Gaius Marcius Coriolanus: Legendary General or Man of Myth

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With so much to discuss about Ancient Rome, sometimes we ask ourselves were to begin or what to share today? We all know that events abound during this historical period from the Founding of Rome through the Decline of the Byzantine Empire, and that numerous people stood out as well.

Having recently watched the move Coriolanus, starring Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler, we were curious if this was the imagination of William Shakespeare or if this was truth. In any case, the story was awesome (check out our take on the film here – Ralph Fiennes Presents William Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’) and the search for the truth would be worth it.

Join us today as we hunt for the real Gaius Marcius Coriolanus!

Gaius Marcius Coriolanus

Gaius Marcius (Caius Martius) Coriolanus was a Roman General who is said to have lived in the 5th Century BC. In later ancient times, it was generally accepted by historians that Coriolanus was a real historical individual, and a consensus narrative story of his life appeared, retold by leading historians such as LivyPlutarch, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

Map of Coriolanus’ Campaigns

Coriolanus came to fame as a young man serving in the Army of the Consul Postumus Cominius Auruncus in 493 BC during the siege of the Volscian town of Corioli. While the Romans were focused on the siege, another Volscian force arrived from Antium (modern Anzio and Nettuno) and attacked the Romans.

It was at this moment that the besieged soldiers of Corioli also launched a counter-attack against the Romans. Marcius, who held watch at the time of the Volscian attack, quickly gathered a small force of Roman soldiers to fight against the rallying Volscians from Corioli.

Not only did Marcius repel the enemy, but he also charged through the town gates and began setting fire to some of the houses bordering the town wall. The citizens of Corioli cried out, and the whole Volscian force was dispirited and was ultimately defeated by the Romans.

Land of the Volsci

The town was captured by the Romans, at least in part due to Marcius. He received the toponymic cognomen “Coriolanus” because of his exceptional valor in the siege of said Volscian city.

In 491 BC, just 2 years after the victory over the Volscians, Rome was recovering from a grain shortage. A significant quantity of grain was imported from Sicily, and the Senatus Romanus (Roman Senate) debated the manner in which it should be distributed to the Plebis (Common People).

Coriolanus advocated that the provision of grain should be dependent upon the reversal of the pro-Plebeian political reforms arising from the First Secessio Plebis (494 BC). The Senate thought Coriolanus’ proposal was too harsh.

The populace were infuriated at Coriolanus’ proposal, and the Tribuni (Tribunes) subsequently put him on trial. The Senators argued for the acquittal of Coriolanus, or at the least a merciful sentence.

Tom Hiddleston as Caius Martius Coriolanus

Coriolanus refused to attend on the day of his trial, and he was convicted. He was subsequently exiled from Rome.

Oddly enough, Coriolanus fled to the Volsci in exile. He was received and treated kindly, and resided with the Volscian leader Attius Tullus Aufidius.

Plutarch’s account of his defection tells that Coriolanus donned a disguise and entered the home of Aufidius as a supplicant. It was almost as if Coriolanus was hoping this would be made into a movie or play one day.

Coriolanus and Aufidius then persuaded the Volscians to break their truce with Rome and raise an army to then invade Rome itself. Livy recounts that Aufidius tricked the Senatus Romanus into expelling the Volsci from Rome during the celebration of the Ludi Romani (Great Games), thereby stirring up ill-will among the Volsci.

Ralph Fiennes (front left) as Coriolanus with Gerard Butler (front right) as Attius Tullus Aufidius.

Coriolanus and Aufidius led the Volscian army against Roman towns, coloniae (colonies) and allies. Following this Volscian victory, Roman colonists were then expelled from Circeii.

The pair then campaigned and retook the formerly Volscian towns of SatricumLongulaPollusca, and Corioli. The Volscian army followed this by taking Lavinium, CorbioVitelliaTrebiaLavici, and finally Pedum.

From there the Volsci marched on Rome and besieged it. The Volscians initially camped at the Fossae Cluiliae (Cluilian Trench), 5 miles outside Rome, and ravaged the countryside. Coriolanus directed the Volsci to target plebeian properties and to spare the patricians’.

