Book Review by caldrail
Somewhere in the world, probably not far from you, an actor is crying out in lamentation as conspirators play out a scene of assassination. Down goes Julius Caesar, the man who risked all for power and glory, stabbed repeatedly, his fortunes forever at an end. The crowd may well appreciate the acting and applaud at the closing of the scene.
How many of us know anything about Caesar? Oh sure we might quote his name readily when asked to identify a famous Roman. We might recall some love affair with the Queen of Egypt after she smuggled herself into his presence inside a rolled carpet, or snigger at accusations of something more tawdry. We might know of his military conquests, his invasions of Britain, or that pivotal moment on the banks of the Rubicon when he set himself upon a path to be remembered by.
Of course as one of the most famous Romans he's one of the most written about. Another book about Julius Caesar? Hasn't enough been said about this man already? It's interesting that the editor of this collection of essays on Julius Caesar asks the very same question. Clearly the need was felt to enlarge our understanding of one of Rome's most important characters. Caesar does loom large in our cultural subconscious. That's why the book was collated and published. We need a reminder of who and what this man was, his significance in history and to modern ideas. A complex man who was controversial in his own time, never mind our own. Was he a hero? A villain? It is interesting that Cicero predicted future generations would be divided about Caesar.
With a sum total of twenty nine experts submitting essays, this book covers a wide range of subjects. There is a series of articles dealing with his life and the events he helped shape, yet that only amounts to something like fifteen percent of the books content. The remarkable thing that emerges from reading this book is just how much of it is concerned with the post-Roman era.
Almost half the book deals with how Caesar is remembered and interpreted by later Romans, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and even reaching modern times. It expands on details of politics, warfare, religion, family, and yes, even a close look at his private life, all conducted with academic flair and no shortage of insight. We can read about the evolution of his legacy with Caesar as a central character both in drama and politics, yet on this I find an odd omission as almost nothing is said about his role in cinema, surely one of the most pervasive influences in our time.
A Companion To Caesar is not at first an easy read it must be said, being more of an intense experience rather like that first week of university. That does not detract from the value of the book which I have to say achieves the objectives the editor set for it. Nor is it an autobiography and therefore does not reach an overall conclusion about the subject.
Those seeking answers to his place in the world as hero or villain will not find the answer in these pages. Instead, they will find this book adds illumination toward that decision, which must be made by the reader, not the writers.
It is precisely that rational impartiality that makes A Companion To Julius Caesar an aid to study and a good one at that. Whilst we can learn about his actions from the surviving Roman histories and letters, we can now add our understanding of what manner of man he was.
You would think, given the surviving accounts of Caesars life and times, and the importance his era has been given, that we would know pretty much all we needed to about him. Books like this remind us that however much you know, you never know everything. That is the value of this work. You will, I hope, find this book to be as enlightening as I did.