15 March 2010

The Ides of March in 44 BC

The fifteenth of every month in the Roman calendar was called the ides, but the Ides of March was particularly festive. The day was dedicated to the god Mars and military parades marched down the streets of Rome. This day is particularly remembered for the historical event, which ended the life of a great man.

Prior to the day, the augur Spurinna warned Julius Caesar of the Ides of March. Caesar brushed the warning aside. There had been other assassination plots against him, but none of them succeeded. Caesar saw himself as nearly untouchable and believed the gods protected him and his destiny. By this time Caesar had ruled the greatest empire of the civilized world for five years and he had defeated the coalition of nobles including the great Pompey. If he was not destined to rule the Roman Empire, then he would have been struck down by Pompey. Or so he thought. He was so sure of his position and so sure of the adoration of his people, that he thought nothing of the assassination threats.

In the morning, on the Ides of March, Caesar dismissed his bodyguards and set off to the Senate meeting. On his way there a friend handed him a note concerning the details of the plot, but Caesar simply placed it with his stack of letters to read later. Upon entering the Senate theatre, he heard the mocking words of Spurinna, "The Ides of March have come. Yes, but they have not yet gone." Caesar took his seat in front of the Senate and was quickly surrounded by politicians who wished to "pay their respect." The first, Casca, grabbed Caesar by the shoulder who quickly shook him off and Caesar turned to resume his seat. His back turned, Casca's brother pulled out a dagger and stabbed him below the throat. Caesar quickly grabbed the brother's arm and stabbed him with his stylus, in an attempt to escape the thickening ring of assassins. It was then that he realized that he was hopeless.

He did not utter a word until he saw his protégé Marcus Brutus, to whom he spoke, "You, too, my child?" Brutus' mother was Caesar's mistress and he had helped him all his life, despite his siding with Pompey's army. Caesar then drew the top of his toga over his face and allowed the lower garment to cover his legs, so he would die with his legs covered. It was then that the crowd of assassins began to stab him so furiously that they even injured themselves in the onslaught. A total of twenty-three knife blows struck Caesar before he fell dead to the floor.

It was on the Ides of March in 44 BC that one of the greatest Romans fell to his fate. No god could protect him, but perhaps all of it was his destiny. He had opened the door for his nephew Octavian (Caesar Augustus) to create and expand one of the greatest empires in the world. The autocracy established by Caesar lasted half a millennium in the west and 1,500 years in the east.

There are many novels, movies, and television series, which follow the life of Caesar and his successors, as well as the Latin civilization developed during Caesar's generation. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers, which follows the life of a Jewish girl enslaved in Rome and the lives she encounters.

The hit HBO series "Rome" will soon become a movie and it looks like Kevin McKidd will be back as Vorenus. The movie will be entitled "Bona Dea."

And we must not forget Russell Crowe in "Gladiator."

05 March 2010

Ancestrial Fame: "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Tonight a new series, "Who Do You Think You Are?" aired on NBC. The show follows a celebrity on their ancestral journey back into American history. The series premiered with Sarah Jessica Parker who followed her maternal great great great great, etc. grandfather to the California Gold Rush, and an ancestral grandmother in her involvement in the witch trial hysteria of the 17th century in New England. The show will follow several other celebrities in their search for their historical roots.

The series has sprung up in many countries around the world, beginning in England in 2004. They are currently in their eighth season. Why does BBC have to think of everything though?

This question shouldn't be too hard to answer. If you think of what is being shown on the History Channel these days, you shouldn't be surprised. Reality TV much? Exactly! I have been boycotting the History Channel since December when I watched the documentary "People's History." Although based off of a compelling and controversial book on American people and social revolutions in our history, the documentary was narrated primarily by celebrities and well-known actors. Our contemporary society is so obsessed with fame and celebrity, that we can't be interested in history without listening to one of them. Whatever happened to ordinary people in history? "Who Do You Think You Are?" sounds more like an accusation now than an expository question.

My favorite historical series at the current moment is "History Detectives" on PBS. They are dealing with real people who own pieces of history and employ "history detectives" to find the answers to their little mysteries. Why can't we just be interested in ordinary people like you and I? I think you can easily answer that for yourself.

The positive point to this show that it will get more people interested in genealogy and history. History is not just what we learn in Social Studies class or in our history text books. Far from it! History is our own past. Our ancestors. Our own blood. It is then that history becomes real to us. These are real people, just as real as myself sitting here typing this blog entry. Who breathed, worked, toiled, loved, mourned, and died, just like you and I. My own ancestral history has made this more real to me, and that is why I journal and document my own life for my own children and their children's children, so they can carry on the legacy that is my blood and my country and my history, and it will become theirs.

I will sign off with one of my own "ordinary" ancestor's story's. My great great great great great, etc. maternal grandfather, Ambrose Williams came to America in the mid-1700s from Wales. Him and his first wife bore many sons, several of which were old enough to fight in the American Revolution. Our history books mark the American Revolution from 1774-1783; however, the war began way before 1774. Social unrest spread like a plague through the American colonies just as Ambrose Williams settled his family in North Carolina. The Williams family were patriots, Whigs they were called. One son, John Williams, had a wife and two small children by the outbreak of the war. It was in 1775 that John went out from his home to search for the horses that had gone astray. By late morning, early afternoon, Mrs. Williams went to the creek for water. As she approached the creek, she saw a dark figure hanging from a tree. Her heart was in her throat and she could feel the salt of her tears sting her eyes, but her feet continued moving toward the creek and the figure. I can only imagine how she felt, what she screamed, and what she immediately thought when she recognized the lynched body of her husband hanged by the bridle of one of his missing horses. They are stories like these that make history real for me, because of an "ordinary" ancestor and his story.
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