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.
Caesar in the USA
In the early years of the twentieth century, Julius Caesar encroached on the lives of many young Americans. Public high schools experienced exceptional growth between 1900 and 1910, and Latin was regularly included as an option in their curricula. As working-class and immigrant children started to enter secondary education in substantial numbers, they (or their parents on their behalf) chose the study of Latin as a gateway to full participation in American life and a path to social advancement, not least because Latin was still compulsory for admission to American colleges. By 1910, only U.S. history and algebra were recruiting more high-school students, and one in every two students was enrolled in a Latin program and was reading Caesar. The first decade of the twentieth century was among Caesar's finest times in the United States.
Young Americans began their study of the Latin language and their memorization of its grammatical rules in their first year in high school. Their second year of Latin was commonly known as "the Caesar grade" or "the Caesar year" because in that year (when they were approximately fifteen years old) students were first introduced to Latin literature through Julius Caesar's commentary on his conquest of Gaul, De bello Gallico (or The Gallic War). In a classical canon that reached back as far as the Renaissance, Caesar's writings held a "time-honoured place as the first Latin classic to be placed in the hands of the beginner." In the American curriculum, Caesar had been selected as the second-year text because of the near-perfect regularity of his syntax and the simplicity of his linguistic form. The latter comprised a limited, repetitive vocabulary of between 1,200 and 1,300 words, and that vocabulary was concrete more often than abstract and abounded in verbs of action. Thus, translating Caesar allowed a constant review of the basic principles of Latin grammar and syntax. Yet, in the schoolrooms of the United States, the Roman general's commentaries on his war against fellow Romans-the three books of De bello civili (or The Civil War)-received scant attention. It was almost always only De bello Gallico whose content was perceived to reward the labor students were required to bestow on its linguistic forms. Offering a story featuring rapid narrative, vivid character-sketching, and seemingly heroic adventures (some even on Anglo-Saxon terrain), the Gallic War was thought to be far more appealing and wholesome for the readership with whom educators seemed most concerned-boys. Study of the Gallic War also nicely balanced study in second-year English of Shakespeare's bloody tragedy Julius Caesar. Together the two works framed and shaped the rise and the fall of the greatest of Roman statesmen.
Consequently, how to teach Caesar's commentary on his military campaigns in Gaul became a matter of fundamental concern and extensive debate among schoolteachers, academics, and other professionals who advocated a classical education for young people in the United States. If the nation's young people could not be persuaded of the merits of the Roman general's text, then they might give up Latin at only the second-year hurdle. Without Julius Caesar, classics might just fade away.
The Value of a Classical Education
The pervasive presence of Julius Caesar in the classrooms of American high schools and in the everyday lives of students during the early twentieth century deserves close scrutiny. It was at the turn of the century that education came to be recognized as a technology of government, and schools as institutions of the nation and agents of child socialization. Although the cultural norms laid down by school curricula were always vulnerable to reinterpretation, transgression, or rejection in the day-to-day practice of both students and teachers, in theory they were set in place to instruct young people in moral maturity and national character and to shape them into adults who would become good citizens. Moreover, in this same period, the United States witnessed social change of such rapidity and intensity that the new system of mass education increasingly became the object of explicit anxiety and intervention by state boards. As the nation changed from a largely agrarian to an industrial and commercial economy, as its population doubled, cities grew, and urban high schools filled up with the children of immigrants of mostly southern European rather than Anglo-Saxon origin, "Americanization" became a fundamental mission of educators. Paradoxically, they thought that (alongside other high-school subjects) Caesar's Latin could eradicate the foreignness from these new arrivals on American soil.
In the long history of European pedagogy, both the Latin language and the culture it embodied had traditionally been cast as masculine, imperial, and uniquely civilizing, while classics had been tightly interwoven with ecclesiastical, intellectual, and political institutions. In the United States, however, the value of a classical education had been questioned from the foundation of the nation, and ever since the classical curriculum had constantly been subjected to challenge (even, and especially, when Latin enrollments were at their highest) as elitist, irrelevant, useless, obsolete, dead, Old World. Consequently, in the first two decades of the twentieth century, buoyed by the increase in high-school enrollments, American advocates of a classical education fought to restore to the public the belief that the study of Latin would mold noble characters and good citizens.
Textbooks for students, practical manuals for teachers, and public lectures at universities often contained quasi-religious witness to the importance of classics, and of Latin in particular. For example, in 1911 Professor of Latin Language and Literature at the University of Michigan, Francis Willey Kelsey (author of one of the most enduring and widely used school commentaries on Caesar, recently the president of the American Philological Association, and, at this juncture, president of the Archaeological Institute of America), collated into one volume a series of papers on Latin and Greek in American education. Kelsey included talks he had originally delivered at meetings of the Michigan Classical Conference and the Michigan Schoolmasters' Club, followed by an extensive list of testimonials from medics, engineers, lawyers, theologians, ambassadors, newspaper editors, and other academics as to the value of "humanistic studies," and buttressed these various arguments with encouraging statistical data on classics enrollments drawn from reports of the Commission for Education in Washington. Kelsey began with a summary of seven ways in which Greek and Latin are valuable as educational instruments (a summary much cited in later literature of this kind). Access to the ancient languages (1) brings the boyish mind under control by virtue of translation's scientific method of observation, comparison, and generalization; (2) makes our own language intelligible (including its technical vocabulary) and develops powers of expression; (3) brings the mind into contact with literature in elemental forms; (4) gives insight into a basic civilization; (5) cultivates the constructive imagination; (6) clarifies moral ideals and stimulates to right conduct (because the natural sciences are devoid of moral illustrations); and (7) furnishes means of recreation (1927, 15-33).
