Wednesday, March 15, 2017

All roads lead to Rome


First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:



Today is the Ides of Marchthe day Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by conspirators in 44 B.C.E.


The ambitious Julius had a tense relationship with the Roman Senate. The Senate felt he was a threat to the Republic, and that he had tyrannical leanings. The Senate had the real power, and any titles they gave him were intended to be honorary. They had conferred upon him the title of "dictator in perpetuity," but when they went to where he sat in the Temple of Venus Genetrix to give him the news, he remained seated, which was considered a mark of disrespect. Thus offended, the Senate became sensitive to any hints that Julius Caesar viewed himself as a king or - worse - a god. The tribunes arrested any citizen who placed laurel crowns on statues of Julius, and Julius in turn censured the tribunes.

Senators Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus formed a group called the Liberators, who met in secret to conspire against Julius. Several assassination plots were put forward and rejected for one reason or another, but finally they settled on attacking him at a meeting of the Senate in the Theatre of Pompey. Only senators were allowed to be present, and knives could be easily concealed in the drapery of their togas.
 
In the days leading up to the assassination, several people warned Caesar not to attend the meeting of the Senate. Even his wife Calpurnia begged him not to go on the basis of a dream she had had, but Brutus convinced him that it would be unmanly to listen to gossip and the pleadings of a mere woman, so Julius set off. According to Plutarch, he passed a seer on his way. The seer had recently told Julius that great harm would come to him on the ides of March. Julius recognized the seer, and quipped, "The ides of March have come." The seer remarked, "Aye, Caesar; but not gone." When Julius arrived at the Senate, he was set upon by Brutus, Cassius, and the others, who stabbed him dozens of times. He slowly bled to death, and for several hours afterward, his body was left where he fell.

The assassination that was meant to save the Republic actually resulted, ultimately, in its downfall. It sparked a series of civil wars and led to Julius' heir, Octavian, becoming Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor.


And there is this from Marly Youmans' Rolypoke News:

13 Ways of Looking at Form

The double helix and the nautilus shell and spiral galaxies, the number of petals in a flower, the spiraling patterns on pine cones and pineapples: the presence of the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequence suggest that the energies of our universe tend toward shapeliness and order. So, too, poetry and stories lean toward form, and a vibrant connection exists between truth, beauty, and form. Tropes and forms can be generative, and a single writer working in multiple modes can find them to be transformative, as one form fertilizes another. The pursuit of shapeliness in fiction and poetry leads to questions about the connection between shapes and modes of thought, clarity of form vs. essential mystery, tightness of craftsmanship and formal invisibility, etc. A devotion to form and words may even lead to larger changes in form--in the maker, the culture, and Creation.



Then there is this personal postscript:

Marly contemplates the essence of form, we "celebrate" the Ides of March, and I am sent by both considerations on the road to Rome; I soon will be reading Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and I will be particularly interested in looking at the ways form and structure determine meaning in the famous play. 


(Note: Marly's musings and the snippet from The Writer's Almanac are typical of the breezy catalysts that send me off on new roads to new reading challenges; whirligig that I am, my itineraries and destinations are frequently subject to abrupt detours, but this different direction demands my attention. I wonder what I will discover along the way.)

Now, perhaps you have something to say about the Ides of March, Marly's musings, or my meandering. Let the conversations begin!



17 comments:

  1. Haha! Thanks for putting me in company with Shakespeare.... You are a great planner of things, and I hope you enjoy traveling through the play again.

    Of course, that's just the talk proposal. I have not yet written it! Should be interesting to find out what I really think. Also, "13" is probably a complete lie, though it's a nod to Stevens.

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    1. Oh, and thanks for signing up for The Rollipoke News.

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    2. Marly, I once wrote a prose poem inspired by my limited understanding of fractals. It was full of sights and sounds in a pattern, but, alas, it signified nothing.

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    3. It signified your own aspiration to make wholeness and beauty. That is good.

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    4. i'd like to read it; i bet i'd like it...

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  2. Tim,

    Off topic. The link below is to an article I found on Emily Dickinson. You may find it interesting.

    http://tinyurl.com/j94upea

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    1. Thank you, Fred. Form in Dickinson's poetry is a strange and beautiful thing. Now, I'm a fr to open your gift.

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  3. Caesar's murder had so much impact on the rest of history, Tim, so it makes sense to me that we still discuss it after all this time. It's one of those events that makes one wonder what life would have been like if he hadn't been killed.

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    1. Yes, murders have a way of upsetting apple carts, nations, and more. Perhaps there is a murderous gene in our DNA. I wonder what a world would be like without murder. Is there any such thing as a good murder?

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  4. When I was introduced to Julius Caesar in tenth grade, my teacher grounded it in English history and conveyed the idea that Shakepeare's plays were prudential in that they supported royal authority. Even with a figure like Caesar, the idea was that killing him would create more trouble than it would put to rest. The Anthony-Octavian wars did follow, but who is to say that Caesar (had he lived) would not have engaged in wars of his own to root out potential 'liberators'?

    A few years ago I watched a historically sketchy DVD series called "Empire" in which Caesar is portrayed very favorably -- as a champion of the people, making his enemies the corrupt aristocrats. Michael Parenti, a leftist, takes that perspective in his "Assassination of Julius Caesar". It find that interesting because kings often presented themselves as champions of the people against the barons.

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    1. Here is a clip that conveys a sense of that Caesar just a minute in:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zB2-9SLy57w

      I like the actor..

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    2. Thank you, Stephen. Whenever I read Shakespeare's plays, I keep this in mind: he was writing for specific audiences in a specific context, and all the comedies, histories, and tragedies were relevant to those audiences; so, _Julius Caesar_ may focus on the Roman past, but the play is more correctly focused upon matters of interest to contemporary Elizabethans/Jacobeans. In other words, Shakespeare could not write about contemporary politics (i.e., too dangerous to do so), but he could write about other people and other times as a way of covertly writing about England's issues in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Now, if I can only figure out Shakespeare's covert implications.

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  5. Great Caesar's Ghost!! he said, dispiritedly... sometimes one wishes for history to repeat itself...

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    1. Mudpuddle, you're being coy, and I hope I misunderstand your cryptic suggestion.

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  6. I also read Julius Caesar for the first time in High School. If I recall my teacher had a similar take as did Stephan's. I read the play know and I think that Shakespeare may have been trying to be ambiguous about Caesar. This ambiguity seems to be a driver of Brutus's being stuck in a moral quandary.

    I like the way that "off on new roads to new reading challenges." I tend to choose books in similar way. I rarely read books that I have not known about for awhile, but some snippet from an article or another book gets me interested in reading something that I have known about for a while. When I think about it, I wonder if this is how most people choose books.

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  7. Brian, your suggestion of "ambiguity" interests me. Here is my take on the form/structure of the play: somewhat divided evenly in two halves (with the dividing line being the assassination of Julius Caesar), the play is further divided thematically between political v. martial (first half v. second half), private v. public (personae of individuals complicated by those divided demands upon their selves), and rational v. irrational (political and martial decisions v. supernatural omens and warnings). Further dividing the play are the problems of loyalties: state v. self. Of course, in Shakespeare's era, these same problems vexed social and political discourse. In particular, just as a sidebar to all of the above, consider Julius Caesar's lack of a biological heir, and compare that with Elizabeth's situation. Yes, in my reading, this is more of an Elizabethan play than a Roman play. But perhaps I over-simplify everything. I defer to everyone else. I hope you all will weigh in on my assertions about form/structure and meaning.

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