A Week to Remember: The Assassination of Julius Caesar | Los Angeles Public Library
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A Week to Remember: The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
Julius Caesar

On March 15, 44 BCE, Julius Caesar was assassinated. It was the end of an extraordinary life of military leadership and political power.

Caesar was born in 100 BCE, and joined the Roman army at the age of 16. His military service was in part a matter of prudence. Caesar's uncle Gaius Marius had just lost a civil war for the leadership of Rome, and Caesar feared that the victorious Lucius Cornelius Sulla might want take revenge on his rival's family members; military service was a good way to get out of Rome and make himself less visible while demonstrating his loyalty to the new government.

Caesar returned to Rome in 78 BCE, after Sulla's death, and began his own political career. He won several elections and made his way up the political ladder, and was elected consul – a chief judicial officer – in 60 BCE. His year as consul was a controversial one, and he only narrowly avoided prosecution for some of his more irregular political acts. As he had done in the youth, he turned to the military as a way of escaping from political danger, this time as a general.

After a decade of military victories in Gaul, Caesar was ordered by the Roman Senate to disband his army and return to Rome. He returned with a small army, provoking civil war, and returned to political power. He spent the last several years of his life consolidating and building that power to the point of dictatorship. Finally, the Senate revolted. On March 15 – "the Ides of March" – in 44 BCE, as Caesar arrived to address the Senate, he was met by a large group of Senators, who murdered him. He was stabbed more than 20 times, and some reports say that as many as 60 men took part in the assassination.

Caesar wrote extensively on his own military campaigns, and wrote with such skill and clarity that his writings are still used as texts for modern students of Latin. Historians are sure of his authorship of The Gallic War (e-book, print) and The Civil War (e-book, e-audio, print); there is some uncertainty about The Spanish War (e-book), The Alexandrine War (e-book), and The African War (e-book). (The latter three are collected in a single print volume.)

The life and death of Julius Caesar have been a source of literature for centuries. William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (e-book, e-audio, print, audio) focuses on the assassination, and on the tormented guilt of Brutus, one of the conspirators. The play has been filmed several times, and three of them are available on streaming video: a 1969 film starring John Gielgud as Caesar, a 1978 BBC production starring Charles Gray, and a 2012 BBC production starring Jeffery Kissoon. Marlon Brando, James Mason, and John Gielgud star in the 1953 theatrical film, available on DVD.

George Bernard Shaw's play Caesar and Cleopatra (e-book, e-audio, print) presents a fictionalized version of the relationship between Caesar and the Egyptian queen. Christopher Plummer and Nikki M. James star in a 2009 film of the play.

Several novelists have used Caesar's life as source material. Conn Iggulden's "Emperor" series (e-books and e-audio); Colleen McCullough's "Masters of Rome" novels (e-books and e-audio), and Robert Harris's Dictator (e-book, e-audio, print) are a few popular examples.

Michael Parenti's The Assassination of Julius Caesar (e-book, print) looks at the murder not from the point of view of the nobility, but as a populist uprising. Stephen Dando-Collins explores Caesar's military career in Caesar's Legion (e-audio, print). And Robert Garland's Great Courses series "Living History" includes a lecture on "The Final Days of Julius Caesar."

Also This Week

March 18, 1893

Wilfred Owen was born. Owen was a soldier in the British Army during World War I, killed in action one week before the war ended. He wrote poetry, much of it about the horrors of trench warfare. Only five poems were published during his life; a 1931 publication of his collected work gained him recognition for his brutally honest war poetry. Selections of Owen's work are available in e-book, e-audio, and print; British composer Benjamin Britten interpolated eight of Owen's poems into his War Requiem (streaming, CD).

March 13, 1938

Erma Franklin was born. Franklin spent much of her musical career as a backup singer for her younger sister, Aretha. Erma recorded two albums of her own in the 1960s, and is best remembered as the original singer of "Piece of My Heart," a top ten R&B hit in 1967; the song would become much better known a year later, when Janis Joplin recorded it. The highlights of Franklin's brief career are available in the collection Piece of Her Heart.

March 15, 1943

David Cronenberg was born. Cronenberg is a Canadian director and screenwriter. His movies, especially in the early part of his career, tend to focus on the horrific effects of bodilly transformation – decay, disease, parasitism, and other such terrors. In the 1988 film Dead Ringers, Jeremy Irons stars as identical twin gynecologists who run a fertility clinic.

March 17, 1948

William Gibson was born. Gibson is a science fiction writer who helped to create the cyberpunk subgenre, which usually startling advances in technology with social decay. Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" in his 1982 short story "Burning Chrome" (e-book, print, audio), and his first novel, Neuromancer (e-book, e-audio, print), established much of the standard cyberpunk imagery. Neuromancer won both of the major science fiction awards for best novel, the Hugo and the Nebula.