Professor Kelsey here flavored the discipline of classics with ethics and the science of modernity. Elsewhere he added race and gender. In his view, classics succeeds because "there is a readier sympathy, a closer affinity between an Englishman or American and a cultivated pagan of Athens or Rome than seems possible between Anglo-Saxon and oriental stock" (1927, 28). Yet classics is also in danger of failing, in Kelsey's misogynistic view, because "our secondary teaching is in no inconsiderable degree in the hands of young women without adequate preparation for their work, who engage in teaching as a makeshift, and either grace the schoolroom with their presence briefly on the way from the commencement stage to the altar or, if they remain for a period of years, continue to teach without an ambition for self-improvement" (46-47). More inclusively (given his likely readership), Professor of Classics and General Literature at Florida State College for Women, Josiah B. Game, produced a handbook of Latin for high-school teachers, which was first published as a bulletin of the Missouri State Normal School in 1907 and then revised and republished in 1916 and 1925 (both moments of crisis for classics in schools). In it, he boasted: "To those who believe that our country's future is intimately bound up with the kind of education offered in the schools of today, it is very gratifying to know that more young men and young women are now studying Latin than at any other time in our history." But for academics and teachers alike, a key question emerged: could the text selected for the second year of high school-Julius Caesar's Gallic War-live up to these bold advocacies of Latin?
Enlivening Caesar's Commentaries
The crucial concern for advocates of a classical education was how to get students beyond a painful struggle with the Gallic War as a tortuous catalogue of grammatical constructions to an appreciation of the value of Latin as one of their school subjects. Even the future president, Woodrow Wilson, had set his mind to the problem when teaching ancient and modern history at the undergraduate women's college Bryn Mawr. In a personal letter to the college's departing professor of Latin dated 2 August 1888, Wilson (himself on the verge of leaving for higher pay and an all-male college) followed up a discussion they had previously held face-to-face on the matter of how to teach Caesar to boys:
My dear Mr. Slaughter
... The whole matter stands in my mind thus: Boys like generals, like fighting, like accounts of battles: if, therefore, they could be given a just conception of the reality of this man Caesar-could see him as a sure-enough man (who in his youth, for instance, a fop and a lady-killer, was yet in his full age an incomparable commander and a compeller of liking, nay, of devotion, on the part of the rudest soldier-was himself a lover to strategy and force); if they could be made to realize that these Commentaries were written, in many parts probably, in the camp (on some rude stool, perhaps-the noises or the silence of the camp outside) when the deeds of which they tell were fresh in the mind-perhaps also heavy on the muscles-of the man who was their author as well as author of their history-if, in short, they could be given a fellow-feeling, an enthusiasm, or even a wonder for this versatile fellow-man of theirs, reading the Commentaries would be easy, would be fun-and their contents would never be forgotten, I should say. Maps help to give pictures of the fight; if the boys could be gotten to play at the campaigns it would be a capital help; anything to dispel the idea that Caesar wrote grammatical exercises in hard words!
Cordially yours, WOODROW WILSON
As an academic, Wilson held research interests in the history of government and, more specifically, in the concept of successful political leadership. As an educator, he would soon be attempting to shape the ideal university at Princeton, and to establish the liberal arts (especially literature) as an appropriate training for classes of graduates whom he expected to lead America's national life. Small wonder, then, that he might once have reflected on how to enliven the Latin of Julius Caesar for fifteen-year-old boys laboring over it at high school. This he does, as many schoolteachers would also do, by placing dramatic emphasis on content, context, and author over form (and all in a rhetorical style that recalls Cicero's love of the tricolon crescendo). For the future president, the content of the Gallic War is enjoyably military, and its author attractively frivolous in his youth while developing in maturity into a leader of manly robustness. The potentially fraught relationship of student to textbook is translated into the certain devotion of the soldier to his general. The circumstances of composition are given a raw physicality-the uncomfortable stool, the sound of silence, the aching muscles. Caesar is the empathetic agent of action, the writer of his own recent story, not just the nominative subject of verbs. If teachers could communicate this message through visualization and enactment as well as routine translation, then it would be hard for boys to drop the text of second-year Latin, as well as, by implication, the study of classics. Years later, when the widow of the addressee found Wilson's letter among her deceased husband's papers, she offered it for publication to the editor of a classics journal. The now-widened readership of these recommendations may only have regretted that they had been sent originally to a man named Slaughter.
Among schoolteachers of Latin, such concerns and recommendations were expressed regularly and publicly in the pages of their magazines and journals, and at meetings of their classical associations. In January 1909, for example, in the Classical Weekly, Mary Harwood of The Girls' Latin School in Baltimore wrote with equal passion:
Yet if our boys and girls are ever to come out victorious from grappling with Caesar's ablatives absolute, laying siege to his gerundives, and fighting the barbarian subjunctive to a finish, they must be given, somehow or other, a little of the courage and enthusiasm that Caesar inspired in his soldiers. How easily this could be accomplished if the pupils could only see in the text what the old Roman saw-a moving picture of thrilling dramatic action, where the tramp of soldiers' feet, the cry of battle and the shout of victory could almost be heard! But they seem to think there is nothing to be evolved but an endless confusion of camps, marches and grammatical constructions.
The teacher neatly borrows from the content of Caesar's commentary to treat learning Latin as a thrilling war. The rhetorical ploy transforms her into an inspirational general and her pupils into courageous and enthusiastic legionaries. Reading the Gallic War is an exciting battle (involving "grappling," "laying siege," and "fighting to the finish"), and the act of understanding its Latin positions the students with its author, turning them almost into miniature Caesars: seeing the action, hearing the tramp of soldiers' feet, the cry of battle, and the shout of victory.
From the late nineteenth century through the first decades of the twentieth, classics teachers, university professors, and other educators in the United States developed and advertised a whole array of pedagogic strategies to present Caesar's Gallic War (and, therefore, Latin and the whole discipline of classical study) as engaging, relevant, and topical for American students and, frequently, even to infuse them with a love for the Roman general. Everywhere they placed emphasis not just on aids to comprehension of Caesar's linguistic form but also on the practical, ethical, and topical opportunities provided by Caesar's content.