Coriolanus at the Walls of Rome.

The Consuls, now Spurius Nautius Rutilus and Sextus Furius Medullinus Fusus, readied the defenses of Rome. But the Plebeians implored them to sue for peace.

The Senate was convened, and it was agreed to send petitioners to the enemy. Initially ambassadors were sent, but Coriolanus sent back a negative response.

The ambassadors were sent back to the Volsci, but were refused entry to the enemy camp. Next priests adorned in their regalia were sent by the Romans, but achieved nothing more than had the ambassadors.

Veturia at the Feet of Coriolanus by Gaspare Landi.

Then Coriolanus’ mother Veturia (known as Volumnia in Shakespeare’s play) and his wife Volumnia (known as Virgilia in Shakespeare’s play) and his 2 sons, together with the matrons of Rome, went out to the Volscian camp and implored Coriolanus to cease his attack on Rome. Coriolanus was overcome by their pleas, and moved the Volscian camp back from the city, ending the siege.

Rome honored the service of these women by the erection of a temple dedicated to Fortuna (a female deity). Coriolanus’ fate after this point is unclear, but it seems he took no further part in the war.

One version says that Coriolanus retired to Aufidius’ home city of Antium. Coriolanus had committed acts of disloyalty to both Rome and the Volsci, and Aufidius raised support to have Coriolanus first put on trial by the Volscians, and then assassinated before the trial had ended.

Plutarch’s tale of Coriolanus’ appeal to Aufidius is quite similar to a tale from the life of Themistocles, a leader of the Athenian democracy who was a contemporary of Coriolanus. During Themistocles’ exile from Athens, he travelled to the home of Admetus, King of the Molossians, a man who was his personal enemy.

Themistocles

Themistocles came to Admetus in disguise and appealed to him as a fugitive, just as Coriolanus appealed to Aufidius. Themistocles, however, never attempted military retaliation against Athens.

More recent scholarship has cast doubt on the historicity of Coriolanus. Some portray Coriolanus as either a wholly legendary figure, or at least disputing the accuracy of the conventional story of his life or the timing of the events.

According to Plutarch, his ancestors included prominent patricians such as Censorinus and even an early Rex Romae (King of Rome).

Other modern scholars question parts of the story of Coriolanus. It is notable that accounts of Coriolanus’ life are initially found in works from the 3rd Century BC, some 200 years after Coriolanus’ life. There are few authoritative historical records prior to the Gallic sack of Rome in 390 BC.

Whether or not Coriolanus himself is a historical figure, the saga preserves a genuine popular memory of the dark, unhappy decades of the early 5th Century BC when the Volscians overran Latium and threatened the very existence of Rome. The story is the basis for The Tragedy of Coriolanus, written by William Shakespeare, and a number of other works, including Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture (based not on Shakespeare but on the play Coriolan by Heinrich Joseph von Collin).

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is the last of his “Roman plays”. Its portrayal of the hero has led to a long tradition of political interpretation of Coriolanus as an anti-populist, or even proto-fascist leader.

President Coriolanus Snow in the film The Hunger Games.

Bertolt Brecht‘s version of Coriolanus (1951) is one of those that stresses this anti-populist view. Suzanne Collins also references the anti-populist interpretation in The Hunger Games trilogy with her character President Coriolanus Snow, a totalitarian dictator who preserves order in the degenerate society of the books, though this character has little in common with the figure Coriolanus.

Heinrich Joseph von Collin‘s 1804 play Coriolan portrayed him in the context of German romantic ideas of the tragic hero. Beethoven’s 1807 Coriolan Overture was written for a production of the von Collin play.

T. S. Eliot wrote a sequence of poems in 1931 entitled Coriolan. Shakespeare’s play also forms the basis of the 2011 motion picture Coriolanus, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes, in which Coriolanus is the protagonist.

This is the front cover art for the book Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome written by Steven Saylor.

