1. Education

Always I am Caesar

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Always I am Caesar

W. Jeffrey Tatum's Always I Am Caesar

The Bottom Line

Tatum has something on Julius Caesar for everyone, from a refresher on the social and political structure of Republican Rome, to a new slant on the significance of Caesar's famous dying words, to a comparison between Caesar and notable modern leaders. Since the material is taken from public lectures, the prose flows like that of engaging modern professor or storyteller.
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Pros

  • A good read
  • More than the same old same old
  • Entertaining, informative, controversial

Cons

  • No footnotes
  • Topical references may lose relevance

Description

  • Introduction gives background on Caesar, money, names, and historians of Caesar.
  • Chapter 1 covers Roman characteristics of conformity, deference, and tradition, and controversy over Caesar the politician.
  • Chapter 2 covers the place of war in antiquity and Caesar's military conquests.
  • Chapter 3 looks at Roman religiosity and whether or not Caesar violated important religious rituals.
  • Chapter 4 looks at inscriptions, huge building projects from war plunder, and Italian attitudes to the public.
  • Chapter 5, on women, includes the quote about the wife of the Pontifex Maximus (not Caesar) needing to be above suspicion.
  • Chapter 6 describes how Pompey's acts led to Caesar's crossing the Rubicon.
  • Chapter 7 describes the influence of Greek philosophy on Rome, Roman amicitia 'friendship' and the assassination.
  • The final chapter describes Antony and the reforms of Augustus.

Guide Review - Always I am Caesar

Always I am Caesar is more than a biography. It focuses on the events and people of the late Republic that shaped and were shaped by Julius Caesar.

Tatum begins with a basic, largely biographical introduction about Julius Caesar, which is essential for those who don't already know the basic events and achievements of the great man's life. Tatum writes with flair, so even those familiar with the story of Caesar should enjoy this as a review.

The subsequent chapters are based on a series of public lectures from 2005. The greatest advantage is that these lectures -- filled with humor, topical references, and anecdotes -- must have kept their audience wide awake and highly motivated to attend the next. The format also makes the chapters a perfect size. The main disadvantage is that there are no footnotes in a lecture, whether delivered orally or transcribed. A lengthy bibliography in the book provides a place to start looking for the references and an up-to-date Caesar reading list, and the absence of footnotes allows for smooth delivery, but it would be useful to know the background behind certain claims. A minor point is that Tatum's references to contemporary political mis-steps will lose their poignancy over time.

Caesar was a force, whether for good or ill. How you see him depends on your politics. Caesar had become dictator for life at the time of his assassination on the Ides of March 44 B.C. Augustus completed Caesar's move to autocracy when he changed the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Tatum argues by doing so Augustus provided something better than what the Republic had to offer: Where the Republic offered great men, like Sulla, Pompey, and Caesar, the chance to make names for themselves and their posterity, Augustus offered peace and security. Tatum argues this conclusion well, if unconvincingly.

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