Even in the twentieth century, juvenile instruction in Latin (as in Greek) followed a pattern that had originally been laid down in the Renaissance. Through recitation and written exercise, young people put to memory the grammatical rules of the classical language (its parts of speech, accidence, and syntax) and a portion of its lexicon, and then utilized this linguistic code to decipher texts of increasing difficulty. In the first year of high school, reading the original language was often confined to relatively mechanical translating, and where such schooling in Latin operated as a strict, ritualized practice of rewards and punishments applied rigorously to boys, it has since been understood as akin to a puberty rite, a testing passage from youth to manhood.
American high-school students often encountered Julius Caesar's Latin and his war in Gaul almost as soon as they began their study of the language, when they were about fourteen years old. A popular school textbook for beginners bore the title Bellum Helveticum, because it took as a structuring Latin text Caesar's account of his opening campaign in 58 B.C.E., when he opposed the migration of the Helvetian tribe west through the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul (Gallic War 1.1-29). After ten preliminary lessons, it is the vocabulary and the syntax of Caesar's narrative that guide the student's advance through the forms and grammatical rules of the Latin language. First published in 1889, and revised and reprinted over the course of more than twenty years, this beginner's guide to Latin based on reading a small segment of Caesar was highly successful. The two teachers from a boys' high school in Brooklyn, New York, who revised the 1906 edition (Arthur Lee Janes and Paul Rockwell Jenks) identified what they saw as the primary cause of the book's pedagogic excellence: the first twenty-nine sections of Julius Caesar's Gallic War were"a model of perfect Latinity" and "an illustration of the most important principles of the language."
At Gallic War 1.2, for example, the episode proper begins with Caesar imputing to the Helvetian chieftain Orgetorix the highest aristocracy (longe nobilissimus) and the greatest wealth (ditissimus), a greed for kingship (regni cupiditate), the instigation of a conspiracy among his fellow nobles (coniurationem nobilitatis), powers of political persuasion (civitati persuasit), the urge to march with all his people's forces beyond their borders (ut de finibus suis cum omnibus copiis exirent), and the ambition to gain sovereignty over the whole of Gaul (totius Galliae imperio potiri). Some of these characteristics, abilities, and ambitions look suspiciously like a projection elsewhere of Julius Caesar's own-an early manifestation of the artful representation, the propaganda, or Tendenz that critics now commonly disclose in Caesar's commentaries on his military achievements. In the classroom recitations and drills laid out in the 1906 edition of the textbook Bellum Helveticum, however, this first glimpse of Orgetorix extends across lessons 30 to 35, where it provides illumination for young readers on Latin's simple and compound verbs, verbs governing the dative, adjectives with a genitive ending in -ius, and the use of the ablative. And, in anticipation of translating Caesar's exact words, students are required to translate repetitively, from English into Latin and from Latin into English, starker versions of these sentiments, often utilizing the future tense: "Orgetorix will make these conspiracies" (lesson 30.278.1) or ab Orgetorige imperium totius Galliae occupabitur (in translation, perhaps, "control of all Gaul will be won by Orgetorix": lesson 31.287.2). In the second decade of the twentieth century, some classical scholars, like the Italian Guglielmo Ferrero, were challenging the credibility of the motivation for migration that, as narrator of the event, Caesar attributes to the Helvetians. In the day-to-day life of American high schools, by contrast, students were attempting to attain linguistic skill in Latin by repetitively mimicking and confirming the Roman general's controlling narrative voice, along with his certainty about events and his urgency about responding to them.
Yet, if Latin was Caesar, and Caesar was Latin, critics of a classical education might assimilate the attributes of one to the attributes of the other. The manipulation of readers, deceit, propaganda, cruelty, and aggression do not sit comfortably with the advocacy of a subject for study in high school. Hence the accuracy and thoroughness that American teachers and their textbooks demanded from the translations of first-year students were frequently merged with the qualities of the Latin text the students were obliged to translate. And its author, Julius Caesar, was identified as a great general and the founder of lasting empire better to secure Latin as a great language and its study as a vigorous discipline deserving to endure in the curricula of schools throughout the United States.
To redress the otherwise mechanistic pedagogy for first-year Latin and to anticipate the start made on the narrative of the Gallic War properin the second year, many educators advocated the orchestration of the kind of child's play that Woodrow Wilson had once recommended to Mr. Slaughter. In his handbook for Latin teachers, the above-mentioned Professor Game advised organizing a number of practical activities to accompany the introduction to the language in the first year of high school:
When you begin Caesar, call attention to the various implements of war used by Romans and Gauls and invite pupils to make models. The response will be immediate. Get one to make a hasta [long spear], full size, another a pilum [javelin], then a gladius [sword], and so on. A little paint or wood stain will give the color needed. The vinea [movable shelter], scorpio [catapult], aries [battering ram], and Caesar's bridge will appeal to boys. Girls can make a vexillum [military banner], or dress a doll like a legatus [ officer], or a miles [soldier], an imperator [commander in chief] etc . . . If business moves slowly, offer to accept a good piece of work of this kind in place of all or part of the term's examination, and a scene of unrivaled activity will delight you. It is really worth more to a boy to get into direct touch with the Roman army by making models of some of the weapons used by the soldiery than it is to go through an examination.
Even as late as the 1920s edition of his handbook, and despite his employment at the Florida State College for Women, the professor of classics perpetuates in his advice to teachers on classroom play a traditional conception of gender division: boys make weapons, construct model siege-craft, build bridges; girls sew flags or dress dolls as toy soldiers. The Latin language, the world of Julius Caesar, and the practices for studying them are all conceived as inherently masculine-girls are omitted from Professor Game's concluding remarks about the value of engaging the Latin learner closely with the Roman army.