Steven Saylor‘s 2007 novel Roma presents Coriolanus as a Plebeian, the child of a Patricius (Patrician) mother and Plebeian father. His attitudes toward the changes occurring in Rome during his lifetime are reflective of what has been described.

He achieves Senatorial status thanks to his military valor and connections. When he calls for the abolition of the office of Tribune, he becomes a target of the Plebeians and their representatives.

Coriolanus flees before the trial which would ruin him and his family socially and financially, and seeks the alliance with the Volsci described above. His military campaign against Rome is successful and his forces are approaching the walls of the city until the appeal of the Roman women, including his Patrician mother and his wife. When he orders his troops to withdraw, he is killed by them.

The front cover art for the book The 48 Laws of Power written by Robert Greene.

The 48 Laws of Power uses Coriolanus as an example of violating Law #4: “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” citing his constant insulting of the plebeians as the reason for his exile.

We appreciate you joining us on the adventure to find the truth about Coriolanus. Since it seems inconclusive, we hope that you will make an informed decision on your own.

Thanks again for stopping by. Please make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Lendering, Jona. “Gnaeus Marcius Coriolanus”.

LivyAb Urbe Condita.

Vittucci, Paola Brandizzi. Antium: Anzio e Nettuno in epoca romana. Bardi, 2000 ISBN 88-85699-83-9.

Willett, John. The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht: A Study from Eight Aspects. Methuen, 1959.

The Life of Coriolanus – Full text of 17th-century English translation by John Dryden (HTML)

The Life of Coriolanus – Full text of 19th-century English translation by Aubrey Stewart and George Long (multiple formats for download)

Coriolanus – Full text of Shakespeare’s play based on Plutarch (HTML)

Ironbridge Gorge

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It’s time to take a look at another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Last week we were in France to uncover the Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne.

Today we’re crossing the Chanel from France as we head to Britannia to check out the Ironbridge Gorge!

The Ironbridge Gorge is a deep gorge, containing the River Severn in Shropshire, England. It was first formed by a glacial overflow from the long drained away Lake Lapworth, at the end of the last ice age.

The deep exposure of the rocks cut through by the gorge exposed commercial deposits of coal, iron ore, limestone and fireclay, which enabled the rapid economic development of the area during the early Industrial Revolution.

Originally called the Severn Gorge, the gorge now takes its name from its famous Iron Bridge, the first iron bridge of its kind in the world, and a monument to the industry that began there. The bridge was built in 1779 to link the industrial town of Broseley with the smaller mining town of Madeley and the growing industrial center of Coalbrookdale.

The Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage property covers an area of 550 ha and is located in Telford, Shropshire, approximately 31 mi north-west of Birmingham. The Industrial Revolution had its 18th Century roots in the Ironbridge Gorge and spread worldwide leading to some of the most far-reaching changes in human history.

The site incorporates a 3 mi length of the steep-sided, mineral-rich Severn Valley from a point immediately west of Ironbridge downstream to Coalport, together with 2 smaller river valleys extending northwards to Coalbrookdale and Madeley.

How This Relates to Rome:

The area around Telford was an early settlement in the area thought to be on the land that sloped up from the Weald Moors (an area north of the town center) towards the line along which the Roman Watling Street was built.

The greater area of  Shropshire was listed in Ptolemy‘s 2nd Century Geography names one of their towns as being Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter), which became their capital under Roman rule and one of the largest settlements in Britain. After the Roman occupation of Britain ended in the 5th Century, the Shropshire area was in the eastern part of the Welsh Kingdom of Powys.

Thanks for taking the tour with us today. We hope you’re inspired to take further adventures within the Roman Empire.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Book 5; Thought 20

In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things which are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast. Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us on this road.

Ralph Fiennes Presents William Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Lately, we have had our attention brought to William Shakespeare’s love of contemporary tragedy that is set in Ancient Rome. As with most things dealing with our favorite topic, we have jumped headlong into discovering the passion with Anya Rose’s Animated ‘Julius Caesar’, Mark Antony’s Speech in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare, and Julius Caesar (or How William Shakespeare Hit a Grand Slam).

