Julius Caesar: A Poem In Fifty Chapters


Historians will not need to be told that the Caesar of these poems is not one that can be properly documented. Events and incidents of his life are adhered to, but Caesar's inner motivations, notably the homosexuality or bisexuality, are ones we cannot possibly know. Homosexuality was not a crime in the Roman world — indeed was practised by many of Caesar's leisured contemporaries, as by the first emperors of Rome, from Augustus to Caligula — but is shown here as a force driving ambition. Caesar, it is supposed, feared the vulnerability that his homosexual nature exposed him to, and strove to protect himself by affairs with women, by a military career, by vindictiveness when threatened, and by supreme political office. This is not to deny the courage, intelligence or statesmanship that historians from Mommsen have applauded, only to root it in personal needs and difficulties.

The poems are written in stress meter, regularly four beats to the line, generating a drumbeat measure that gradually drowns out the inner emotions as Caesar evolves into a public person. Rome was very different from the picture we have of it through Hollywood or a nineteenth century education — different despite all that we have gained from it: law, administration, language. Republican Rome lacked Greek refinement or Christian caritas, and its brutality was exacerbated by increasing civil war. A poem of fifty stanzas.  

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My patrimony: Caesar. The name I bear
Is noble, accomplished and will outwear
All who come after, though each man dare
To build and still further in the high fields of air.
Asia spawns cities in their ceaseless sprawl
As Goths have their forests. And both, and all
Were subject to legions. In the eagle's fall
Like Jove I had mastery, a world in thrall.
If words out of togas may astound the days
Even to the heart's most inward blaze,
They drift to amusement, to suspect praise,
As stoae are empty in the midday haze.
He who would rule must encircle with long
Filaments to hold the unsteady throng
Of poor and ambitious. Not by right or wrong,
But ambition, that only, shall he tame the strong.
Writing's as dust, but the cities rise
Marbled and bustling to astonished eyes:
Let them look onward, and ever prize
The purple enfolded in Roman skies.


Caius Octavius arrived in Brindisi within weeks of his great uncle's death, and by great political cunning succeeded in forming a second triumvirate with Antony and Lepidus. The conspirators were defeated at Philippi in 42 B.C., and Rome slowly turned against Antony, the clash culminating in the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. and the suicides of Antony and Cleopatra a year later. As Byzantium, the Roman Empire lasted another fourteen centuries, the title Caesar continuing of course till modern times in Tsar, Kaiser and Shah.