That gendered pedagogy is reinforced visually by the images of Roman and Gallic military ranks that regularly interspersed the pages of the first- and second-year textbooks for reading Caesar. An American girl at high school in the 1900s or 1910s would be hard put to see herself, for example, in the taxonomies of masculinity employed to illustrate her beginner's textbook Bellum Helveticum. The imperator himself,a Gallic chieftain, and some of their respective officers line up opposite her lesson 25 (based on a simplified fragment of Gallic War 1.1 and containing drills on the present, imperfect, and future indicative passive of the third and fourth conjugations), while ranks of Roman soldiers parade opposite her lesson 64 (based on a fragment of Gallic War 1.7 and concerning the conjugation of the verbs volo, nolo, and malo). If that girl proceeded to second-year Latin, she would again find often quite colorful illustrations of the Roman author alongside his loyal legions taking up whole pages of her copy of the high-school commentaries on Caesar's Gallic War (see fig. 4).
In the Classical Weekly for 23 January 1909, Mary Harwood (the enterprising teacher from The Girls' Latin School in Baltimore) outlines a very carefully tiered strategy that she recommends for juvenile playacting with the Roman dictator and his army. Students' interest should be aroused, she says, right from the start. Care should be taken not to confine the first year of Latin to potentially tedious labor over grammar. So, in the first semester of the first year, for fifteen minutes every Wednesday afternoon, she prepares the ground for second-year Caesar by reading to her girls a story about Roman daily life (the girls realize to their surprise that, like us, the Romans ate, drank, and were happy or sad). On the first Wednesday of the second semester, she explains the politics of the Roman republic ("much condensed and in one-syllable English"), and on the second Wednesday the "wonderful personality" of Caesar (described here as one day a fashionable elegant in the city and the next a hardy soldier in the field of war; one moment farsightedly planning the kingship of the Roman Empire, the next rushing into the thick of the fight). By the third week of the second semester, the teacher has reached the Roman army and the parallel formation of a Saturday morning Latin Club. There, with great enthusiasm, her pupils make pinewood swords and broomstick spears, sugar-barrel shields embossed with gold-paper thunderbolts, canvas helmets decorated with feather crests, battle flags of red silk topped by cardboard eagles that are coated in silver paper, and-most important of all, she observes-a real knapsack packed with real wheat, a real blanket, two stakes, and a cooking pan. After all this practical work, her girls can "almost hear the trumpet order to march."
This moment of gender transgression, when young American girls almost imagine themselves to be serving soldiers summoned to battle, is short-lived. From the end of the nineteenth century, the profession of Latin studies gradually became more feminized-the proportion of women substantially increased among high-school and college students and teachers of classics (as Professor Kelsey complained in 1925). Yet continuing constraints on gender put a sudden brake on Harwood's gusto at this point in her report. The account of the Saturday morning club is largely given over to a lively description of the girls dressing themselves up as Roman soldiers and picking up with relish the "real" paraphernalia of war (knapsacks, rations, blankets, and weapons). It ends briefly, however, with what the girls enjoy "best"-to dress dolls like Roman soldiers. The scale of practical activity is diminished, its materials become cheaper and more flimsy (colored paper and book straps), the setting more comfortably feminine and domestic (the girls borrow from their mothers' sewing bags), and, as a consequence, the girls' engagement with the Roman army is infantilized.
As they approach and then embark on their "Caesar year," the Baltimore girls prepare further by listening to their teacher's character-driven stories of the Helvetian migration (the treachery of the chieftain Orgetorix, the jealousy of Dumnorix toward his brother, and the devotion to Caesar of his lieutenant Labienus, GW 1.2-29). They are asked to envision the alarming prospect of the whole population of Washington swarming down on their own city, and to pace the Roman mile on their local walks. Finally, when they begin to read the first books of the Gallic War as continuous narratives, their practical activities are resumed with the constant construction of appropriate military models: such as a clay-and-cardboard camp to quarter the Roman general (inclusive of small trenches, ramparts, and stakes, tiny brown-paper tents and match-stick soldiers); a sand battlefield, powdered-chalk river, and woods of hemlock twigs for combat against the fierce Nervii (GW 2.15-32); and toy boats equipped with tiny boat hooks and boarding bridges that float in pans for the sea fights in which Caesar outwits the Veneti (GW 3.7-16). In the account Harwood provides for the Classical Weekly, the teacher and her students do not reach the fourth book of the Gallic War and, therefore, do not have the opportunity to construct the model that, elsewhere, is most frequently recommended for students learning Latin in high school-Caesar's ingenious bridge over the river Rhine (GW 4.17, and see the schoolbook illustration in fig. 5). Building a small-scale replica of the Rhine bridge (with its rapidly assembled balks, piles, transoms, crossbeams, poles, and wattle work) operates as a tangible metonymy for overcoming the greater complexity and narrative flow of second-year Latin: it demonstrates physically that a wondrous edifice can be constructed out of interlinked parts, provides a visceral sense of direction and purpose, and offers the excitement clearly absent from drills in accidence and syntax. In Professor Game's handbook for schoolteachers, that pleasurable outcome is proffered to boys. He suggests girls can sew little articles of Roman clothing.
The Caesar Year
During the late nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth, a small cottage industry of school commentaries on the Gallic War took root in the United States. The commentaries were designed to support the teaching of Latin in the second year of high school-the crucial Caesar grade. For school use, to begin with, the Roman general's commentaries on his campaigns in Gaul were usually delimited to the complete narratives of the first four books, from the Helvetian migration in 58 B.C.E. to the first expedition on British soil in 55. By the 1920s, high-school Caesar had often been whittled down even further to just the first two books in their entirety followed by excerpts from the other five. While the amount of original Latin text shrank, its explanatory baggage grew. In 1907, for example, a professor of Latin at the University of Kansas, Arthur Tappan Walker, brought out a much-revised edition of a school commentary that had originally appeared in 1891. Already in the case of Professor Walker's Gallic War (1907), as in so many other commentaries on Caesar, vocabularies, notes on linguistic constructions, illustrations, maps, and other explanatory matter are positioned across the same pages as Caesar's own words, in order to save students from endless page-turning in their search for clarification. Often such illustrations and annotations overwhelm the Latin text itself: as when a small fragment of Caesar's detailed description of the bridge over the river Rhine at Gallic War 4.17squats in a corner above and beside the editor's fulsome linguistic exposition, neat diagrams, and advocacy of model making. Similarly, in the 1918 edition of Caesar in Gaul edited by Professors Benjamin L. D'Ooge and Frederick C. Eastman, a diagram of the bridge built by Caesar's soldiers takes up far more space on the page than the Roman general's original description of it (fig. 5), while the commentary includes, along with Caesar's Latin, an introduction (on Caesar's life, the countries in or against which he campaigned, and the organization of Roman military affairs), a review of first-year syntax, notes, a grammar, prose composition exercises, word lists, and vocabularies from Latin into English and English into Latin.
