Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen David Tucker…
Yes, Part III of David’s London-sparked meditation on time. AKA the difference100 million years can make.
You know that “cigarette paper-thin layer of sediment that’s the sole trace of our civilization” up ahead. 100 million years up ahead.
Only possible response to that thought is to keep calm and roll ‘em. Roll up – for baccy – a few sediments of Caesar’s personal life. Roll ‘em up in some cigarette papers and smoke ‘em.
And Caesar’s personal life, his intimate life? He had an affair with Cleopatra. Roman gossip credited him with indulging in orgies of oriental vice. He was bi-sexual. He dreamt that he slept with his mother. (The interpreters of his dream put his mind at rest. They said it was an omen that he would possess universal empire. That “the mother who in his sleep he had found submissive to his embraces, was no other than the earth, the common parent of all mankind.”)
But it was perhaps his soldiers who knew him best. One of their privileges was to march behind their chariot-borne commander in his Triumphs (victory parades in Rome) chanting splendidly filthy ditties about their boss. It was, “yeah, he’s wearing the purple and there he is in his chariot and millions of you are cheering him on but we know what he’s really like.” As this ditty attests to:
Home we bring our bald whore-monger,
Romans lock your wives away,
All the bags of gold you sent him
Went his Gallic tarts to pay.
(I’d translate “Gallic tarts” to “pouting madmoiselles” but the rub of the nub is clear however you put it.)
And his final exit?
It was the 15th of March 44. The Ides of March. The night before he’d taken part in a conversation abiout the best kind of death, and he weighed in, abruptly, as if he had long pondered the matter, ‘a sudden one.’
The assassins had lured him to the Senate. Casca, the first one to strike a blow, stabbed him from behind. And then the whole pack were on him, like hounds pulling down a stag. They stabbed him 23 times. In their blind fury they also stabbed each other. Your directing Shakespeare’s play – the Et tu Brute moment – you have Brutus stab him in the groin as Caesar embraces him. And why the groin? Because it was rumoured that Brutus was Caesar’s illegimate son. Ergo that informal, affectionate, personal “tu”.
His body was taken to his home where his wife Calpunia washed the 23 stab wounds.
And now there he is, a mutilated head in Room 70 of the British Museum. In pretty good company, though. Just a couple of rooms away is Cromwell’s death mask. Their neighbourliness is weirdly appropriate. To wit: Caesar began his serious military career at the age of 44, more or less the same age as Cromwell’s when he took the field. And they had something else in common. They both believed that no man goes so far as he who does not know where he is going.
Realists. But also opportunists.
An England changer. A world changer. Now, a couple of “masks” in the British Museum.*
And in a hundred million years, maybe a speck or two “of a layer of sediment not much thicker than a cigarette paper.”
(And London. This is one stimulating place in which to live and work. And visit.)
*And it’s not just Cromwell. Right next to Caesar is Claudius.
Claudius who brought this country into the Roman orbit. And on whose watch London was born.
I mean those three – and the rest of the company in those rooms in the British Museum – oh to be a fly on the wall at that cocktail party…
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