Our spirits soared when we discovered there was another play, aside from Antony and Cleopatra, which dealt with the glory of Rome. Today we share our experience as we present to you Coriolanus!

Theatrical Release Poster

Coriolanus is a 2011 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name, ultimately about the Roman-Volscian Wars, starring Ralph Fiennes in his directorial debut. Produced on a budget of US $7.7 million, the film was shot in Belgrade and other areas of Serbia using many locals as extras.

The first page of The Tragedy of Coriolanus from the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1623).

The film premiered on 14 February 2011 at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and it opened the 2011 Belgrade International Film Festival. On 2 December of that year, it opened in New York City and Los Angeles.

As of February 2012, it has only been shown on a limited basis in other large US cities, such as Chicago. It received a full UK cinema release on 20 January 2012 after premiering at London’s Curzon Mayfair cinema on 5 January.

Considering a cast including Gerard Butler (Tullus Aufidius), Vanessa Redgrave (Volumnia), Brian Cox (Menenius), Jessica Chastain (Virgilia), along with Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius Coriolanus, it is hard to see why there was such limited release. Maybe folks today just don’t appreciate Shakespeare like in years past?

The Rome of Coriolanus is facing an uprising from an economically restless people.

Set in a contemporary day alternate version of Rome, riots are in progress after stores of grain are withheld from citizens and civil liberties are reduced due to a war between Rome and the neighboring Volsci.

The rioters are particularly angry at Caius Martius, a brilliant Roman General whom they blame for the city’s problems. During a march, the rioters encounter Martius, who is openly contemptuous and does not hide his low opinion of the regular citizens.

Gerard Butler as Tullus Aufidius

Tullus Aufidius, the commander of the Volscian army who has fought Martius on several occasions and considers him a mortal enemy, swears that the next time they meet in battle will be the last. Martius leads a raid against the Volscian city of Corioles and during the siege.

Much of Martius’s unit was killed, but the commanding General Martius gathers the necessary reinforcements for the Romans to take the city. After the battle, Martius and Aufidius meet in single combat, which results in both men being wounded but ends when Aufidius’ soldiers drag him away from the fight.

Martius returns to Rome victorious and in recognition of his great courage, General Cominius (John Kani) gives him the agnomen of “Coriolanus”. Coriolanus’s mother Volumnia encourages her son to run for Consul within the Roman Senate.

Coriolanus elected Consul

Coriolanus is reluctant, but eventually agrees to his mother’s wishes and easily wins the Roman Senate. Initially it seems Coriolanus has also won over the Plebis (Common Citizens) as well due to his military victories.

A pair of scheming Tribūnī (Tribunes), Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt), are critical of Coriolanus and his entrance into politics. Fearing that his popularity would lead to Coriolanus taking power away from the Senate for himself, the Tribunes plot to undo Coriolanus and so stir up another riot in opposition to him becoming Consul.

When they call Coriolanus a traitor, Coriolanus bursts into rage and openly attacks the concept of popular rule as well as the Citizens of Rome, demonstrating that he still holds the Plebeians in contempt. Coriolanus compares allowing Citizens to have power over the Senators as to allowing “crows to peck the eagles”.

The Tribūnī term Coriolanus a traitor for his words and order him banished. Coriolanus retorts that it is he who will banish Rome from his presence.

No matter whom he is with Coriolanus is always the outcast.

After being exiled from Rome, Coriolanus seeks out Aufidius in the Volscian capital of Antium and offers to let Aufidius kill him, to spite the country that banished him. Moved by his plight and honored to fight alongside the great General, Aufidius and his superiors embrace Coriolanus.

The Volsci then encourage Coriolanus to lead a new assault on Rome, so that he can claim vengeance on the city which he feels betrayed him. Coriolanus and Aufidius coordinate a plan and lead a Voscilian attack on Rome.

Panicked, Rome sends General Titus to persuade Coriolanus to halt his crusade for vengeance. When Titus reports his failure, Senator Menenius attempts to dissuade the former Roman hero but is also shunned.

Coriolanus’s family pleads for him to return to Rome.