Before the young American readers of second-year Caesar arrive at the Rhine frontier and the Roman general's magnificent feat of engineering, however, they have had to negotiate not just the dreaded conditional construction and the seemingly boundless obstacle of indirect discourse, but also a catalogue of Caesarean slaughters-and the one they have most recently encountered in book 4 is also the most controversial. After two Germanic tribes, the Usipetes and the Tencteri, had crossed over the Rhine near the coast into Gaul in 55 B.C.E., Caesar had detained their envoys, attacked their camp, hunted down their women and children as they fled, and massacred on the riverbank all the surviving men who had not drowned in terror first (GW 4.14-15). Even at the time, opponents of Caesar at Rome argued that he should be surrendered into the hands of the enemy, since he had violated the truce that had preceded these terrible events. Many American handbooks for second-year Latin, in consequence, do not cast high-school students in relation to their text of the Gallic War as adoring and disciplined soldiers in the army of Caesar's Latin learners. After the first year, the greater maturity of the students (now mostly fifteen years old), their increased command of linguistic forms, and, chiefly, the necessities of content drive classical scholars to introduce their commentaries with a more balanced attitude to the Roman general and his achievements. A degree of ethical separation must now obtain between Caesar's acts and his telling of them; so long as the Latin remains pure and simple, its author may be temporarily besmirched.
Concessions to the cruelty of the content, nevertheless, remain slight. In the preface to his edition of the Gallic War (1907), for example, Arthur T. Walker argues that the warfare wasindeed bloody but greatly justified by its result: "The one means of safety for both Gauls and Romans was that the Romans should govern all the country west of the Rhine and should hold the Germans at bay on the other side of that great river" (10). The Gallic campaigns are to the benefit of the Roman state, not just to the political career of the ambitious proconsul (9-10). He was admittedly cruel, but only "sometimes" and "from policy"; by nature he was clement (18). His narrative was hastily written for selfish political purpose, but there is no proof that it contains at any point a single intentionally false statement (20). Similarly, when introducing Gallic War book 4, the professor from Kansas admits emphatically that when the Roman general slew a whole host of German men, women, and children in 55 B.C.E., he "made himself guilty of the most treacherous and indefensible act in his whole career" (252). Yet defense immediately follows on the same page: it was imperative to teach other German tribes never to cross the Rhine and invade Gaul (252). After the ruthless massacre, Caesar's narrative moves smoothly on to the rapid creation of his bridge over the river Rhine, a bridge that permitted brief forays into the territory of the Germans themselves. Commentary on the construction of the bridge, in all its marvelous complexity and apparent purpose, must have come as some relief to Walker.
More evasive, and yet also more equivocal, are the high-school manuals for the composition of Latin prose that also worked to structure students' moral understanding of Caesar's Gallic campaigns. In 1910, William Gardner Hale, professor of Latin at the University of Chicago, published in the School Review a survey of thirty-two such books for high-school use at the same time as the first volume of his own contribution to the genre appeared. Teaching composition, he argued, is especially difficult during the second year of Latin at high school. The English sentences assigned are disconnected and mostly meaningless or absurd and render the business of writing Latin dull and artificial. It is far better to design a composition book as a companion to the second-year text. The lessons should be on a scale and in an order to match each week's sequential reading from book 1 to book 4 of the Gallic War. Such was the strategy adopted by Charles M. Baker and Alexander J. Inglis one year earlier, for their High School Course in Latin Composition (1909). At the time, the authors were employed at the Horace Mann School, originally founded for teacher observations and educational experimentation, and attached to Columbia University in New York. The section of their course dedicated to second-year Latin contains a series of twenty-eight lessons based on Caesar's war commentaries. Each lesson focuses on one principle of syntax and includes one set of English sentences for written translation into Latin (half to be completed at home and half in the classroom), followed by another set for oral translation into Latin to reinforce rapidly the earlier drills. In lesson 26, "The Passive Periphrastic," the first ten sentences assigned for homework read as follows (Baker and Inglis 1909, 160-61):
Caesar said to the ambassadors of the Usipetes, "Your tribe must not remain in Gaul."
2. I ought not to grant, especially to so great a multitude, the privilege of settling in Gaul.
3. Therefore you must return to the lands whence you have come.
4. The ambassadors themselves made no promises, but said that they had to report Caesar's orders to their (countrymen).
5. Meanwhile you, Caesar, ought not to come (any) nearer with your army.
6. You ought to remain here; in this place you ought to await our answer.
7. Caesar decided that not even this (request) ought to be granted.
8. If I delay here, I shall afterward have to contend with an enemy (that is) better prepared.
9. For these Germans will not think that they must return to Germany at my command.
10. Caesar therefore decided that he ought to fight-it-out with the Germans as soon as possible.
So that American high-school students will not yet have to face the ordeal of reproducing Latin's syntax for indirect speech in only their second year of study, the authors on a number of occasions change the indirect construction in Caesar's original text into direct speech. As students labor over their compositions at home, therefore, they are being asked to speak as if they were the delegation from the German tribes (5 and 6). The momentary breach is more than counteracted by the opportunity provided to both speak (1, 2, and 3) and think (8 and 9) as Caesar. The "passive periphrastic" conjugation, knowledge of which these sentences are designed to test, constitutes a verbal formation that signifies necessity or obligation. The exploitation of the Usipetes episode to put the construction to use transforms that brutal episode into a list of what Caesar and the Germans "must" do or "ought" to do. Such exercises in prose composition manage to extract from the Latin the cruelties of Julius Caesar (there are no sentences to translate concerning ruthless massacre), and to inject a much-needed tone of right conduct.
