Caesar in Gaul and Rome: War in Words

Caesar in Gaul and Rome: War in Words

Caesar in Gaul and Rome: War in Words

Caesar in Gaul and Rome: War in Words

Synopsis

Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with Latin knows "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" ("All Gaul is divided into three parts"), the opening line of De Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar's famous commentary on his campaigns against the Gauls in the 50s BC. But what did Caesar intend to accomplish by writing and publishing his commentaries, how did he go about it, and what potentially unforeseen consequences did his writing have? These are the questions that Andrew Riggsby pursues in this fresh interpretation of one of the masterworks of Latin prose. Riggsby uses contemporary literary methods to examine the historical impact that the commentaries had on the Roman reading public. In the first part of his study, Riggsby considers how Caesar defined Roman identity and its relationship to non-Roman others. He shows how Caesar opens up a possible vision of the political future in which the distinction between Roman and non-Roman becomes less important because of their joint submission to a Caesar-like leader. In the second part, Riggsby analyzes Caesar's political self-fashioning and the potential effects of his writing and publishing the Gallic War. He reveals how Caesar presents himself as a subtly new kind of Roman general who deserves credit not only for his own virtues, but for those of his soldiers as well. Riggsby uses case studies of key topics (spatial representation, ethnography, virtus and technology, genre, and the just war), augmented by more synthetic discussions that bring in evidence from other Roman and Greek texts, to offer a broad picture of the themes of national identity and Caesar's self-presentation.

Excerpt

This book is a study of what is—in many senses—an already well-known historical event: Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico, orGallic War. To think of texts as events is certainly in line with various historicist tendencies in the field of Classics in general, but it is also an approach that has come to be seen as particularly appropriate to this work. For one thing, the direct evidence for De Bello Gallico is incomparably better than that for the Gallic War fought in the 50's B.C. We have the former actually before us (though not its prior composition nor its subsequent circulation). Slightly less obviously, however, we have much better controls for the War than for the War. After a long period in which Caesar was largely taken at his word, it became popular in the middle of the last century to try to find deceptions on the evidence of Caesar's own text. It is by now notoriously difficult to confirm or refute anything Caesar says. There are few other sources for the Gallic War, and none can be shown to be substantially independent of Caesar's account. Consequently, even disagreement with Caesar may be more a sign of invention or error in the historical tradition than of independent testimony.

For the text, on the other hand, many things can be brought to bear. Not only are there a few direct testimonia to its reception, but we also have a variety of different sources for how Romans might talk about the war and about the other topics of De Bello Gallico. Here it is enough to note the existence of contemporary texts such as Cicero's oration On the Consular Provinces, which treats Caesar's conduct of the war at some length, and Posidonius' anthropology (preserved only in fragments) of the Gauls whom Caesar was both fighting and describing.

This study has two roughly equal parts. The first, “external” part looks outward and considers the kind of Roman identity postulated by Caesar's work, particularly how it is constituted in the context of various non-Roman others. Here Caesar prefigures in small but important ways the coming Imperial . . .

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