Julius Caesar

Essay by zZzZDREDDZzZz October 2004

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It is difficult, now, to separate the most famous Roman of them all from the most famous author of them all. For twenty generations, the Julius Caesar defined by Shakespeare has overwhelmed all other images of Caesar, so that it it is difficult to imagine the living man himself. Yet Shakespeare's Caesar, taken solely as biography, is deeply flawed. Caesar is portrayed as overtopping all his contemporaries, yet is also humorless, pompous, even self-importantly fearful; all attributes which friends and enemies in his own time would have found perplexingly off-base. There is no hint of the personal charm, wit and magnetism for which he was notorious; of the cold-eyed conqueror who could tell a defiant subordinate that it was easier to kill him than to have to say so; of the teenage rebel refusing to do the bidding of the killer-dictator, Sulla; of the intellectual second only to Cicero as a speaker and writer.

The man himself was infinitely more complex and interesting than Shakespeare's version. Perhaps that is why, both because and in spite of Shakespeare, he is simply the best-recognized Roman in history.

When Caesar died in 44 BC, a great comet soon troubled the skies over Rome. No more superstitious people ever lived: even those who had bitterly opposed him and murdered him outside Pompey's Theater were awed by the implications when the heavens themselves "blazed forth the death of princes." Soon thereafter, for the first time in Roman history, a living man was deified; in the process, the man himself was lost to history.