Roman politician Marcus Caelius Rufus (82-48 B.C.), whose letters are included in the correspondence of Cicero and who once mounted a revolt against Caesar, now tells his own story. In Jaro's The Key (1988), Caelius narrated the life of the poet Catullus. Caelius begins his ``report'' in a twilit funk in a small town in southern Italy that he's occupied with his men, and where he's cut off from news of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, to whom he is planning to flee; Caesar's troops are marching down the road to the town. (But Pompey is dead in Egypt.) Introduced by moody snatches of landscape, Caelius' narrative touches on his childhood with a stern merchant father (and a pedophilic tutor), schooling with Cicero, and buddying with such as Catullus and Mark Antony. Then there is the early meeting with the cool, ``silvery'' Caesar, which makes a major impact on Caelius: ``He certainly comes from a good family,'' says his father, ``Aeneas of Troy and the Goddess Venus.'' But a wary wise-head says Caesar would ``do anything to get ahead'' and all say he's ``effeminate.'' Eventually, an agog Caelius will become an aide, running little errands for Caesar as he bullies the Senate and undercuts Pompey, the hero general (he made Pompey's magnificence look ``overdone''). Caelius will follow Caesar—who's left no stone in Gaul unturned— and is there with him at the banks of the Rubicon. But the mighty Caesar makes a mighty pass. What to do? It's expedient to murmur ``yes'' to the powerful and ruthless, but Caelius is atremble with rage and, er, something else. Finally Caelius crosses his particular Rubicon, with disillusionment and doom in the cards. There's little resemblance between this Caesar and McCullough's sophisticated political genius (Fortune's Favorites, p. 958); this flustered Senate and McCullough's beady-eyed manipulators; or, for that matter, this Caelius and history's. In the Renault popular manner: an unlikely tale of ancient Rome.
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