Scholia Reviews ns 17 (2008) 18.
Antony Kamm, Julius Caesar: A Life. Oxon: Routledge, 2006. Pp. ix + 172. ISBN 0-415-41121-1. US$26.95.
Maria Wyke (ed.), Julius Caesar in Western Culture. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. Pp. xviii + 365. ISBN 1-4051- 2599-3. UK£22.99.
Richard J. Evans
School of History & Archaeology, Cardiff University, U.K.
Shakespeare’s Marcus Antonius, in his dramatic funeral oration over Caesar’s
corpse, declares: ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to
bury Caesar, not to praise him . . . ’ (Julius Caesar Act 3 Sc. 2). In
fact, the speech becomes a eulogy advancing Antonius’ own ambitions, while
reducing the hoped-for status of the tyrannicides, most obviously, Marcus
Brutus and Gaius Cassius. Like Shakespeare’s speech the two works under review
here once again have cast Caesar as the centrifugal force, whose career changed
forever the direction of Roman history, and whose personality continues to
fascinate and absorb to such an extent that together these engender an ever
expanding corpus devoted to him in the modern era. Antony Kamm’s
biographical study, Julius Caesar: A Life, quite intentionally has a
more general readership in mind, the work edited by Maria Wyke,
First of all Kamm’s straightforward chronological account, with a keen sympathetic bias, occupies eleven chapters: ‘The world of Republican Rome’ (pp. 3-18), ‘The Man in the Making 100-73 BC’ (pp. 19-35), ‘The Politician’ (pp. 36- 47), ‘Praetor and Consul 62-59 BC’ (pp. 48-61), ‘The General; Gaul and Britain 58-55 BC’ (pp. 62-79), ‘The General: Britain to the Rubicon 54-49 BC’ (pp. 80-100), ‘The Dictator: Civil War 49-48 BC’ (pp. 101-14), ‘Egyptian Interlude 48-47 BC’ (pp. 115-24), ‘The Dictator: Civil War 47-45 BC’ (pp. 125-38), ‘The Ides of March 44 BC’ (pp. 139-51), and ‘Epilogue 44-27 BC’ (pp. 152-55). A series of useful maps are included at the start (pp. xii-xv), a liberal number of black-and-white illustrations, and battle plans are interspersed in the body of the discussion, while Caesar’s family tree, crucial dates, main works consulted, and a detailed index follow the main body of the work (pp. 156-72). On the whole the narrative flows lucidly enough and, on the one hand, provides a sufficiently valid background to Caesar’s early career, and on the other, a plausible historical context for his later actions. However, the large number of errors evident in the text mar the otherwise attractive presentation: Sardinia was annexed by Rome in 238 BC not 241 (p. 9), ‘Gaius Gracchus . . . By some means . . . managed to be elected in 123 for a second term’ (p. 9) takes no account of the fact that C. Papirius Carbo (cos. 120) had made this possible by passing a law allowing iterations of the plebeian tribunate in 131 or 130, Marius had a natural son, not adopted (p. 17), Suetonius is described as Caesar’s ‘near-contemporary’ (p. 20), Cn. Papirius Carbo (cos. 85) is probably confused (p. 23) with C. Paprius Carbo (cos. 120), no source claims a ‘permanent’ dictatorship for Sulla (p. 28) and he probably resigned the position after about twelve months not three years (p. 32), Caesar’s first performance in the law courts was not of an unusual age (p. 33), Catiline’s accomplice Lucius not ‘Gaius’ (p. 43) Manlius, should not be confused with the L. Manlius (pr. 79?) a legate of Sulla, while Lentulus Sura was consul in 71 not 79 (p. 43), the office of pontifex maximus was certainly not always held by ‘elderly statesmen’ (p. 44), the first triumvirate’s meeting at Luca in 56 was hardly ‘secret’ (p. 74). Moreover, while Kamm’s Caesar may have possessed an ‘intricate vision of himself at the centre of the known world’ (p. 61), the reader might have obtained a more realistic and accurate impression of the period with fewer errors and less resort to oddly out-of-place phrases such as the description of Pompey’s theatre as a ‘sporting, entertainment, and conference complex’ (p. 76), Caesar’s senate as being ‘more of a people’s parliament’ (p. 134), or, indeed, Kamm’s last comment, ‘Julius Caesar was the ultimate all-rounder, even if he may not have been an altogether likeable person’ (p. 155). In the end, in trying to accomplish too much in too little space, the general historical account overwhelms and Caesar tends to be cast in an intermittent role in the political and military events of the time, granted that he was increasingly the major player. Kamm might have been wiser to concentrate his focus more strictly on his subject while directing his reader to more comprehensive, and dare one say it, better accounts of this period of Roman history.
