Caesar in the USA

Caesar in the USA

Caesar in the USA

Caesar in the USA

Synopsis

The figure of Julius Caesar has loomed large in the United States since its very beginning, admired and evoked as a gateway to knowledge of politics, war, and even national life. In this lively and perceptive book, the first to examine Caesar's place in modern American culture, Maria Wyke investigates how his use has intensified in periods of political crisis, when the occurrence of assassination, war, dictatorship, totalitarianism or empire appears to give him fresh relevance. Her fascinating discussion shows how—from the Latin classroom to the Shakespearean stage, from cinema, television and the comic book to the internet—Caesar is mobilized in the U.S. as a resource for acculturation into the American present, as a prediction of America’s future, or as a mode of commercial profit and great entertainment.

Excerpt

The thirteen colonies of the New World fought their war of independence as American Brutus against British Caesar. The design that the Constitutional Convention of Virginia adopted on 5 July 1776 as the seal of their newly independent commonwealth graphically encapsulates the importance of Julius Caesar to the very foundation of the new nation. The first seal of the royal colony of Virginia had displayed the portrait of the British king James I on the obverse, and on the reverse a crown atop the heraldic coat of arms of the Stuarts. But, in the revolutionary period, British monarchy and its heraldic symbols were roundly rejected, and in their stead the Roman republic was embraced as the highest model of civic virtue. A number of variants of the Great Seal of Virginia came in and out of favor over the course of the next century, but the obverse of the version finally settled on by the General Assembly may be described thus: the Roman goddess Virtus, representing the spirit of the commonwealth, leaning on a downward-pointing spear and holding a sheathed sword, treads on Tyranny, represented by a man prostrate, a crown fallen from his head, a broken chain in his left hand, a limp whip in his right. The motto underneath this contrasting couple reads in Latin Sic Semper Tyrannis (Thus Always to Tyrants). The victorious goddess wears Amazonian costume; the prostrate male is clothed in a Roman soldier’s uniform and sandals. The man’s identity is fixed by the Latin motto inscribed beneath him, since that motto is traditionally held to have been the words spoken by Brutus as he slew Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E.

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