Master historian Strauss (History and Classics/Cornell Univ.; Masters of Command: Hannibal, Alexander, Caesar and the Genius of Leadership, 2012, etc.) zeroes in on the few years surrounding Julius Caesar’s assassination and delves into the strengths of the characters involved.
The author traces five of the best sources: Nicolaus of Damascus, Plutarch, Suetonius, Cassius Dio and Appian. Everyone knows what happened on the ides of March, but Strauss goes deeper in his investigation of how Caesar had ill omens and decided not to attend the senate meeting he had called. It was Decimus, longtime supporter, friend and fellow diner the night before, who literally led Caesar by the hand into the senate. Of the conspirators, Decimus was the most important and the most vilified. Cassius and Brutus completed the leadership of the plot. They were supporters of Pompey and the Republic against Caesar during the recent civil war, and each had his own ambition. Brutus “wanted to kill Caesar without launching a revolution or disturbing the peace—an impossible ambition.” The author shows us a side of Caesar beyond the military genius, a man despised by Cato, Cicero and all who longed for the Republic. Ostensibly a non-noble populist who pushed for change and championed the poor, he also was wise enough to keep his army and the citizens loyal with land grants and money. Even the great Caesar was capable of making mistakes, and Strauss points to three that sealed his fate: He disrespected the senate, flirted with monarchy and dispensed with the people’s tribunes. Caesar, now a perpetual dictator, god, and a man dismissive of the senate and the people, was headed for a big fall. The author explains how Caesar’s funeral was even more dramatic than Shakespeare’s version—especially Mark Antony’s eulogy.
Once again, Strauss takes us deep into the psyche of ancient history in an exciting, twisted tale that is sure to please.