The volume edited by Maria Wyke, the result of a British School at Rome conference (2003), examines ‘important aspects of Caesar’s role in western culture across a wide chronological range and diverse media’ (p. xiv). This book is therefore, not surprisingly, divided into six discrete sections: ‘Introduction’ (pp. 1-26), ‘Literary Characterization’ (pp. 27-82), ‘The City of Rome’ (pp. 83- 127), ‘Statecraft and Nationalism’ (pp. 129-201), ‘Theatrical Performance’ (pp. 203-65), 'Warfare and Revolution’ (pp. 267-302). Within this division sixteen contributions have been collected, mostly connected by a single strand, namely the effect and use of Caesar, whether as exemplum or source, in later literature and art.
Christopher Pelling’s discussion (Chapter 1, ‘Judging Julius Caesar’, pp. 3-26) acts as a preamble to the entire work both Caesar and his murder became such a constant topic of interest and the development of the focus of the ‘story’ (p. 8) either on Caesar himself or one of the leading assassins Brutus. In Chapter 2 (‘The Earliest Depiction of Caesar and the Later Tradition’, pp. 29-44), Mark Toher looks at the evidence provided by Nicolaus, the earliest source for Caesar’s murder and what may have motivated the conspirators: ‘the significant grievance of all . . . is resentment of Caesar’s clementia’ (p. 35) but not libertas (p. 39). However, Toher tends to ignore the evidence provided by Cicero (p. 40) which does suggest that Brutus had a greater role in the plot than is allowed for by Nicolaus. Christine Walde (Chapter 3, ‘Caesar, Lucan’s Bellum Civile, and their Reception’, pp. 45-61), explores Lucan’s casting of Caesar ‘as both destructive and useful . . . as a godsend, a godlike higher force even, who (through destruction) brought about the change of constitution necessary for the survival of Rome’ (p. 51). Jacqueline Long (Chapter 4, 'Julian Augustus’ Julius Caesar’, pp. 62-82) examines the prominence given by Julian to the first Caesar in his Symposion, and that for the writer this first ruler of the Roman empire failed to achieve perfection because he became ‘infatuated with the glamour of his success’ (p. 77).
From ancient literature to topography in ancient and medieval Rome where Ricardo Valenzani (Chapter 5, ‘The Seat and Memory of Power: Caesar’s Curia and Forum’, pp. 85-94) notes the interconnectedness of the Senate House, rebuilt by Augustus, with Caesar’s Forum and the significance of these buildings’ relationship. Note that the plan of the area (p. 86) contains an error, and that the construction labelled ‘Forum of Augustus’ should be that of Caesar’s. In a rather repetitive analysis, John Osborne (Chapter 6, ‘St. Peter’s Needle and the Ashes of Julius Caesar: Invoking Rome’s Imperial History at the Papal Court, ca. 100-1300’, pp. 95-109) traces the history of the obelisk which currently stands before St. Peter’s Basilica and its connection with Caesar. Chapter 7 (Nicholas Temple, ‘Julius II as Second Caesar’, pp. 110- 27) highlights the conscious effort made by Julian II, ‘warrior pope’ (p. 116) to emulate Caesar both in the restoration of ‘Roman justice’ and as ‘triumphator’ (p. 116), although the maps provided (pp. 112, 115, 121) are really very unclear.
