Scholia Reviews ns 19 (2010) 22.

Miriam Griffin, A Companion to Julius Caesar. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, Oxford, and Chichester: Blackwell Publishing, 2009. Pp. xx + 512. ISBN 978-1-4051- 4923-5. UK£95.00.

Richard J. Evans
School of History & Archaeology, Cardiff University, Wales, U.K.

At first sight this is yet another volume on Julius Caesar in what seems to be a never-ending market about a man who not only scaled the heights of a political- military career, but who has also achieved the highest fame on account of his literary talent and output. Indeed Caesar is regarded rightly as one of the most significant figures in the entire history of the world. For Plutarch, writing in his biographical parallel lives of Greeks and Romans, Caesar was for Rome what Alexander had been for Greece. Here Griffin brings together in five sections a quite discrete collection of essays, on which there has clearly been a fairly severe word limit (not always imposed, sadly) of roughly a dozen to fifteen pages, within which they are usually subdivisions of almost bite-size proportions -- perhaps for ease of access. The thirty chapters encompass Caesar’s career, his intellect and contribution to Latin literature, and inevitably his role and his use as a paradigm in the minds and actions of later, and particularly, a modern generation of literati and politicians. Griffin (Chapter 1, pp. 1-9) starts the ball rolling with a general introduction stressing the route of this study focussed on a figure whose life and career has burned ‘the mists of history like the path of a comet’ (p. 1).

Part I: 'Biography: Narrative' (pp. 9-82) fills in the essential chronology. Starting with E. Badian (Chapter 2, ‘From the Iulii to Caesar’) Caesar’s background and career up to his quaestorship in 69 is the subject for discussion; E.S. Gruen (Chapter 3, ‘Caesar as a Politician’) pursues the career down to 59, which he argues ‘had observed the normal conventions and pursued the customary goals of ambitious aristocrats, but with an astuteness and deliberation that put most of his contemporaries in the shade’ (p. 35); J. T. Ramsey (Chapter 4, ‘The Proconsular Years: Politics at a Distance’) stresses the difficulties Caesar faced in maintaining anything close to a political prominence while absent in Gaul and the increasingly acrimonious disputes between the proconsul and his opponents which culminated in the crossing of the Rubicon; J. F. Gardner (Chapter 5, ‘The Dictator’) focuses on Caesar’s dictatorships from 49 to 44, his legislation especially citizenship and land for ex-soldiers and future plans; A. Lintott (Chapter 6, ‘The Assassination’) contemplates the background and intention of the conspirators of this perhaps most famous political killing and indeed arguably a far greater event than its Thucydidean model the plot of Harmodius and Aristogeiton against the Athenian tyranny, an episode which clearly influenced contemporary and later coverage of the Ides of March 44 BC.

Part II: 'Biography: Themes' (pp. 83- 156), a slight case of mix and match but for all that nonetheless interesting. So N. Rosenstein (Chapter 7, ‘General and Imperialist’) assesses to what degree Caesar possessed ability in the military sphere and considers that ‘if victories and conquest are the measure of a great general, Caesar richly deserves that epithet’ (p. 98); D. Wardle (Chapter 8, ‘Caesar and Religion’) considers Caesar’s role in the state’s religion and whether or not he exploited cult to further his career, concluding that, unremarkably, he ‘closely approximated to the Roman paradigm’ (p. 110); C. Steel (Chapter 9, ‘Friends, Associates, and Wives’) assesses the subject’s interpersonal relationships within and without the family as it were; J. Paterson (Chapter 10, ‘Caesar the Man’) cogitates on Caesar’s eating and drinking habits, his sexual proclivities and various character traits; E. Fantham (Chapter 11, ‘Caesar as an Intellectual’) notes the subject’s apparent interest in such matters as the Latin language, ethnography of lands abroad and of course the Julian Calendar.

Part III: 'Caesar’s Extant Writings' (pp. 157-205) is obviously the shortest section since its focus is the subject’s not exactly vast literary output. C.S. Kraus (Chapter 12, ‘Bellum Gallicum) dwells on Caesar’s best remembered and still often first encountered opus for those studying Latin language and literature; K. Raaflaub (Chapter 13, ‘Bellum Civile) examines topics such as the date of composition and circulation, style and objectives of Caesar’s other composition; R. Cluett (Chapter 14, ‘ The Continuators: Soldiering On’) acts as a conclusion regarding those anonymous amanuenses, who sought to complete -- or not -- Caesar’s literary/historical projects: accounts of his wars in Egypt, Africa, and Spain.