In response, Menenius, who has seemingly lost all hope in Coriolanus and Rome, commits suicide by a river bank. Finally, Volumnia is sent to meet with her son, along with Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia and his son.

Volumnia succeeds in dissuading her son from destroying Rome, and Coriolanus makes peace between the Volscians and the Romans alongside General Cominius. When Coriolanus returns to the Volscian border, he is confronted by Aufidius and his men.

They now also brand Coriolanus as a traitor. The Volscians call him Martius and refuse to call him by his stolen name of Coriolanus.

Aufidius explains to Coriolanus how he put aside his hatred so that they could conquer Rome but now that Coriolanus has prevented this, he has betrayed the promise between them. For this betrayal, Aufidius and his men attack and kill Coriolanus.

Coriolanus received positive reviews and currently holds an aggregate of 93% at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 134 reviews. The consensus states:

Visceral and visually striking, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus proves Shakespeare can still be both electrifying and relevant in a modern context.

2011 Berlin Film Festival Premiere

The film was nominated for Golden Berlin Bear award at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. Ralph Fiennes was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer at the 65th British Academy Film Awards.

Coriolanus was released by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on 29 May 2012. Both home media formats of the film contain director commentary with Ralph Fiennes and a behind-the-scenes featurette entitled The Making of Coriolanus.

The film was later released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom by Lionsgate Films on 4 June 2012. This release contained the same director commentary audio track but replacing the Making of… featurette with Behind The Scenes of Coriolanus with Will Young.

If you have yet to see, or even read, Coriolanus then we highly suggest you get moving. Set in a modern era with contemporary stars, there is no better way to see Shakespeare if you aren’t already a fan.

Thank you for stopping by and thanks for sticking by us. We hope that you keep spreading the word about us to everyone you know.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Dargis, Manohla. “He’s the Hero of the People, and He Hates It”The New York Times, 1 December 2011.

Katz, Josh. “Coriolanus Blu-ray”Blu-ray.com, 15 March 2012.

Maher, Kevin. “Ralph Fiennes peers outside the hurt locker for Coriolanus”The Australian, 4 February 2012.

Monk, Katherine. “Film review: Fiennes finds heart of Bard’s Coriolanus”The Vancouver Sun, 19 January 2012.

Sulcas, Roslyn. “A First Plunge into Directing Is Hardly Routine”The New York Times, 25 November 2011.

Wiseman, Andreas. “Why Coriolanus Matters”. Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus Blog, 31 March 2010.

“Berlinale 2011: Competition Films”Berlin International Film Festival.

“Coriolanus (2012)”Box Office MojoIMDb.

“Fiennes makes directorial debut in Serbia”AFP. 17 March 2010.

“Belgrade film festival closes, Ralph Fiennes’ movie opens 2011 FEST”Earth Times, 28 February 2010.

Coriolanus at Rotten Tomatoes

“Coriolanus – Blu-ray and DVD details”. Chris and Phil Present, 3 May 2012.

Coriolanus at the Internet Movie Database

Even More Music from Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Since our inception, we have shared written articles, quotations, images and videos. About a month ago we did a RAE first and shared acoustic presentations (Music of Ancient Rome and More Music from Ancient Rome).

Let’s keep that trend going as today we bring you even more music of Ancient Rome!

Musicians in a detail from the Zliten mosaic (2nd Century AD), originally shown as accompanying gladiator combat and wild-animal events in the arena (from left: the tuba, hydraulis, and 2 cornua).

Roman-style instruments are found in parts of the Empire where they did not originate, and indicate that music was among the aspects of Roman culture that spread throughout the provinces.

The Roman tuba was a long, straight bronze trumpet with a detachable, conical mouthpiece like that of the modern French horn. Extant examples are about 4.3 feet long, and have a cylindrical bore from the mouthpiece to the point where the bell flares abruptly, similar to the modern straight trumpet seen in presentations of ‘period music’.

Since there were no valves, the tuba was capable only of a single overtone series that would probably sound familiar to the modern ear, given the limitations of musical acoustics for instruments of this construction. In the military it was used for bugle calls, while the tuba is also depicted in art such as mosaics accompanying games (ludi) and spectacle events.

