those who were promoting homo-sexuality and recruiting normal people into it;

    2. as a consequence of No. 1 above, many of those recruited were doing so for mercenary reasons – to get money – in effect homosexual prostitutes; these mercenary homosexual prostitutes had to be punished;

    3. Homosexuals exhibiting themselves; Africans are flabbergasted by exhibitionism of sexual acts – whether heterosexual or otherwise and for good reason. Why do you exhibit your sexual conduct? Are you short of opportunity for privacy – where you can kiss, fondle (kukirigiita, kwagaaga) etc.?

    Are we interested in seeing your sexual acts – we the Public? I am not able to understand the logic of the Western Culture. However, we Africans always keep our opinions to ourselves and never seek to impose our point of view on the others. If only they could let us alone.

    It was my view that the above three should be punished harshly in order to defend our society from disorientation. Therefore, on these three I was in total accord with the MPs and other Ugandans. I had, however, a problem with Category 4 or what I thought was category 4 – those “born” homosexual.

    I thought there were such people – those who are either genetic or congenital homosexuals. The reason I thought so was because I could not understand why a man could fail to be attracted to the beauties of a woman and, instead, be attracted to a fellow man. It meant, according to me, that there was something wrong with that man – he was born a homosexual – abnormal.

    I, therefore, thought that it would be wrong to punish somebody because of how he was created, disgusting though it may be to us. That is why I refused to sign the Bill. In order to get to the truth, we involved Uganda Scientists as well as consulting Scientists from outside Uganda.

    My question to them was: “Are there people that are homosexual right from birth?”. After exhaustive studies, it has been found that homosexuality is in two categories: there are those who engage in homosexuality for mercenary reasons on account of the under – developed sectors of our economy that cause people to remain in poverty, the great opportunities that abound not withstanding; and then there are those that become homosexual by both nature (genetic) and nurture (up-bringing).

    The studies that were done on identical twins in Sweden showed that 34% – 39% were homosexual on account of nature and 66% were homosexual on account of nurture.

    Therefore, even in those studies, nurture was more significant than nature. Can somebody be homosexual purely by nature without nurture? The answer is: “No”. No study has shown that. Since nurture is the main cause of homosexuality, then society can do something about it to discourage the trends. That is why I have agreed to sign the Bill.

    Since Western societies do not appreciate politeness, let me take this opportunity to warn our people publicly about the wrong practices indulged in and promoted by some of the outsiders.

    One of them is “oral sex”. Our youth should reject this because God designed the human being most appropriately for pleasurable, sustainable and healthy sex. Some of the traditional styles are very pleasurable and healthy. The mouth is not engineered for that purpose except kissing. Besides, it is very unhealthy. People can even contract gonorrhea of the mouth and throat on account of so-called “oral sex”, not to mention worms, hepatitis E, etc.

    The Ministry of Gender and Youth should de-campaign this buyayism imported from outside and sensitize the youth about the healthy life style that is abundant in our cultures.

    We reject the notion that somebody can be homosexual by choice; that a man can choose to love a fellow man; that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. Since my original thesis that there may be people who are born homosexual has been disproved by science, then the homosexuals have lost the argument in Uganda.

    They should rehabilitate themselves and society should assist them to do so.”

  • “And Socrates became an accomplice to his own death by imbibing the hemlock with his own hand.”

    To carry out the sentence of death imposed by the government of Athens. He was urged not to do this by many of his students and to attempt to escape from jail. He refused to do so because he believed that when one is a citizen of a polity one must obey the laws of the polity. I disagree with Socrates on this point, but that was his reason for drinking the hemlock.

  • Perhaps Socrates didn’t mean it at all.

  • “he (Socrates) believed that when one is a citizen of a polity one must obey the laws of the polity. I disagree with Socrates on this point, but that was his reason for drinking the hemlock.”
    .
    So, Socrates believed that it was honorable to commit suicide to uphold the laws of Athens because of his citizenship, and Socrates committed suicide to prove it. Suicide being an intrinsic evil, a greater evil than any polity

Ides of March: Antony Explains it All

Friday, March 15, AD 2013

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.

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4 Responses to Ides of March: Antony Explains it All

  • I always rather liked the story of the British lady, who had just witnessed Sarah Bernhardt’s impassioned, almost hysterical rendering of Cleopatra’s reaction to the defeat of Anthony at Actium – “How different, how very different is the home life of our own dear Queen.”

  • We were watching Mark Antony’s big speech from the Charleton Heston version with the kids last night. I hadn’t seen that one before, but I was quite impressed with what he did with that scene.

    Several years back, and my wife and I were watching the BBC/HBO series Rome, I was getting more and more curious as to how they’d deal with the Mark Antony speech which Shakespear has made so famous. I thought the handling was hilarious and deft: They skip it entirely and then have Mark Antony saying (to Brutus?) after the riot that obviously resulted from his speech: “Well, perhaps I overdid it a bit.”
    To which the reply is, “I should bloody well say you did!”

  • Roman politicians had two types of oratory: one for the Senate and one for crowds, or pre-battle speeches. Antony had probably made a number of pre-battle speeches to his legions over the years, so he probably had a fair amount of experience in playing the emotions of lower class Romans.

    This was wonderfully examined by Graves in Chapter 9 of I Claudius where Livy and Polio, one of Caesar’s legates, are having a conversation about history and Polio says that the pre-battle speeches that Livy puts into the mouth of historical figures are false. He recalls a speech by Caesar prior to the battle of Pharsalus which was relaxed in tone, Caesar using a turnip he was eating as a comic prop during his speech to his men. He mimics Pompey’s suicide speech after he loses the battle and stabs himself with the turnip to the cheers and laughter of his men. He ends the speech by telling them that no one can beat Caesar and his legions to the raucous applause of his men. The best Roman speeches never made it into the histories.

Ides of March: Brutus

Thursday, March 15, AD 2012

This was the noblest Roman of them all:

All the conspirators, save only he,

 Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;

He, only in a general honest thought

And common good to all, made one of them.

Mark Antony referring to Brutus in Julius Caesar

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.

Continue reading...

One Response to Ides of March: Brutus