Bust of Julius Caesar

A Museum Hails Caesar, Even if Some Antiquarians Don’t Agree

ARLES, France — Dredged up from the murky depths of the Rhône River, beneath a heap of wrecked cars, rotting tires and more than 20 centuries of silt, the statue’s white marble visage was plain as day.

“My God, it’s Caesar!” Luc Long remembers shouting after his team of archaeologists and divers discovered the statue in 2007.

The Roman appears with little hair, a wrinkled forehead, a prominent Adam’s apple and features that, for Mr. Long, “seem carved in human flesh.” But Mr. Long did not realize at the time that he had discovered what he said was “the first portrait made of Caesar when he was alive.” The bust, which France’s Culture Ministry now dates from 46 B.C., is thought to be the only known surviving statue of Julius Caesar carved during his lifetime.

Historians say images of a contemporaneous Caesar are rare — they are generally idealized versions, produced after his assassination two years later, in 44 B.C. — so the sudden news of the bust’s emergence led some of them to question its authenticity.

Christian Goudineau, a French historian who lectures on Julius Caesar at the prestigious Collège de France in Paris, was caught off guard when Mr. Long told him of the discovery. “I was bewildered,” he recalled.

Some colleagues, he said, have suggested that the Caesar found in the Rhône does not resemble the Caesar usually shown, and that the statue might more likely portray a noble from Arles, a city founded by the Romans. One skeptic, Mary Beard, a classics professor at Cambridge, pointed out in her blog for Times Online, affiliated with The Times of London: “This style of portraiture lasted for centuries at Rome. There is nothing at all to suggest that it came from 49-46 B.C.”

After more than two years of restoration and identification, the bust now sits on a white platform in a museum, part of a collection of some 700 items found in the Rhône over the last 20 years that was inaugurated last month at the Musée Départmental de l’Arles Antique. Le Monde described the exhibit, called “Caesar: The Rhône as Memory,” as “one of the most clever and beautiful exhibits of the last 30 years.”

The display includes a rare third-century, six-foot-tall marble carving of the god Neptune an undated bas-relief of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory, covered with gold leaf and a bronze of a captured barbarian with his hands tied behind his back, presumably awaiting his fate.

The bust is thought to have been carved to honor Caesar as a patron of Arles, a city he used as a base for his campaign against his rival, Pompey, for leadership of the Roman Empire.

Mr. Goudineau said that he thought the bust showed the same face as that of the Caesar on Roman coins he dismissed the arguments presented by those who questioned the bust’s depiction. “Which noble from Arles would order a bust of himself made in the best, the most expensive and rare marble, and ship it by boat?” he asked.

Mr. Long wrote a 20-page essay on the bust’s origins for the exhibition’s catalog. And he has brought international experts to Arles to study his discovery.

For Claude Sintes, the director of the Arles museum, Mr. Long’s findings could fundamentally shift historians’ understanding of the importance of Arles, “an intensively Romanized port where the Romans wanted to spread their power,” he said.

The sculpture of Nike, which has its original varnish and gold covering, decorated a government building, while the bronze sculpture of the barbarian is said to be part of an imperial statue.

“We might discover that Arles was much more extensive than we thought and more economically powerful than we could have imagined,” Mr. Sintes said, adding that it was too early to draw further conclusions.

Mr. Goudineau, the historian, said, “Arles was twice bigger than what we thought.”

Like many of his colleagues, he said he believed that the discoveries brought to light the Roman past of a neighborhood of Arles called Trinquetaille on the right bank of the Rhône.

“I was convinced that there was something on the other side of the river,” he added, citing Ausonius, a Latin poet from the fourth century A.D. who referred to Arles as “the double Arles.”

For an experienced archaeologist and scuba diver like Mr. Long, who grew up in Arles, the Rhône is an unexpected treasure-trove.

“I worked in Libya, Malta and Gabon,” he said in an interview. “But the exceptional discoveries — I made them just outside my window.”

The Rhône is “a gloomy world,” he said. “It offers no visibility, a strong current, a lot of pollution, a constant flow of boats and regular attacks from brown bullheads,” fish commonly called mud pouts. The filthy water has been known to cause a variety of infections and ailments, including ear inflammation.

But Mr. Long also believes that the Rhône has a secret power. “It preserves wood, limestone and marble better than any sea,” he said. The river also has “none of the abrasiveness of sea sand, and the current always runs in the same direction.”

In 1986, he dived with a friend who took him down 30 feet, to a spot rich with artifacts. For 20 years, joined by a crew of 20 art history students and professional divers, he dived several times a day, recovering hundreds of Roman vases and amphorae. He thought there would be no other treasures to explore.

But in fall 2007 came the “miracle finding,” he said, the discovery of the bust and the Neptune.

Mr. Sintes, the museum director, is convinced that the Rhône will continue to offer up marvels. “If the next discovery is Cleopatra,” he said, smiling, “we will have to extend the museum.”