For background information, the American community of classics teachers and academics suggested to each other a range of writers on Julius Caesar from Napoleon Bonaparte to Theodor Mommsen, but, in the first decades of the twentieth century, over and above all others they advocated the British classical scholar T. Rice Holmes and his magisterial study of Caesar's Conquest of Gaul (1899). Rice Holmes, they argued, discusses with such "impartiality" and "thoroughness" both the geographical and the military issues raised by the Gallic War that a copy "should be in the hands of every teacher of Caesar" and "in the library of every secondary school throughout the land." Originally published in 1899 as a monumental volume almost nine hundred pages long, Caesar's Conquest of Gaul had been divided between a historical narrative of the campaigns and an exhaustive series of scholarly articles intended to elucidate the Roman general's commentaries on matters textual, geographic, topographic, military, ethnological, social, political, and religious. In 1903, the first part was republished separately, by demand, as a more manageable little book.
Rice Holmes found favor as an aid to the teaching of second-year Latin in American high schools because he argued that Caesar's text should be read "not merely as a lesson in construing but also as history." In the preface to his abridged 1903 edition, he also disclosed that when he originally began his research on the Gallic War his purpose had been to help schoolboys "realise that those pages were not written for the purpose of inflicting mental torture, but were the story of events which really did happen, and many of which rival in interest the exploits of Cortes or Clive." Furthermore, it was noted, Rice Holmes was a man of military experience and considerable scholarly acumen, a voice then of considerable authority that could refute (and did, over seventy pages of his original edition)the well-known charges that Caesar's commentaries on his campaigns were tendentious-composed in order to put the general's unconstitutional or inhumane acts in the best possible light, to magnify his achievements and to conceal his mistakes, and thus further his self-regarding political ambitions back home in Rome. Once the boys understood (thanks to the labors of the British scholar) that their second-year Latin text was a fine document composed in a terse and vigorous style, their minds should fill with "living, throbbing interest" in its historic events: the melancholy practice of western migration, the first recorded interview between Roman and Teuton, and the first crossing of the British Channel by a Roman army.
In American classrooms (heavily armed with the approach and the meticulous investigations of Rice Holmes), teachers impressed on students in a number of ways the historicity of Caesar's narrative. In 1906, for example, an article in one of the teachers' weeklies by Professor Walter Dennison of the University of Michigan advertised that the principal of the local Bay City school had visited the most important Caesarean localities in France, catalogued the photographs he had taken according to the movements through Gaul of Caesar's troops, and kindly made them available as slides for distribution and display to any high school possessing a stereopticon lantern. Put Caesar's battle plans neatly on the blackboard every day, Dennison also advised, with opposing forces indicated by different colored chalk (red, say, for the Romans, and yellow for the Gauls). Explain troop movements as if they were a game on a checkerboard. Draw parallels between ancient and modern warfare and expose the differences (such as artillery, transport facilities, or the spyglass). Study strategy. Bring students' attention to the text's lessons for life: making the most of one's resources, exercising caution, valuing a defensive attitude. In sum: teach the Gallic War as military history, and you will succeed in both awakening and sustaining the interest of schoolboys in Latin.
Less weighty (in every sense), more accessible, and more entertaining than Rice Holmes's scholarly monograph were the many historical biographies of Julius Caesar produced expressly for young Americans in this period. Unconstrained by the limits of the second-year Latin curriculum, such books told the Roman dictator's whole life story in suitably stirring terms. Michael Clarke's Story of Caesar (1898), for example, works its way past the protagonist's very kindly treatment of the surrendering Helvetians (54), the contemptuousness of the German chieftain Ariovistus (55), the wonderful feat of bridge building across the Rhine (68), and the remarkable invasion of Britain (67) through the civil war to conclude its biography dramatically in the ninth chapter with the murderous conspiracy set in motion by Roman senators jealous of their erstwhile friend's great powers (113). As with the school commentaries, the early chapters of Clarke's account are interspersed with fine line-drawings of the ranks of Caesar's soldiers and the clever weaponry with which they defeat their exotic enemies, whereas only a single, small battering ram provides illustration for the chapters where Caesar engages in his great struggle with Pompey.
Toward the end of this particular juvenile biography, however, the author suddenly inserts the denser, more violent contours of a full-page painting to accompany his more emotive narrative of the murderous events of the Ides of March. Facing Clarke's description of how Caesar reacted when he saw Brutus among the murderers (1898, 117), the painting-Death of Caesar (1887) by the popular French artist Georges Antoine Rochegrosse-colors the assassination in terms of the collective savagery of the conspirators and the disorder that ensued in the seat of government (fig. 6). In Story of Caesar, Clarke also looks to a famed literary source to help confirm that the death is a bloody murder (he never applies to it the less-critical term "assassination"). A quotation appears at the bottom of page 117, abruptly rounding off Clarke's description:
Then burst his mighty heart,
And in his mantle, muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey's statue,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.
Clarke treats this passage from act 3, scene 2 of the tragedy Julius Caesar as if it were almost the personal testimony of the great dramatist. He fails to note that he has extracted the words from the cunning oration delivered by Antony to the plebeians in order to stir them up to mutiny. As he draws near to his concluding comments in this final chapter of Caesar's story, Clarke also informs his young readers that thus died "the greatest of all the Romans" (1898, 118). He then turns that Roman into a role model for American students when he compares the dictator explicitly to the first president of the United States: each, he states, was honored as "the father of his country" (118). Then, above a drawing of a wreath, he ends (119):
Many eminent authors have written about Caesar, and nearly all in words of the highest praise and admiration. Truly his name is
"One of the few, the immortal names
That were not born to die."
