Book Review: The Cambridge Companion to the Writings of Julius Caesar

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by Luca Grillo and Christopher B. Krebs, editors

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 404. Illus., tables, notes, biblio., indices. $32.99 paper. ISBN: 1107670497

A Handbook to Caesar’s Works

Well known largely for his great political and military skills, not to mention his spectacular assassination, in his times Julius Caesar was also celebrated for his impressive skills as an author, orator, and advocate. Only a small portion of his voluminous writings survives, primarily those on his Gallic War and the civil wars.

The nearly two dozen papers in this volume explore the entire body of Caesar’s literary output, even works that we have only in fragments or through comments and critiques by other ancient authors, and works generally attributed to Caesar by likely done by his staff officers. The essays fall into four groups:

· “Literature and Politics”

· “Genre, Rhetoric, Language, and Style”

· “Fragmentary Works”

· “Sources and Nachleben”, that is the literary afterlife of these works

Several of the papers examine the various ways by which Caesar used his writings for political ends, as propaganda, and to distinguish between the “good” and the “bad”, whether Romans versus “Barbarians” or, during the civil wars, as what might be termed “Caesar’s Romans” versus “other Romans”. Other papers look at his choice of style and usage, including one on “Wit and Irony”, which is at times amusing.

The papers on his fragmentary works – a few letters and some citations found in other works -- look at the man as poet, literary critique, orator, and Latin stylist, showing him as a well-rounded Roman “gentleman”. There are also papers on influences on Caesar from by Greek and Roman historians, his approach to writing history, and how his writings influenced later authors, such as Livy, Tacitus, Virgil, right down to Napoleon, who wrote an interesting commentary on Caesar. Several essays address the problem of who completed the series of commentaries on the civil wars.

Oddly, no paper looks closely at Caesar’s skill at massaging the narrative; thus, for example, his stirring account of the battle on the Sambre with the Belgici (57 BC), masks the fact that he fell into what was clearly a well planned and cleverly laid trap engineered by his opponent, the Nervian Boduognatus, an able, sophisticated commander.

Overall, The Cambridge Companion to the Writings of Julius Caesar is an important read for anyone serious interested in Caesar and the wars and other the events covered in his writings.

 

Note: The Cambridge Companion to the Writings of Julius Caesar is also available in several e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

 
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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


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