Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Streets Ahead: Hail Caesar!

Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen David Tucker

Part II

Yesterday’s “meditation on time”. The cigarette paper-thin layer of sediment that will be the sole residue of our civilization 100 million years from now.

You want melted into air, into thin air…the cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples dissolved and like this insubstantial pageant faded, leaving not a rack behind…such stuff as dreams are made on. Well maybe not a rack, but perhaps a speck or two of sediment.

Be that as it may, it brings me to this man. The general, achingly obvious thought being: no question about it, 100 million years can make quite a difference.

Anyway, here’s our mystery guest.

It’s Julius Caesar. Or so the experts say. He’s in Room 70 of the British Museum. He’s badly damaged. Half of his head, half of his face is gone – as if sheared off with a battle axe.

Julius Caesar. The great man. The great man who, in the 10 years of the Gallic Wars, defeated three million armed men, killing a million of them. Selling another million into slavery. And as for the civilians – the women, the children, the old people – figure another million or so “casualties” in that demographic. A million of them killed or sold into slavery.

Millions. That’s an impressive body count.

But that’s just one metric.

As appalling as those figures are they don’t begin to measure the man. The audacious Roman meteor, he was history’s supreme realist. His crossing the Rubicon was perhaps the decisive moment in the history of the world.  What followed from it was Caesar’s battering down the walls of the old Rome and beginning the building the new. Four years in which, incidentally, he conquered the world.

And the measure of that? Well, in the words of his biographer, Julius Caesar “performed the greatest constructive task ever achieved by human hands. He drew the habitable earth into an empire which lasted for five centuries, and he laid the foundations of a fabric of law and government which is still standing after 2,000 years.”

And the man, the personal man? The flesh and blood man. Someone’s son, someone’s husband, someone’s father.

Look at his face again. Yes, that’s right. There’s something of a woman’s delicacy in it. There’s only one other “man of action” who has that same element in the map of his face: Nelson.

Traces of a woman’s delicacy in his face – and a high pitched voice. He didn’t make for an easy “read”. Think of the pirates who kidnapped the youthful Caesar when he was on his way to Rhodes. The pirates dispatched his friends to raise the necessary ransom. Held on to Caesar, sent his companions on their fetch and carry jaunt. A good time – a merry time – was had by all while Caesar’s friends were running their errand. Caesar’s friends were gone nearly a month. During those four weeks Caesar, the young hostage, was the life and soul of the company. He promised the pirates, cheerfully, that when they freed him he’d come back and hang them all. They thought he was joking.

He wasn’t. He did.

Two other brushstrokes. He wore his laurel wreath everywhere. Wore it because it concealed his growing baldness. Yes, a touch of vanity. And maybe just a flash of the showman in the high red leather boots he favoured.

Here endeth Part II. Tomorrow’s post – Part III – gets to grips with Caesar’s sex life. And his death. See you then?

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