Here Clarke evokes the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. He quotes, this time, from a famous American poem by Fitz-Greene Halleck that originally concerned a freedom fighter active in the war for the independence of Greece. Lincoln had used these same lines in 1852 to eulogize the statesman Henry Clay as a voice also calling for the liberty of Greece and as another unforgettable patriot, but, on Lincoln's death thirteen years later, the verses were regularly transposed yet again this time to eulogize the assassinated president himself. Thus the juvenile biography (through explicit parallel with the first president and implicit parallel with the sixteenth) doubly confirms Caesar as a hero fit for liberty-loving Americans.
High-school Latin teachers also recommended historical novels to their students, of which more were written about Julius Caesar and the Gallic War than any other part of Roman history. One enduring favorite was A. C. Whitehead's The Standard Bearer: A Story of Army Life in the Time of Caesar, which was first published by the American Book Company in 1914, after which it enjoyed many subsequent editions. The author was a Latin instructor in a boys' high school in Atlanta, Georgia, and his historical fiction takes as its focal point a crucial moment from Gallic War 4.25 when, during the campaigns of 55 B.C.E., Caesar's soldiers are hesitating to jump from their ships and wade onto the shores of Britain. At that moment, two very important things happen: first, a valiant standard-bearer of the tenth legion plunges forward into the surf to lead the way; and second, in the Latin, Caesar's text turns for the very first time in four books of commentary on the war (and for maximum dramatic effect) to the use of direct speech. In this way, American students are forced to confront Latin's imperative mood:
Meanwhile our soldiers were hesitating, chiefly because the sea was so deep; then the man who carried the Eagle of the Tenth legion appealed to the gods to see that his action turned out well for the legion, and said: 'Jump down, soldiers, unless you want to betray our Eagle to the enemy-I at least shall have done my duty to the republic and to my commander'. He cried these words in a loud voice, then flung himself away from the ship and began to carry the Eagle towards the enemy. Then our men urged each other to prevent such a disgrace and all together jumped down from the ship. (GW 4.25; trans. Hammond 1996, 82)
Whitehead turns Caesar's nameless standard-bearer into the novel's fictive hero, Caius. Caius first encounters Caesar when, while still a boy, he has successfully fought off some robbers attempting to steal his sheep. The shepherd is impressed by the stranger who just then passes by in a chariot and inquires kindly about what has happened (Whitehead 1972, 19-20 and illustrated on 10; see fig. 7):
EX-niHis face was rather pale. A large nose, full firm lips, and dark piercing eyes were overhung by a forehead, broad and high. There were lines and seams, too, of power and set purpose. All together he was a man whose quick and vivid energy, bold determined will, and masterful intelligence caused Caius to feel at once that he would love and respect this man friendly to him, and would hate and fear him hostile. The young shepherd knew by instinct that he was in the presence of one who would spare none of his vast energy in executing the far-reaching plans which his august and massive intellect might conceive and his inflexible will determine.
Inspired by this encounter with the general, Caius becomes a soldier in the Roman army on service in Gaul. Meeting his imperator from time to time, Caius fights the Germans and the Nervii. Rising up the ranks to become a standard-bearer, he propels Caesar's hesitant legions onto British shores, and, promoted higher still to the rank of commander, our hero is taken prisoner by the Gauls and almost sacrificed to their gods. In this way, Julius Caesar's war commentary is translated into the story of a young boy's steady growth from shepherd to soldier to standard-bearer to commander. Caius's progress is clearly displayed in the novel's division into five books, the first four of which are entitled Pastor, Miles, Aquilifer, and Dux.
In the final book of the novel, Vir, Caius becomes a mature man of twenty-four who witnesses with his own eyes the surrender of the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix. The Standard Bearer closes with the hero's union in marriage to a Nervian princess, gifted to him by Caesar himself (Whitehead 1972, 293 and illustrated on 294; see fig. 8):
EX-ni"Here, fellow soldiers, is a rare jewel which I would bestow in marriage upon our young soldier and officer, Caius Volcatius Tullus. She is a Nervian princess, and he is a Roman patrician. They have been true to each other in the greatest danger, and have in turn saved each the other's life. Now may you all join me in wishing them long happiness in their mutual love." And there among the sights and sounds of war they were married in accordance with the good old Roman customs.
The novel concludes thereafter with the appointment of Caius as governor of Gaul, which he then rules with justice and moderation, spreading civilization to the new Roman province.
Following the nineteenth-century tradition of didacticism in children's literature, and the narrative structures that shaped the genre as both entertaining and instructive, the young characters and the young readers of The Standard Bearer are placed under the command of and trained according to the paternal adult voice of the book (whether that of Caesar or the author). The "real business" of such literature-whether about school or, as here, the army and empire-was to develop and socialize their boy heroes and their readers by putting on display and testing the foundations of an ideal masculine virtue. But, in the second decade of the twentieth century, this particular brand of juvenile historical novel works on three, rather than two, levels: it entertains, it instructs, and it enlivens second-year Latin. The fictional character learns and develops thanks to campaigning with Julius Caesar; the young reader will mature thanks to the adult author's depiction of that fictional sequence of events; and, by implication, the second-year student at high school will become a better person by means of the exercises and drills their Latin teacher assigns them based on the Gallic War. Now Latin is rendered highly relevant to American schoolboys (and, again, less directly so to American schoolgirls), because, in the novel, their set text has been converted into a story of growth from childhood to maturity, a rite of passage into society (here represented by the army and Roman government) and up into its highest levels of responsibility. The lessons of The Standard Bearer are loud and clear: reading Caesar's war commentaries will make you a man, virile, courageous, highly successful, civilized (and fully heterosexual).
