Who’s Got Your Back?

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So the Ides of March are upon us again and I rolled out of bed thinking about Caesar. Not the drink but the man that was stabbed in the back, and other places, 2060 years ago today. I’m not sure how he would feel about being associated with such a boreal cocktail, but there you go.

The longer version of his purported last words “Et tu Brute contra me?” was turned into a bit of a song and dance number in my childhood home, which we performed regularly mostly to annoy our father with the absurdity of his offspring. Of course we’re not sure what, if anything, Caesar said on that day, the famous “Et tu Brute?” is above all known from a Shakespeare play. The Roman historian Suetonius reports he was told that the last words of Caesar were in Greek “Kai su teknon?”, which means and you my child? And has also been translated as and you my son? Other versions simply described Caesar pulling his toga over his head and accepting his fate once he recognized his protégé, Marcus Brutus, among the attackers. Brutus wasn’t long for this world either though, he would commit suicide two years later after being defeated at the battle of Philippi. It’s what happens when you play with knives.

The story of Caesar’s assassination is a little puzzling. Why would a powerful man, with powerful enemies, just take a leisurely stroll down to the theater without any guards? Especially since, as the story goes, a seer had expressly warned him about this date. It’s a well known fact that Caesar was quite ill in the last years of his life. We’re not sure about the nature of the ailment, but it was at times debilitating and it seems it was getting worse. This led one historian to propose that Caesar might have more or less welcomed the assassination, as a way to go out on his feet as it were, but also to further his own legacy and succession. That’s some next level craftiness if it is true, but there’s no way to know. Note however, that the above mentioned historian is himself an Italian from Rome, there might be some identity pride thing going on there too with that theory. Caesar as master of his own death. It’s a much more interesting epitaph than old arrogant man makes a fatal blunder. History… it’s never quite straight forward.

Reading about Caesar in ancient sources you get a complex portrait of the man. Hugely ambitious that’s for certain, famously at around 38 he wept because he had accomplished nothing noteworthy (yet), while at his age Alexander had conquered the known world. No pressure right? He was a tough man too,  proud of his military background and how he could accommodate himself with Spartan meals. He was a  master politician, of that there is no doubt, he pretty much scared the senate into making him king-like, even though the Republic was founded on the hatred of kingship. He excelled at propaganda, his Commentarii de Bello Gallico was his way of keeping public opinion on his side. He was also ruthless and calculating. There’s a good argument to be made that the whole conquest of Gaul thing was really a way to become personally rich, by capturing and selling slaves, and thus being able to ensure the legions’ support and the people’s favour. He certainly knew and understood the power of money. As a counterpoint to all this, though it was said by his enemies, he was described as “a husband to every woman and a wife to every man”. Seems Caesar might had swung both ways. A lot.

So 2060 years later what of it all?  What’s left of Caesar or of all the great heroic women and men of the past? People who like Achilles or Beowulf might have chosen fame or power over happiness as a bulwark against death? I’m not sure. I’m not sure any of it really matters. As for Caesar I’m left with the distinct impression of a lonely life, especially at the end. Maybe that’s why the senators got all stabby.

Things to reflect on while perhaps sipping on the appropriate drink later in the day.

That leaves me with one question for you today, today of all days: who’s watching out for you?

Who’s got your back?

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