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And To The Republic For Which It Stands

Brad Linaweaver

"He that once enters at a tyrant's door
Becomes a slave, though he were free before."


Even Caesar dreams. There is no surprise in this. Perhaps the surprise is that ordinary people dream, or can dream at all—hoping for a better life that never comes. Only nightmares tell the truth.

Caesar's dreams are usually rehearsals. The general, the politician, must always plan, even when consciousness sneaks away like a harlot in the dark. Alone with his visions, he sees the land and sea and people as the gods must see them. Early in life he learned that free will exists, but only for leaders. Once a choice is made, free will becomes a phantom as inexorable law grinds out its verdict. What is true in the blood-drenched mud of the battlefield is true for the white marble sarcophagus of the Roman senate.

He wakes in the hot night and turns in bed to see his wife still asleep. Calphurnia is not as beautiful as his first two wives but he loves her more. Her breasts are perfect, smooth hills rising and falling like legions marching over countless landscapes of countless campaigns. He touches them, touches her, and feels a force less terrifying than love. Her sigh reassures him that in her arms, he is accepted; he is at peace.

Love demands more—as does his love for Rome. Love demands the spilling of blood, the conquest of peoples, even the agony of civil war. Love requires constant proof of devotion.

He has a sour taste in his mouth that can only be removed by wine. He can't sleep anyway so he carefully leaves the bed. No need to wake his wife if the stroking of her breasts failed to rouse her. He needs to walk, to think. This night of March the fourteenth there is much to think about.

When he gets in this sort of mood he envies his soldiers. Their souls are pure because their worries are, if not small, at least manageable—getting laid, getting drunk, not being a coward. Whether the battle is won or lost, they are judged by how they behaved as men. Only men. They are not judged by the standards of a god.

He pours himself good, red wine and drinks deep. He never drinks to escape himself but only to relax the tension that is his constant companion, nagging him on to greatness. The moon observes him through his doorway and he thinks how cool it looks, as if made of ice. The night is so still and humid that he wishes he could cool off.

He remembers an evening like this when he was held by the pirates of Pharmacusa. They were simple men, simpler than his legionnaires. When they ransomed him at twenty talents he laughed at their conservatism and recommended they raise it to fifty. They enjoyed his company and believed he was joking when he promised that one day he'd see them crucified.

His pleasant manner confused them. His lack of fear disarmed them. In his heart he did not wish them dead and this they could sense. But they did not reckon with his devotion to Rome. She must be served. Her enemies must be punished. This is the force driving him to war upon the republic. Nothing else makes him stand up to the senators and the aristocratic families they represent. Fighting their corruption is the whip driving him on to greater glories, taking what he learned as a general and applying it more generally—the sine qua non of a dictator.

A soft voice whispers his name in the dark. He returns to his wife. She wants to ask what keeps him awake this night, but they both know the answer. He has called the senate into session on the morrow. The word is out that he will use the opportunity to declare war against the Parthians. There is another rumor as well: that he will use the opportunity to force the issue of kingship. Even some who accept him as dictator will balk at the final, logical step.

He wants to speak, to set her mind at ease . . . but no words are worthy of the moment. Instead he makes love to her with a passion he hasn't felt in years. She is pleasantly surprised. She adores him still. It is good to be conquered yet again by the general who won in Gaul, Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, Africa, and most recently Spain. Part warrior, part diplomat, he distracts her attention with fingers and tongue and breath, before accepting her surrender.

Then she watches him rise from the moist sheets and neatly arrange his hair as if an audience awaited him in the darkness of their bedchamber. She is almost happy. For some reason, she remembers the controversy surrounding the funeral oration he gave for the death of his first wife—a young and lovely girl. Only older women had been so honored before. Caesar was accused of self love. Calphurnia has spent her married life wishing her husband to be guilty of more of this self adoration, expecting that such a surfeit will leave some for her.

"I had a dream," she hears herself say.

"What?" he asks, distracted by an insect buzzing in the warm darkness.

"Must you go to the senate tomorrow?"

He sits on the edge of the bed and brushes her hair with the same attention he lavishes on his own. "I must not disappoint them."

An ocean of meaning is contained in those few words. They are his motto. Although born of a patrician family, financial problems have dogged him from the start. Early on he realized his aptitude for the military and learned that being a general requires more than skill in warfare. Statecraft is the extension of war by other means.

Make many promises but know which ones to keep. Don't be known as a man of thousands of virtuous words—such as his severest critic, Cicero—who never performs a single worthy action. Never devalue the currency except for a good cause. And there is no better cause than putting on spectacular entertainments for the people, be it a triumphal procession or a new series of gladiatorial contests. Always strive to be what the people expect of you, and, failing that, settle for the appearance. Forgive enemies when you think you can get away with it.

"You never disappoint . . . them," says Calphurnia, as if reading his mind. "But beware of daggers from those who lack your gifts."

"Your dream?" he demands, his voice suddenly loud, the orator bursting forth.


"Dear one, we know better than to believe in omens. The gods reward intelligence and punish stupidity."

This is a night of truth between them. She lets it out: "Sometimes I think the gods allowed there to be one Alexander the Great to torment all great men ever after with visions of the impossible."

Caesar laughs—a rare sound. "Put aside your fears," he tells her. "I have decided to do what is best for Rome, and the only question is who will resist the more, my friends or foes?"

He heads for the door, her voice following: "Where are you going?"

