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Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Ides of March

It is difficult to imagine Caesar coming up with snappy
Latin epigrams in this predicament.  Brutus, on the far right,
seems to be holding his dagger the wrong way around. Perhaps
he intends to bonk Caesar on the head.
On this date, in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by as many as sixty senators.  Shakespeare claims Caesar was stabbed thirty-three times, but Suetonius and Plutarch say it was only twenty-three. [1]   Some of the killers stabbed each other.  They didn't mean to, but with that many daggers around, someone's bound to get hurt. [2]

Some say Caesar's last words were "Et tu Brute" because he was so surprised to see his best frenemy among the killers.   According to Shakespeare these are Caesar's next to last words; after saying this, Caesar says, "Then fall Caesar.” [3]  Plutarch, however, says Caesar's last words, were "Brother, help!"  This seems more probable.  When being stabbed to death, you don't have time to come up with snappy Latin epigrams.  Moreover, Brutus stabbed Caesar in the groin.  This fact by itself probably caused Caesar more consternation than the identity of the stabber.  Caesar's likely last words were, "Aaarghhh," or the Latin equivalent.

Caesar was assassinated because he was about to be crowned King of Rome, which pretty much amounted to King of Earth.  Some people resent it when you try to make something of yourself.  Caesar had risen to supreme power after his rival and former triumvir, Pompey, fled to Egypt where he was killed by King Ptolemy’s henchmen.  Outraged at this treatment of a Roman citizen, Caesar executed Ptolemy and annexed Egypt.  The whole time Caesar’s legions had been pursuing Pompey across the known world for the purpose of forgiving him. [4] 

After Caesar’s death, there was a long bloody civil war, and then a second Triumvirate arose. [5]  When the Triumvirs whittled down, the last one standing, Octavius, revealed that all along he’d been Caesar’s adopted son and chosen heir.  This made everyone feel a lot better.  After that, there were no more triumvirates, and it was just one Caesar after another.  Caesar is a last name, but it became the word for "king" in at least three languages: Kaiser and Czar are both derived from Caesar. [6] 


1. Even if we take Shakespeare's number, with sixty killers, there weren't enough wounds to go around, so some of the conspirators must have shared.  
2. Stabbing someone is something that can only safely be carried out by one, or at most three people at a time.  With any number much larger than that, you're just asking for trouble.
3. This is typical of Caesar, who liked to talk about himself in third person.  He would have spoken himself in fourth person, but it wasn't possible.
4. This is the kind of magnanimity is part of what made Caesar so beloved.
5. It worked as well first one. 
6. We can be glad his last name wasn’t Featheringstonehaugh.

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