Yet even a relatively imperceptive student in second-year Latin at high school might notice that, at times, they held in their hands quite different judgments on Julius Caesar, and that the lessons to be learned from the author, his works, and his Latin syntax might be of a darker, more subversive kind. In The Standard Bearer, for example, masculine virtue can conveniently take root and blossom in the person of the young hero, Caesar's namesake Caius, and remain there unsullied, for, soon after he enters the Roman army, the boy begins to walk a separate moral path from his commander. In the first book of the Gallic War (the Latin commentary from which the novel takes its inspiration), Caesar says that, after he laid down terms of surrender for the Helvetians, during that same night, 6,000 men who belonged to their canton of Verbigene broke out of the camp and made a break for German territories. Once they had been brought back, the general says of himself that he categorized them as enemies (reductos in hostium numero habuit, GW 1.28), while the Helvetians who had obediently remained behind in camp he permitted to surrender. Whitehead expands vividly on Caesar's original phrasing when he recounts how young Caius first took to soldiery (1972, 77):
The next morning Caius beheld a horror which he had not imagined possible. At the command of Caesar, unarmed, the Verbigenians were marched up to a line of legionaries, who stabbed them as they came, until rows and heaps of the huge stripe-clad bodies lay stiff and silent in great pools of their own blood.
And then pity awoke in the heart of the young Roman for his hated enemies, even the Gauls.
By the time Caius becomes a man and a Roman officer, after six years in the army of his ruthless commander, he realizes that "he had hated bloodshed and carnage more and more with each great battle he had seen. He heartily wished it could all be ended" (255-56). And, when the war finally does end, it is Caius (not Caesar) who is to be found ruling Gaul "with justness and moderation" (295).
Similarly, in Story of Caesar, Clarke insists that eminent authors have written with such admiration about the Roman general that he has entered the company of "the few, the immortal names." After narrating the death of his hero, in an appended chapter Clarke assembles substantial quotations from some of the most familiar idolaters of the nineteenth century: De Quincey ("Without Caesar there would have been no perfect Rome," 1898, 162), Mommsen ("He appeared to desire nothing but to be first among his equals," 166), and Froude ("He fought his battles to establish some degree of justice in the government of this world, and he succeeded, though he was murdered for it," 164). Yet littered throughout the same chapter are borrowings from other nineteenth-century authors whose vision of immortal Caesar turns out to be, in places, wholly antithetical to the biographer's own. For example, Clarke also cites a judgment of Julius Caesar's standing against two other statesmen of recent times:
EX-niWashington, who established and administered honestly a new government, was far inferior as a general to Caesar, who only lived long enough to destroy an old constitution. As a man, the American was immeasurably superior to the Roman, whose career may be better compared with that of the first Napoleon, not Caesar's superior in military ability, and greatly below him in nobleness of character.
Reading this, a student in second-year Latin might note that, whereas Caesar comes out tops in military matters, ethically he ranks a very poor second to noble Washington. Many much more damaging remarks are permitted to appear within the pages of Story of Caesar, including those of the headmaster of Rugby school, Thomas Arnold, on the appalling criminality of Caesar's slaughters during the Gallic and the civil wars (159-60): "If from the intellectual we turn to the moral character of Caesar, the whole range of history can hardly furnish a picture of greater deformity. Never did any man occasion so large an amount of human misery, with so little provocation."
Even in the classrooms of American high schools, the Latin teacher might occasionally speak out frankly against the author of the set text their second-year students were required to study. In the preface to his sermonizing work Caesar's Character or In Defense of the Standard of Mankind (1907), William Waddell recalls the occasion that spurred him to write it: "One day at high school, the instructor in Latin, speaking of Caesar, said: 'Caesar's character has never been satisfactorily explained, but undoubtedly he was one of the greatest monsters that ever lived.'" Encouraged by this memory of his teacher's contemptuous assessment, the writer then develops a counterattack against what he perceives to be the growing army of worshippers of Caesar and his modern counterpart, Napoleon. The author's stated purpose is to explain why the "standard of mankind" (what a man should be) must be maintained against the degenerate tastes of the failing nation, led down into luxury and pleasure by its ambition to make money (Waddell 1907, 26). We must conclude anew against the modern world's Caesarists, Waddell argues, that the character of their false hero stands, in fact, for the lowest type of man (169) and that he "owes the world a debt that only centuries in Hades could pay" (240).
Thus, in the early years of the twentieth century, many young Americans routinely encountered Julius Caesar as author of perfect Latin, maker of men, and civilizer of nations (both ancient and modern). Yet, at the same time, love of Caesar could be presented in many quarters-and even in American classrooms-as modern man's undoing and as sign of the nation's social and moral decline from the purity of its simple republican beginnings.
About the Book
“In her fine study ‘Caesar in the U.S.A.,’ the most recent installment of her long-standing interest in Caesar's afterlife, Maria Wyke surveys his roles and appearances in 20th-century American education, politics and culture. . . . Her wealth of materials, patiently collected, chronologically and topically presented, impressively demonstrates Caesar's varying significance. . . . ‘Caesar in the U.S.A.’ takes the reader for a long-distance cross-country joy ride.”—Christopher B. Krebs Wall Street Journal
“[Wyke] strikes exactly the right note in discussing the persistence and importance of Shakespeare’s play (Julias Caesar) in school curricula. . . . ‘Caesar in the U.S.A.’ exposes the complex legacy of ancient Rome to the American republic.”—Glen Bowersock Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
“A clear narrative. . . . Caesar’s evolving image influenced US political culture in ways that Wyke illustrates. . . . Highly recommended.”—R. I. Curtis, University of Georgia Choice
"Elegantly written."—Barbara Lawatsch Melton Journal of Roman Studies
"This book... a tremendous achievement... deserves to be a full title in the history of modern reflection on the impressive and never exhausted phenomenon of 'Caesarism'".—Luciano Canford Gnomon Bd.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Part I. Education
Part II. Political Culture
6. Presidential Power