The cornu (horn) was a long tubular metal wind instrument that curved around the musician’s body, shaped rather like an uppercase G. It had a conical bore (again like a French horn) and a conical mouthpiece.

It may be hard to distinguish from the buccina. The cornu was used for military signals and on parade.

The Cornicen was a military Signal Officer who translated orders into calls. Like the tuba, the cornu also appears as accompaniment for public events and spectacle entertainments.

The tibia, usually double, had 2 double-reed (as in a modern oboe) pipes, not joined but generally played with a mouth-band capistrum to hold both pipes steadily between the player’s lips. Modern changes indicate that they produced a low, clarinet-like sound.

There is some confusion about the exact nature of the instrument. Alternate descriptions, however, indicate each pipe having a single reed (like a modern clarinet) instead of a double reed.

We hope this struck a chord with you. Hopefully we shall be able to bring you more music, along with more information about the music of Ancient Rome.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Julius Caesar (or How William Shakespeare Hit a Grand Slam)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Last week we took a glimpse into the theatrical life of Julius Caesar as we listened to Mark Antony give his famous oration about the slain ruler of Ancient Rome. After the Assassination of Julius Caesar, we hear Antony exclaim Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!

Today we are going to delve deeper and take a look at what is The Tragedy of Julius Caesar!

The first page of Julius Caesar, printed in the Second Folio of 1632.

Written by William Shakespeare, this aptly named tragedy was believed to have been written in 1599. It is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from the History of Rome, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

Although the title is Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus (Brutus) speaks more than 4 times as many lines as the title character. Also, the central psychological drama of the play focuses on Brutus’ struggle between the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship.

Title page of the First Folio, 1623. Copper engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout.

Julius Caesar was originally published in the First Folio of 1623, but a performance was mentioned as early as September 1599. However, the play was not mentioned in the list of Shakespeare’s plays published by Francis Meres in 1598.

The text of Julius Caesar in the First Folio is the only authoritative text for the play. The Folio text was notable for its quality and consistency.

The play contains many anachronistic elements from the Elizabethan era, such as hats and doublets (large, heavy jackets), neither of which existed in Ancient Rome. Caesar is mentioned to be wearing an Elizabethan doublet instead of a Roman toga, and a clock is heard to strike and Brutus notes it with “Count the clock”.

The Triumphs of Caesar created by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1484 – 1492).

The play opens with the people of Rome celebrating Caesar’s Triumphus (Roman Triumph) defeating Pompey‘s sons at the Battle of Munda. Two Tribuni (Tribunes), Lucius Caesetius Flavus (Flavius) and Gaius Epidius Marullus (Marrullus), discover the commoners celebrating, insult them for their change in loyalty from Pompey to Caesar, and break up the crowd.

There are some jokes made by the commoners, who insult them back. The Tribunes also plan on removing all decorations from Caesar’s statues and ending any other festivities.

Beware the Ides of March!

In the next scene, during Caesar’s parade on the feast of Lupercalia, a soothsayer warns Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar disregards the warning, and the action then turns to the discussion between Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus (Cassius).

Cassius has a conspiracy to kill Caesar in the works and desperately wants Brutus to be part of it. In this conversation, Cassius attempts to influence Brutus’s opinions into believing Caesar should be killed.

Caesar rejecting the laurel crown

Brutus and Cassius then hear from Servilius Casca (Casca) that Mark Antony has offered Caesar the crown of Rome 3 times and that each time Caesar refused it, fainting after the last refusal. Later, in Act 2, Brutus eventually joins the conspiracy.

It was after much moral debate that Brutus decided that Caesar, although his friend and never having done anything against the people of Rome, should be killed to prevent him from doing anything against the people of Rome if he were to become Rex Romae (King of Rome). He compares Caesar to a snake that has yet to be hatched, and by killing it now would thusly save the world from the ill deeds the snake is capable of doing.

