Gaius Julius Caesar was born 100 BC and died on the Ides of March, 44 BC. He was a Romand general and statesman and, yes, a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. His life and death were the title and subject of one our other Interviewees, William Shakespeare.
What’s the key to being a good military leader? Even with all those metal leggings and shields – didn’t your soldiers worry about, you know, being killed.
Men willingly believe what they wish. (De Bello Gallico, Book III, Ch. 18, as translated in Great Thoughts from Classic Authors (1891) by Craufurd Tait Ramage, p. 442)
Did you have a draft, in your day?
It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience. (Attributed)
What military strategies did you employ?
Fortune, which has a great deal of power in other matters but especially in war, can bring about great changes in a situation through very slight forces. (The Civil War, Book III, 68)
In other words?
In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes. (Attributed)
So a master of Latin prose. Let’s examine some of your famous sayings. For example, I might have said Gaul is vanguished – what was it you said when you won your great victory?
Gaul is subdued. Galia est pacata (Written in a letter with which Caesar informed the Roman Senate of his victory over Vercingetorix in 52 BC)
OK. That’s a little lame if you ask me. Let’s try another. Your momentous decision to start a civil war with your co-leader, Pompey? I might have gone with a stronger metaphor here. You went with?
The die is cast. Alea iacta est. (Suetonius, Vita Divi Iuli (The Life of the deified Julius), 121 CE, paragraph 33 (Caesar: ... "Iacta alea est", inquit. – Caesar said ... "the die is cast".) Said when crossing the river Rubicon with his legions on 10 January, 49 BC, thus beginning the civil war with the forces of Pompey. The Rubicon river was the boundary of Gaul, the province Caesar had the authority to keep his army in. By crossing the river, he had committed an invasion of Italy).
Today, when any idiot achieves a quick victory (ex. Ex. 45 or winning a food eating contest - Not a false equivalency in my humble opinion) like you did after conquering Pharnaces they say what?
I came, I saw, I conquered. Veni, vidi, vici. (Written in a report to Rome 47 B.C. after conquering Pharnaces at Zela in Asia Minor in just five days. Quoted in Plutarch, Life of Caesar, and Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Julius)
Well, Ok. There the shortness does it give it some punch. A piece of caked; we kicked butt; veni, vidi, vici. Let’s try another, How many parts is Gaul divided into?
All Gaul is divided into three parts (Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres) (De Bello Gallico, Book I, Ch. 1. Whole sentence is "All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third.”)
Three. Got it. And, ahem, please don’t waffle here – which one of the three caused you the most angina?
Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest/strongest (Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae) (Caesar suffered his greatest military defeat at the hands of the Belgae, the humiliation reaching Rome, and infuriating the man who then set out on one of Rome's biggest campaigns to crush the Republic's most feared rebels once and for all. De Bello Gallico, Book I, Ch. 1)
Let’s change gears. Why did you spend so much time with Cleopatra?
I assure you I had rather be the first man here than the second man in Rome. (On passing through a village in the Alps, as attributed by Plutarch. The quote is presented as traditional, and the attribution to Caesar is presumably apocryphal, as quoted in p. 372 Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities (1892) by William Shepard Walsh)
And during your dalliance with Cleopatra did you fear the Pharoah?
It is not the well-fed long-haired man I fear, but the pale and the hungry looking. (Found in Plutarch's Anthony. Famously Cassius was noted in Julius Caesar as having "a lean and hungry look.")
The reason you became a dictator for life?
If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. (Attributed)
Why did you think people wouldn’t care about all those images in your honor like coins with pictures on them?
As a rule, men worry more about what they can't see than about what they can. (Attributed)
And the key to being a good despot?
Caesar's wife must be above suspicion. (His declaration as to why he had divorced his wife Pompeia, when questioned in the trial against Publius Clodius Pulcher for sacrilege against Bona Dea festivities (from which men were excluded), in entering Caesar's home disguised as a lute-girl apparently with intentions of a seducing Caesar's wife; as reported in Parallel Lives by Plutarch, p. 467)
So, I heard this story that you were made at Brutus because et two of your hamburgers. What did you really say to him when you saw he was one of the co-conspirators?
And you, son? (Reported as Caesar's last words, spoken to Marcus Junius Brutus, as recorded in Divus Iulius by Suetonius, paragraph 82; this gave rise to William Shakespeare's famous adaptation in Julius Caesar: "Et tu, Bruté? — Then fall, Caesar!")
On reflection, what was your big mistake?
I love the name of honor, more than I fear death. (Attributed)
And what was your response to all your co-conspirators.
Cowards die many times before their actual deaths. (Attributed)
Despite your misadventure in the Rotunda, was it a good life?
I have lived long enough to satisfy both nature and glory. (Attributed)
Any regrets on your military and despotic life?
It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life. (Attributed)
Was there anything good about your assassination?
Which death is preferable to every other? "The unexpected.” (Attributed)