3/15/13 - beware of the ides of march

In today's selection -- Julius Caesar, one of the greatest military commanders in history, was assassinated on the Ides of March. In February 44 BC, one month before his assassination, he was appointed dictator for life. He was not assassinated solely by Brutus nor with the cry of "et tu, Brute," -- a line penned by Shakespeare -- but by twenty three dagger strokes from a crowd of sixty led by Tillius Cimber, a victim of the harsh rivalries and merciless political maelstrom of ancient Rome. Only one of the twenty three strokes was fatal. Caesar's dead body lay where it fell on the Senate floor for nearly three hours before other officials arrived to remove it:

"On the ides (15th) of March 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated. In his Life of the Divine Julius Caesar, the ancient historian Suetonius, having mentioned the unfavorable omens that had been observed in Rome and the prophet Spurinna's personal warnings to Caesar, recorded the scene as follows:

'As a result of these warnings and poor health, Caesar hesitated for some time whether to stay at home and postpone what he had planned to do in the Senate. Finally Decimus Brutus persuaded him not to disappoint the Senate, which was in full session and had been waiting for him for some time now, and at about ten o'clock he set off for the House. As he went, someone handed him a note about the plot on his life, but he merely added it to the bundle of petitions in his left hand, which he intended to read later. Several sacrifices were made, but despite consistently unfavorable omens, he entered the House in defiance of the portents, deriding Spurinna as a false prophet on the grounds that the ides of March had come and he had suffered no harm. Spurinna replied that they had indeed come, but had not yet gone.

'As soon as Caesar took his seat, the conspirators crowded round him as if to pay their respects. Tillius Cimber, who had taken the lead, came up close, pretending to ask a question. Caesar made a gesture to put off his request to some other time, but Cimber caught hold of his toga at both shoulders. 'This is outrageous,' Caesar exclaimed, and at that moment one of the Casca brothers stabbed him from one side just below the throat. Caesar grasped Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus. He was leaping up when another dagger caught him in the chest. Confronted by a ring of drawn daggers, he drew the top of his toga over his face, and at the same time with his left hand drew the lap of his toga down to his feet, so that he would die decently, with the lower part of his body covered. Twenty three dagger thrusts went home. Caesar did not utter a sound after the first blow, though some have recorded that when he saw Marcus Brutus coming at him, he said 'kai su, teknon' [Greek for 'you too, child'].

"There is a debate about what kai su, teknon (note: not et tu, Brute) implies. Some Romans did indeed think that Brutus was Caesar's illegitimate son -- Caesar was a notorious lady's man -- but this is unlikely. One tempting interpretation is that the words are not a cry of astonishment or despair but an aggressive 'And the same to you, kiddo!' Caesar, in other words, remained defiant to the end. This is attractive. Caesar was a man of iron determination, never one to admit defeat -- even in death."


Christian Meier


Julius Caesar


HarperCollins Publishers Inc.


Copyright 1982 by Christian Meier


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