Caesar’s assassination is one of the most famous scenes of the play, occurring in Act 3, Scene 1. After ignoring the soothsayer, as well as Calpurnia’s (Caesar’s wife) own premonitions, Caesar comes to the Senatus Romanus (Roman Senate). The conspirators create a superficial motive for coming close enough to assassinate Caesar by means of a petition brought by Lucius Tillius Cimber (Metellus Cimber), pleading on behalf of his banished brother.

Caesar predictably rejects the petition, and this is the signal to kill Caesar. Casca grazes Caesar in the back of his neck, and the others follow in stabbing him in the chest, back, arms, hands, and abdomen.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Brutus is last to stab Caesar, and it is at this point Shakespeare has Caesar utter the famous line Et tu, Brute? (And you, Brutus?). Shakespeare has Brutus reply “Then fall, Caesar!” suggesting that such treachery destroyed Caesar’s will to live.

The conspirators make clear that they committed this act for Rome, not for their own purposes, and do not attempt to flee the scene. After Caesar is killed, Brutus delivers an oration defending his actions, and for the moment, the crowd is on his side.

Antony’s oration of Caesar

It is now that Mark Antony makes a subtle and eloquent speech over Caesar’s corpse, beginning with the much-quoted “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” In this way, Antony deftly turns public opinion against the assassins by manipulating the emotions of the Plebeians, in contrast to the rational tone of Brutus’s speech, yet there is method in his rhetorical speech and gestures.

Antony reminds the people of the good Caesar had done for Rome, his sympathy with the poor, and his refusal of the crown at the Lupercalia, thus questioning Brutus’s claim of Caesar’s ambition. Then Antony shows Caesar’s bloody, lifeless body to the crowd to have them shed tears and gain sympathy for their fallen hero.

The People of Rome riot upon hearing Caesar’s will.

Continuing, Antony reads Caesar’s will, in which every Roman citizen would receive 75 drachmas. Even as he states his intentions against it, Antony rouses the mob to drive the conspirators from Rome.

Amid the violence Cinna, an innocent poet, is confused with the conspirator Lucius Cinna and is taken by the mob. The poet is subsequently torn to pieces for such “offenses” as his bad verses that were supposedly committed against Caesar.

The beginning of Act 4 is marked by the quarrel scene, where Brutus attacks Cassius for supposedly soiling the noble act of regicide by having accepted bribes. The pair then reconcile, especially after Brutus reveals that his beloved wife Porcia Catonis (Portia) had committed suicide under the stress of his absence from Rome.

The ghost of Caesar taunts Brutus about his imminent defeat. Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall (London, 1802).

The conspirators now prepare for a war against Mark Antony and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius Caesar. That night, Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus with a warning of impending defeat at Philippi.

At the Battle of Philippi, Cassius and Brutus, knowing that they will probably both die, smile their last smiles to each other and hold hands. During the battle, Cassius has his servant Pindarus kill him after hearing of the capture of his best friend, Titinius.

After Titinius, who was not really captured, sees Cassius’s corpse, he commits suicide. Brutus wins that stage of the battle, but his victory is not conclusive however.

Brutus takes his own life

With a heavy heart, Brutus battles again the next day. He loses and commits suicide by running on his own sword, which is held by a soldier named Strato.

The play ends with a tribute to Brutus by Antony, who proclaims that Brutus has remained “the noblest Roman of them all” because he was the only conspirator who acted, in his mind, for the good of Rome. There is then a small hint at the friction between Mark Antony and Octavius which characterizes another of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, Antony and Cleopatra.

Caesar and Brutus

Critics of Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar differ greatly on their views of Caesar and Brutus. Many have debated whether Caesar or Brutus is the protagonist of the play, because of the title character’s death in Act 3, Scene 1.

The logic and philosophies of Caesar and Brutus have even been compared, for Caesar is deemed an intuitive philosopher who is always right when he goes with his instinct. Brutus is portrayed as a man similar to Caesar, but whose passions lead him to the wrong reasoning, which he realizes in the end.

