Today, July 12, is the birthday of Julius Caesar, born 2,122 years ago. It is somewhat uncertain if the day is a cause for celebration or mourning. He, like many modern-day would-be dictators and populists, had imperial designs, invading parts of northern and central Europe, and challenging Rome itself, casting the dice when crossing the river Rubicon, giving rise to not only an insurrection but a full-fledged civil war for the soul, or at least survival, of democracy. He won and was appointed dictator for life. That is until Marcus Brutus and others assassinated him on the Ides of March in 44 BCE at the site of the curia and theater of Pompey, a friend turned foe, and four Republican temples excavated by another dictator, and amateur “archaeologist,” Benito Mussolini, and now the home of a popular cat sanctuary. The assassins were initially hailed as heroes and saviors of the Republic. Ironically, the assassination may have backfired as the long-running (almost 500 year) democratic (excluding women and slaves) Republic turned into an equally long dictatorship, beginning with Emperor Augustus, by comparison a relatively “benign” ruler, the great-nephew of Julius Caesar, which later produced such notorious dictators as Caligula, Nero, and Domitian.
Unlike some other populists, Caesar was an intelligent and well-educated man, an author and historian, whose works, along with those of his opponent Cicero, are read by American school children, not only for their historic content but also for their exemplary prose. His name lives on in words for an omnipotent ruler, Tsar, Czar, and Kaiser, and for the month of July. After his death, he was deified and a comet which had appeared was hailed as a sign of his divinity. Yes, people interpreted “signs” and “hidden messages” then, too.
Julius Caesar’s birth would not have been possible without the aid of the She-Wolf who saved the lives of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome and Caesar’s ancestors. No doubt Caesar was turning in his grave during the theft and desecration of his great-great-great… grand-mother in Eden Park less than a month ago. Would it not be a wonderful birthday present for Caesar (and for us all!) if she were returned or found further unharmed (the kidnappers cut off her paws)!? Dum spiro, spero.
Happy Birthday, Julius!
Felix sit dies natalis tuus, Iuli!