Sunday, March 15, 2015

Beware the Ides of March

As an English teacher, my favorite Shakespeare play has always been "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar." This blend of history and tragedy is so rich with language and allusion and contemplative philosophy that it always set, for me and my freshman honors students, the foundation for literary studies at the high school. And, it was simply rollicking good fun at the same time.

Of course, the "history" part of the play is regularly brought into discussion around March 15, most recently in this insightful and inquisitive piece by Vox writer, Phil Edwards. In reality, much of what we think we know about the death of Julius Caesar is the fabrications and invention of a brilliant playwright. There are facts and truth at the heart of the play - but the research of classics professor Barry Strauss from Cornell indicates the story of Caesar's death was even more interesting and intriguing than the Bard makes it:

In major and minor ways, a lot of us misunderstand the death of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BC. That's why I talked to Barry Strauss, a Cornell Classics and History professor. He's the author of The Death of Caesar, a new book that chronicles one of history's most infamous assassinations and dispels a lot of half-remembered myths. A lot of those myths come from Shakespeare, who relied on Plutarch exclusively to paint his picture of Rome. But Strauss uses Plutarch in concert with other ancient sources like Nicolaus of Damascus, Suetonius, Appian, and Cassius Dio, as well as the work of other scholars. Weighed against each other, together they form a more complete picture of Rome at the time — and one that happens to bust a lot of myths.

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