Part IV: 'Caesar’s Reputation at Rome' (pp. 207- 314) is a seemingly appropriate enough description for the content of this section. Thus: B. Levick (Chapter 15, ‘Caesar’s Political and Military Legacy to the Roman Emperors’) on the name of Caesar and its political and military associations; M. Toher (Chapter 16, ‘Augustan and Tiberian Literature’) regarding Caesar in writers such as Nicolaus of Damascus; M. Leigh (Chapter 17, ‘Neronian Literature: Seneca and Lucan) Caesar in mostly Seneca’s works; C. Pelling (Chapter 18, ‘The First Biographers: Plutarch and Suetonius’) on the second century biographical interpretations of Caesar; L. Pitcher (Chapter 19, ‘The Roman Historians after Livy’) on the cardinal trio Tacitus, Dio and Appian, with a brief aside to Velleius and Florus; T. Barnes (Chapter 20, ‘The First Emperor: The View of Late Antiquity’) on Caesar as ‘emperor’ -- the title is ill-defined here -- by writers in the Late Empire and early Byzantine period; P. Zanker (Chapter 21, ‘The Irritating Statues and Contradictory Portraits of Julius Caesar’) -- a noticeably longer contribution than others, but containing a number of interesting black- and-white photos -- on the emergence and use both by the dictator and his successors of statues, bust and portraits on the coinage.

Part V: 'Caesar’s Place in History' (pp. 315-455) essentially deals with what writers across Europe and North America thought and still think about Caesar and whether or not as a model he was, and remains, relevant to political life. Thus: A. Suerbaum (Chapter 22, ‘The Middle Ages’) on the reception of Caesar initially via Lucan and Plutarch, and only towards the end of the period, surprisingly, through a study of his own works; M. McLaughlin (Chapter 23, ‘Empire, Eloquence, and Military Genius: Renaissance Italy') regarding the impact of Caesar’s works on writers such as Dante and Petrarch; C. Clark (Chapter 24, ‘Some Renaissance Caesars’) on what Caesar meant for Pasquier and Montaigne, although some lack of familiarity with Roman history is clear here (p. 363); J. Griffin (Chaper 25, ‘Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the Dramatic Tradition’) concerned with Caesar in European drama from the English bard to Voltaire; T. Biskup (Chapter 26, ‘The Enlightenment’) on how Caesar was used by philosophers and literati in 17th and 18th century France and Germany; C. Nicolet (Chapter 27, ‘Caesar and the Two Napoleons’) on how two French emperors viewed Caesar as an influence on their own careers; N. Cole (Chapter 28, ‘Republican, Caesarism, and Political Change') examining Caesar and Caesarism as models and hypothetical, largely, threats to democracy in the political debates in the US from the War of Independence to the 1870’s; L. Canfora (Chapter 29, ‘Caesar for Communists and Fascists’) surveying Caesar as examplar in 20th century Italy down to 1945; M. Wyke (Chapter 30, ‘A Twenty- First- Century Caesar’).[[1]] It is worth noting that while, for the most part, controversy seems to be ably avoided, some interesting differences of opinion nonetheless surface: Badian and Gruen on Caesar’s date of birth (pp. 16 and 30), Raaflaub and Cluett on the authorship of the Bellum Alexandrinum, (pp. 180 and 193). Although this may be a possible cause of confusion to a newcomer of ‘Caesar Studies’ it does at least illustrate the absence of consensus on every issue even in this well trawled subject. A full bibliography and a clear and thorough index (pp. 492-512) follow the chapters.

This volume, while much to recommend in it, is a work meant more for those interested in the reception of Caesar in later ages, from ancient to modern times, and for studying personality and possible genius; and these themes far exceed in number of pages Caesar’s political career or military history, as indeed noted by Griffin (p. 2). There is much indeed which the newcomer to the subject will find fascinating and even enthralling. It may well make that reader want to pursue a subject covered here in much greater detail elsewhere, for as with other such works in this flourishing genre its setback is both its size -- hardly pocketbook and rather more encyclopaedic -- and its lack of depth. For searching out that necessary extra detail, use of the suggested readings which conclude each chapter can be a starting point and from there to a perusal of the immense and ever growing bibliography (consolidated on pages 456-91). The reader who seeks to discover more information further along that path of enquiry can be declared to have been converted, if one needs to be converted to ‘Caesar Studies.’ In conclusion, if converted, then this volume, so well produced, will obviously have succeeded in its aim.


[[1]] Cf. M. Wyke in Julius Caesar in Western Culture (Oxford 2006) reviewed in Scholia Reviews 17 (2008).