"I must take some of the night air. Probably won't be much cooler than in here, but I remain an optimist."

She remembers how to laugh.

The moon and stars are his companions—along with one thin, black cat, part of its side a red ruin from recent battle. Caesar doesn't intend to walk very far. But he must be alone with his decision.

Ever since his defeat of Pompey, he has realized the power that has come into his hands. Ever since the first night of passion with Cleopatra, he has realized how the world perceives him—his potential to be as great as Alexander. Perhaps even greater.

Again and again, he has told himself there is no turning back. That is what he said to himself when he crossed the Rubicon. When he shared power with Pompey he knew that one day he would have to destroy this rival general. When the foolish senators feared Pompey more than Caesar (because the man was a popular general from a non-aristocratic family) the future dictator realized the odds were in his favor from then on. No one is as dangerous as an aristocrat without money.

Poor Pompey. Assassinated in Egypt. Poor Egypt. Poor everyone who is not Rome.

And yet there is nothing inevitable about the decision not yet taken. His staunchest allies are ready to support him for king, complete with hereditary succession. He has been prepared to take that final step. A century of corruption, of aristocrats looting the state, cannot be undone by half measures.

So he has told himself.

But of late he has been troubled by dreams that sound like his hated critics with one important difference: instead of the whining voices of privilege he hears voices so deep and true that they must emanate from the gods. Their style is even more direct and clean than his proud soldier's memoirs. There is no dissembling, no circumlocutions, no bad analogies. They ask him why he loves Rome.

Why? His life has had no time for why. Only where and when. Why does he love Rome? As this troublesome question has taken root in his soul, as if a spear has been driven there, he doesn't like the answer. The rule of law, even if only for some, is better than the superstitions and traditions of the barbarians they conquer. He hates the republicans for how they have damaged good order, without which there is no trade, no prosperity. His decrees have already improved matters.

He's been telling himself that a rotten republic is only good for growing an empire. The State's will be done.

But the dreams, the voices, won't give him peace. They are different from the dreams of his past, maps guiding him to this summit. They ask if his empire might not cause the same problems as the republic, only on a greater scale that could never be corrected. What if his triumph starts a series of events leading to the destruction of the greatest civilization in history, handing over the world to emotion-guided children and their primitive taboos? A world of low prejudice and cunning with no room for nobility. The West become carrion for the East.

It is a terrifying thought.

Tomorrow Rome will listen to him. He will enjoy an opportunity few men in history have ever enjoyed. He will turn down the crown, any crown. He will . . .

A voice speaks to him from the dark. It is not his wife's, but almost as soft. It is a man's voice that he recognizes instantly. Brutus. One of Pompey's followers whom he pardoned.

"I have come to warn you," says the man from the shadows.

"Step out into the moonlight," Caesar bids him.

The man is nervous and sweating. But in this hot night, everyone sweats, even great Julius Caesar. The general's eyes see that Brutus's right hand hovers near a place where it would be expedient to conceal a weapon.

"What have you to tell me?" he asks the man.

"Of a plot against your life."

Despite what he told his wife about omens, the sudden appearance of this man gives Caesar pause. He recalls that Brutus believes himself descended from Lucius Junius Brutus, who overthrew King Tarquin and established the Roman republic. Not a family eager for royalty to pollute the public baths.

"Tonight I broke with Cassius," says Brutus. "I fear the death of the republic more than I fear one man. A martyr's death is fertile soil for other would-be kings. Cassius doesn't understand how some on your side could benefit from your assassination."

Caesar laughs, the second time in one night; the first time ever in a public place. Brutus is astonished.

"We think along similar lines, Brutus, although starting from very different camps. Tomorrow I will announce that I reject kingship. There is more."

"More?" asks the astonished man.

"I will announce that if my reforms are seen through, I will step down by a certain predetermined date. Then I will ask for the commons and the aristocrats to cease their endless squabbling and put Rome first in their hearts."

"By all the gods . . ." Brutus begins to speak, but his words die as his imagination collapses, vanquished by a man he cannot begin to fathom.

"Cassius must be told," Brutus says, half to himself. "He'd envisioned an even broader scheme than your death. He would have included your closest friends and allies, appendages of yourself. The others in the conspiracy wouldn't go along with that, but only I stood away from spilling your blood."

"I thought you hated me."

"I do. I did."

Caesar places his hand on the shorter man's shoulder. "You were a political friend."

Now it is Brutus's turn to smile.

The two men part and Caesar turns his head to the moon. He wonders how superstitious men would imagine this evening's events. How many portents would fill the sky? Would the moon turn to blood? Would its face be darkened? Would the stars wink out, leaving the sky as black as the soul of Cassius?

These are the musings of a battlefield general, already weary of statecraft as his life becomes a thing of politics where nothing is ever really decided. But the speech he will give tomorrow is written in his head, waiting behind his proud brow to spring forth as from the brow of Jupiter. That much is decided.

As he walks home he wonders if Calphurnia will be awake. Perhaps they can make love again. He'd like this to be a night for her to remember.

Before he reaches his door, another man steps out from the shadows. Caesar wonders how many people are near his house tonight. For a moment he thinks that it might have been a mistake not to keep soldiers on guard until dawn. At first, he thinks it is Brutus returned but this is a larger man.

And then he recognizes the proud face.

"What brings you here at this hour?" asks Caesar.

Mark Antony does not conceal his weapon, which glints white in the lunar light. He speaks only once: "I have come to bury you."


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