Monday, March 15, 2010

Day of Patricide or Liberation (depending on your point of view)

For a moment, I am taking a break from my book reviews to notice the date. The Ides of March hath come, but are not yet over. Gaius Julius Caesar is arguably the most famous man in history. His story begins in a time of great crisis in Rome. With victory in the Punic Wars, Rome had elimated it’s ancient rival, Carthage, and gained an empire that spread over the Mediterranean Sea. However, this blessing came with a horrible price, a republic design to govern a small city was not very good at governing an empire. As a result, massive social problems and corruption were the norm. Reform efforts were met with hostility by those who profited from corruption and those who felt the Republic was pure and divine as it was. Reformers such as Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and his brother were murdered, and men, like Sulla, gained power by use of force.

Julius Caesar emerges as reforming politician who engineers an alliance with Pompey and Crassus to bring about reforms that Rome needed. Caesar would then go to Gaul (Rome’s first enemy), defeat the tribes, and brings the territory into Rome’s dominion. This act would establish him as one of Rome’s great generals. After the death of Crassus and Caesar’s own daughter, Julia (Pompey’s wife), those who were once friends turned on each other and would battle for supremacy in a great civil war. Caesar emerges triumphant over all those who tried to stop him. Instead of killing those who opposed him, he grants amnesty. However, he takes the power of dictator and seems, to some, to be making himself the king. If you are Marcus Junius Brutus, the descendent of Lucius Junius Brutus, lifetime dictatorship is not tolerable. Therefore, Brutus, Cassius, and sixty other senators would proudly make this day immortal.

On the Ides of March, Julius Caesar was assassinated in Pompey’s theater, which was acting as the Senate house at that time, a scene that has been reenacted an uncountable amount of times since.

One of the things that makes what happened so interesting is you can make either side out to be the heroic side or the villainous, or you can like Shakespeare call the whole thing a tragedy.

From the classic Shakespeare with Marlon Brando from 1953:

From a TV version in 1979

From the 2002 TV movie with Jeremy Sisto

The recent HBO Rome series 2006 where Ciaran Hinds gives the best I got stabbed twenty-six times performance.

A cute little claymation about Caesar’s death

Or Lego people

***On a different note Happy Birthday, Maine! ***

Thursday, March 4, 2010


A Review of David McCullough’s 1776 (2005)

(Rating:5 of 5)

The year 1776 was like no other. At the start of that year, the thirteen colonies that would become the first thirteen states of the United States of America were engaged in a rebellion against the ‘ministerial’ government. A government that the colonists felt was unlawfully usurping power at the expense of the colonies with their rightful sovereign, the King of Great Britain, being kept in a state of unawares. Halfway though the year, that view changed to one of the American people fighting as a nation for freedom against the Tyrant King who was oppressing them from 10,000 miles away. At the end of the year, when almost all hope seemed lost, General George Washington would cross the Delaware River and engage in the most unlikely of victories but a victory none the same.

The book however begins not in 1776 nor America at all, but it begins in the year 1775 in the city of London. There King George III, the most unsympathetic man to the cause of the colonials, delivers a historic address before the Parliament of Great Britain. He declares that the rebellion in the colonies is a conspiracy to break British power in North America and to create an empire that is under the control of their leadership, as opposed to the King-in-Parliament. This speech helps usher in the events of next year that will unfold not to the liking of the third British monarch of the House of Hanover.

“In sum, he, George III, Sovereign of the Empire, had declared America in Rebellion. He had confirmed that he was committing land and sea forces---as well as unnamed foreign mercenaries---sufficient to put an end to that rebellion, and he had denounced the leaders of the uprising as for having American independence as their true objective, something those leaders themselves had not openly declared.” p. 12

As the seasons change, so does the nature of the American Revolution, discovering the King has declared them out of his protection the American Congress votes for independence on July 2 and produce the document on the date we all remember, July 4, 1776. This changes the entire destiny of a people.

“At the stroke the Continental Congress had made the Glorious Cause of America more glorious still, for all the world to know, and also to give every citizen solider at this critical juncture something still larger and more compelling for which to fight. Washington saw it as a ‘fresh incentive,’ and to his mind it had come not a moment too soon.” p. 137

On Christmas Eve, George Washington crosses the Delaware in wins one of the most unlikely of victories. He catches Colonel Rall off guard and his band of farmer boys whips some the greatest professional soldiers that the world knew.

“They all felt something of the kind. They knew they had done something big at last. ‘The troops behaved like men contending for everything that was dear and valuable,’ Knox wrote to Lucy. Nathaniel Greene told his wife, ‘This is an important period in America, big with great events.’” p. 282

Reading McCullough’s work is like reading an exciting novel. However, unlike a novel, it is not a work of fiction, it is in fact real and that only adds to the book’s excitement. Anyone who reads this book will get exactly what he or she wants: an exhilarating journey though the year 1776, from King George III to Private John Adlum a seventeen-year-old American solider from York, Pennsylvania. 1776 is daring adventure into the country’s past.

{Video taken from the classic 1776 musical from 1972. I have always thought musicals, although enjoyable, to be rather silly. The idea of all sorts of people randomly breaking into song in perfect harmony always looks odd, and one wonders what the Founders would think of it.}