Brutus: Caesar's Assassin by Kirsty Corrigan

Book Review by caldrail

Enough talk. The time to take action had arrived. Those involved in the conspiracy had plotted and schemed for some time, taking great care to weed out the unreliable or uncommitted. Now the Tyrant must be removed and if that meant his death, then so be it. One man approaches the Tyrant on petty business, and when dismissed haughtily, instead grabs him firmly.

There is no going back. The Tyrant realizes something is dreadfully wrong. He'd been warned this would be a dangerous time; even his wife had implored him not to attend this meeting. But now the conspiracy rush forward with daggers drawn. A desperate scuffle breaks out as conspirators stab wildly, hurting each other in their frenzied assault upon their victim. Unable to fend off the attack, the Tyrant finally gives up and slumps to the floor, covering his face with his cloak in one last gesture of vanity. His body would be found beneath the statue of a murdered rival.

With that one act of murder Brutus stamped his name on history. For a man so well regarded with respect to moral standing it seems peculiar that his chief achievement was a crime. Kirsty Corrigan has written Brutus - Caesars Assassin not only to relate these dramatic events, but more importantly to look closer at one of Rome's less well known characters whose life impinged upon them.

On the cover is a marble bust of Brutus. I actually found myself staring at it trying to discern some clue to the man's personality. You can make too much from artistic renditions, especially since the Roman marble bust was as much a publicity tool as anything else, yet the added dagger below seemed to emphasize something in the expression of his face. Caesar had cast the die and crossed the Rubicon. So would Brutus in his own way.

When I began reading this it seemed a little dry, but that first impression was soon overturned by the author's enthusiasm for her subject. As the narrative heads toward the Ides of March, so the pace quickens and becomes almost breathless. What her prose leaves us with in the final half of the book is that although the conspiracy planned the assassination of Caesar with meticulous care, they made no such plan for a regime to replace him. They simply assumed that Rome would be liberated and revert to business as usual.

Nonetheless the major problem in removing a tyrant is the hole he leaves behind. So began another competition for power, Reluctantly the players became polarised and goaded one another until hostilities broke out. Yet in the escalating situation Brutus is remarkably more often on the sidelines. What emerges is a character who was ambivalent in true Roman fashion. A man who was ambitious yet unwilling to seek the limelight. A man with a moral reputation yet not averse to making a quick buck. A man who felt compelled to take decisive action yet was unable to become historically decisive. One can't help feeling that the Gods used Brutus for their own ends and that his fate was sealed. It's as if his personal convictions overpowered him and set him on course for disaster.

The cover notes tell me this is the first biography of Brutus in thirty years. That alone makes this a useful volume, but the truth is I find it hard to criticize. The author has done her research and written a tale that is both a good read and illuminating. Better still, it really does invite you to think further. Whatever conclusion she presents as her own, there is no escaping the one you reach from the authors narrative - that Brutus was neither lucky nor talented as a politician. Where she is undoubtedly correct though is that the actions of Brutus opened an opportunity for a bit-player to rise to mega-stardom, as one sickly youth pushes his way into the history books and becomes the revered leader of the Roman world, the entire opposite of what Brutus had hoped for.

Shakespeare entertained us with the wisdom that all the world's a stage, and everyone an actor upon it. Our opinion of the Romans is inevitably colored by the antics of those colorful A-list celebrities that entranced or appalled the Romans themselves as much as us.

In this book, Kirsty Corrigan highlights the life and times of one supporting actor. Many of these people had important parts to play and it's good that they receive attention. Yes, you too Brutus.

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Union Jack Brutus for the UK