Chapter 8 (‘Imitation Gone Wrong: The “Pestilentially Ambitious” Figure of Julius Caesar in Michel de Montaigne’s Essais’, pp. 131-47) sees the discussion move from the political landscape to Caesar as a subject worthy of imitation or avoidance in political life in the early modern period. Here Louisa Mackenzie deals with Montaigne’s use of Caesar as exemplum. In Chapter 9 (‘Manifest Destiny and the Eclipse of Julius Caesar’, pp. 148-69) Margaret Malamud explores the varying American views of Caesar in the changing political climate of the first half of the nineteenth century. Wyke in Chapter 10 (‘Caesar, Cinema, and National Identity in the 1910’s’, pp. 170-89) discusses how the cinematic image of Caesar was adopted from Italian productions for American audiences in the years between 1914 and the early 1920’s. Giuseppi Pucci (Chapter 11, ‘Caesar the Foe: Roman Conquest and National Resistance in French Popular Culture’, pp. 190-201) examines the views and changing perceptions of Caesar in French literature, from Napoleon’s Caesarism to the adulation of Vercingetorix. However, no mention is made of the reception of any other Roman writers, especially Gallo-Roman such as Sidonius, and whether or not five hundred years of connection with the Roman empire has been suppressed or even ignored.
Theatrical performance is the theme of Section 5 in which Nicholas Royle (Chaper 12: ‘Julius Caesar and the Democracy to Come’, pp. 205-27) dwells on particular ‘instances of the iteraphonic’ (p. 221) in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, most notably the brief speech of the poet Helvius Cinna. In Chapter 13 (‘Shaw’s Caesars’, pp. 228-43) Niall Slater surveys Shaw’s version of Julius Caesar for the stage and his ‘attempt to rehabilitate Caesar as political genius’ (p. 241), a not wholly successful mission. Jane Dunnett in Chapter 14 (‘The Rhetoric of Romanità: Representations of Caesar in Fascist Theatre’, pp. 244-65) looks at the way Italian writers in the 1920’s and 1930’s employed Caesar in fascist propaganda. Some references to various plays have possibly crept in erroneously (pp. 254-55) since they are anonymous, giving only line numbers but no titles.
Section 6 dealing with war and revolution contains two chapters; the first by Jorit Wintjies (Chapter 15, ‘“Capitano” to “Great Commander”: The Military Reception of Caesar from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries’, pp. 269-84) assesses how the literary works of Caesar were employed by military tacticians and strategists, and how their value changed from textbook manual to a framework for character-building (but observe some inconsistence in naming political figures, pp. 271, 274); the second by Oliver Hemmerle (Chapter 16, ‘Crossing the Rubicon into Paris: Caesarian Comparisons from Napoleon to de Gaulle’, pp. 285-302) discusses how Caesar’s career and example were employed or avoided by French politicians in the two centuries following the destruction of the ancien régime. In an Afterword (Chapter 17, ‘A Twenty-first Century Caesar’, pp. 305-23), Wyke, rather than drawing together the various strands of the volume, introduces the in-vogue theme of comparing America and its leadership with the Roman empire and its rulers, primarily Caesar, in the context of recent world instability, and affirms that ‘this new mode of reception . . . makes such an urgent claim on our attention’ (p. 306). A full consolidated bibliography follows the last chapter, and throughout the body of the text there are a liberal number of interesting illustrations.
The nomen Caesar has meant and continues to impart many things to many commentators, whether they are scholars, literary figures, even artists, nearly from the moment of the dictator’s death probably in perpetuo. The studies generated by Caesar’s ambition, glory, clemency, and literary output remain unequivocally buoyant: the volume edited by Wyke, although with content of variable quality -- to be expected in such a collection -- and perhaps not entirely cohesive but still mostly engaging, will, nonetheless, prove valuable for the initiated, especially those involved in Reception Studies, Kamm’s almost panegyric is very much for the ephebe, and I doubt that ‘this new book . . . will be indispensable’ (p. i). Yet, the opinions expressed and the arguments advanced in both works mean that they will join the ever growing reservoir of Caesar scholarship, and add still further aspects to the character, fame and legacy of one of history’s most influential figures.