It has been acknowledged that some critics have tried to cast Caesar as the protagonist, but that ultimately Brutus is the driving force in the play and is therefore the tragic hero. Brutus attempts to put the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic) over his personal relationship with Caesar and kills him.

Did Brutus truly help kill Caesar due to his love of Rome?

He acts on his passions, does not gather enough evidence to make reasonable decisions, and is manipulated by Cassius and the other conspirators. Instead of saving the Republic, Brutus makes the political mistakes that ultimately bring down the Republic that his ancestors created.

Caesar compares himself to the Northern Star, and perhaps it would be foolish not to consider him as the character around whom the entire story turns. Intertwined in this debate is a smattering of philosophical and psychological ideologies on republicanism and monarchism.

The Northern Star himself, Gaius Julius Caesar.

It has also been written that the play reflects the general anxiety of Elizabethan England over succession of leadership. At the time of its creation and initial performance, Queen Elizabeth, a strong ruler, was elderly and had refused to name a successor, leading to worries that a civil war similar to that of Rome might break out after her death.

We hope you have enjoyed today’s journey. With so many variations of Julius Caesar that are available, there really is no losing in this game.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Evans, G. Blakemore. The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Mifflin Co, 1974.

Shakespeare, William. Arthur Humphreys, ed. Julius SYSR. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-283606-4.

Taylor, Myron. “Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the Irony of History”. Shakespeare Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 3, 1973.

Wells, Stanley and Dobson, Michael eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wills, Garry. Rome and Rhetoric: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Yale University Press, 2011.

No Fear Shakespeare – Includes the play line by line with interpretation.

Julius Caesar – The British Library

Julius Caesar – from Project Gutenberg

Book 5; Thought 15

None of these things ought to be called a man’s, which do not belong to a man, as man. They are not required of a man, nor does man’s nature promise them, nor are they the means of man’s nature attaining its end. Neither then does the end of man lie in these things, nor yet that which aids to the accomplishment of this end, and that which aids towards this end is that which is good. Besides, if any of these things did belong to man, it would not be right for a man to despise them and to set himself against them; nor would a man be worthy of praise who showed that he did not want these things, nor would he who stinted himself in any of them be good, if indeed these things were good. But now the more of these things a man deprives himself of, or of other things like them, or even when he is deprived of any of them, the more patiently he endures the loss, just in the same degree he is a better man.

Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It’s time to take a look at another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Last week we were in France to uncover the Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments.

Today we’re headed back to France as we check out the Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne!

Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defenses encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral.

Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, one of the founders of the modern science of conservation. The Committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis that the historic town of Carcassonne is an excellent example of a medieval fortified town whose massive defenses were constructed on walls dating from Late Antiquity.

It is of exceptional importance by virtue of the restoration work carried out in the second half of the 19th  Century by Viollet-le-Duc, which had a profound influence on subsequent developments in conservation principles and practice.

How This Relates to Rome:

Carcassonne became strategically identified when Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC and eventually made the colonia of Julia Carsaco, later Carcasum (by the process of swapping consonants known as metathesis). The main part of the lower courses of the northern ramparts dates from Gallo-Roman times.

In 462 the Romans officially ceded Septimania to the Visigothic king Theodoric II who had held Carcassonne since AD 453. He built more fortifications at Carcassonne, which was a frontier post on the northern marches; traces of them still stand.

Theodoric is thought to have begun the predecessor of the basilica that is now dedicated to Saint Nazaire. In AD 508, the Visigoths successfully foiled attacks by the Frankish king Clovis.

Saracens from Barcelona took Carcassonne in 725, but King Pepin the Short (Pépin le Bref) drove them away in 759-60. Though he took most of the south of France, he was unable to penetrate the impregnable fortress of Carcassonne.

Thanks for taking the tour with us today. We hope you’re inspired to take further adventures to discover more Roman antiquities.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Book 5; Thought 13

My son born 11/29/15

I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of them will perish into non-existence, as neither of them came into existence out of non-existence. Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever. And by consequence of such a change I too exist, and those who begot me, and so on forever in the other direction. For nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is administered according to definite periods of revolution.