Sunday, October 29, 2006

Julius Caesar: Afterwards Deified

Knowing no Latin (and even less Greek), I am reading Robert Graves's translation of The Twelve Caesars, by Suetonius. The first Caesar is Julius. I have scanned reports of his MSM activities before, and now read the original account with profit and pleasure, as the formula goes.

The second-century historian wrote,

Caesar first saw military service in Asia, where he went as aide-de-camp to Marcus Thermus, the provincial governor. When Thermus sent Caesar to raise a fleet in Bithynia, he wasted so much time at Nicomedes' court that a homosexual relationship between them was suspected, and suspicion gave way to scandal when, soon after his return to headquarters, he revisited Bithynisa: ostensibly collecting a debt incurred there by one of his freedmen.

Julius did not even have camp conditions to blame since his liaisons took place at court where, presumably, a variety of entertainment was available. I wonder how old Julius was then. He couldn't have been more than twenty (or younger?) since he was on his first military campaign. Don't you love the innocent and pliant expression "suspicion gave way to scandal"? The scandal-mongers, enemies of the then-powerful consul, were named later in the chapter:

Licinius Calvus published the notorious verses:

The riches of Bithynia's King
Who Caesar on his couch abused.

Dolabella called him 'the Queen's rival and inner partner of the royal bed', and Curio the Elder: 'Nicomedes' Bithynian brothel'.

Bibulus, Caesar's colleague in the consulship, described him in an edict as 'the Queen of Bithynia...who once wanted to sleep with a monarch, but now wants to be one.'...Moreover, Gaius Memmius directly charges Caesar with having joined a group of Nicomedes' debauched young friends at a banquet, where he acted as the royal cup-bearer...Cicero...wrote in several letters:


Caesar was led by Nicomedes' attendants to the royal bedchamber, where he lay on a golden couch, dressed in a purple shift...So this descendant of Venus lost his virginity in Bithynia.

The details in the letters seem to be chosen to emphasize the feminine and passive position to which Julius "was led." The assumption was that the King would naturally take the active role. "Descendant of Venus" is well-aimed venom.

Lastly, when Caesar's own soldiers followed his decorated chariot in the Gallic triumph, chanting ribald songs, as they were privileged to do, this was one of them:

Gaul was brought to shame by Caesar;
By King Nicomedes, he.
Here comes Caesar, wreathed in triumph
For his Gallic victory!
Nicomedes wears no laurels,
Though the greatest of the three.


I don't know the circumstances and motivations surrounding Seutonius' writing of this history, but isn't it interesting that he chose to compile a record of these accusations and insinuation, as if the names of the accusers and insinuators make the rumor fact? Am I way off the mark in sensing the gossip-monger's keen ear for a good soundbite?

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