Learn about the life and career of Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, (born July 12/13, 100 bce , Rome—died March 15, 44 bce , Rome), Celebrated Roman general, statesman, and dictator. A patrician by birth, he held the prominent posts of quaestor and praetor before becoming governor of Farther Spain in 61–60. He formed the First Triumvirate with Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus in 60 and was elected consul in 59 and proconsul in Gaul and Illyria in 58. After conducting the Gallic Wars, during which he invaded Britain (55, 54) and crossed the Rhine (55, 53), he was instructed by the Senate to lay down his command, Senate conservatives having grown wary of his increasing power, as had a suspicious Pompey. When the Senate would not command Pompey to give up his command simultaneously, Caesar, against regulations, led his forces across the Rubicon River (49) between Gaul and Italy, precipitating the Roman Civil War. Pompey fled from Italy but was pursued and defeated by Caesar in 48 he then fled to Egypt, where he was murdered. Having followed Pompey to Egypt, Caesar became lover to Cleopatra and supported her militarily. He defeated Pompey’s last supporters in 46–45. He was named dictator for life by the Romans. He was offered the crown (44) but refused it, knowing the Romans’ dislike for kings. He was in the midst of launching a series of political and social reforms when he was assassinated in the Senate House on the ides of March by conspirators led by Cassius and Brutus. His writings on the Gallic and Civil wars are considered models of classical historiography.

Ancient bust of Julius Caesar found in river

Last night I was thinking about the tearing down of statues of disgraced people and began thinking about the Romans. The slave trade was very much a part of Roman society and there must be thousands of artifacts that would fail the “Coulston” test. I started searching and stumbled across this fascinating story of a bust of Julius Caesar.

The ancient bust was discovered in 2008 at the bottom of the river Rhône in France. They think it was made between 49 and 46BC and is possibly the only bust made of Caesar while he was alive. Although, I should add, there is some dispute that it really is Caesar. No one knows how it ended up at the botttom of the river but it’s entirely possible that if it is Caesar, it was thrown into the river after his assassination.

Let’s assume that we know for certain this is Julius Caesar. We know he traded slaves. Once he sold an entire population, some 53,000 people, of a region he’d conquered to slave traders. Is it right to put a marble statue of a man like that on display? The sculpture is so detailed. The skin on his neck looks pliable despite being made from marble. He looks like a man in his 40s or 50s with a receding hairline and more interestingly, a haircut not so dissimilar from men today. There are no pupils in the eyes and the nose looks a little unsymmetrical. Whoever made it was truly talented.


We rob future generations of this type of history, art, and culture from our past when we dispose of relics like this. We don’t have to approve of what he did to want to preserve the bust.

I understand that the crimes of people like Coulston have left scars that are still raw today and that these trigger our emotions in ways that Julius Caesar no longer can. But time will pass and heal those wounds. We can’t change people like Caesar and Coulston and what they did but we can educate ourselves about shameful aspects of history and change our own society and future for the better.

The only statues we should be throwing in the river are The Weeping Angels from Doctor Who … if they ever turn out to be real.

The Forum of Julius Caesar

The Forum Iulium was the first of the so‑called imperial fora, begun by Julius Caesar and designed, not for a market, but to provide a centre for business of other kinds. The plan of this forum had been conceived as early as 54 B.C., for in that year Cicero and Oppius engaged in purchasing land for Caesar from private owners, and had already paid sixty million sesterces. More land was acquired afterwards, and the final cost is said to have been one hundred million sesterces, a sum perhaps exaggerated.

Forum of Julius Caesar Reconstruction

Work was probably begun in 51, during Caesar’s absence in Gaul. At the battle of Pharsalus Caesar vowed a temple to Venus Genetrix, the mythical ancestress of the Julian gens, and proceeded to build it in the centre of his forum, which thus became in effect a porticus surrounding the temple, a type followed in all the later fora. Temple and forum were dedicated on the last day of Caesar’s great triumph, 26th September, 46 B.C., although the forum was not finished by Caesar, but by Octavianus after the dictator’s death. In the forum Caesar allowed the erection of a statue of himself wearing a cuirass, and he himself dedicated a statue of his horse with ‘humanis similes pedes priores’, on which the dictator was mounted. In front of the temple stood a fountain surrounded by nymphs, called Appiades. The forum was burned in 283 A.D. and restored by Diocletian. While the official designation was forum Iulium it appears regularly in our sources as forum Caesaris.

The Statue of Julius Caesar in the Forum of Julius may have been similar to this statue

The temple of Venus was pycnostyle and built of solid marble. The statue of Venus Genetrix by Arcesilas, which Caesar set up, in foro Caesaris, was probably in the cella of the temple. Caesar also placed in the temple two paintings by Timomachus, Ajax and Medea a gilded statue of Cleopatra six dactyliothecae or collections of engraved gems and a thorax adorned with British pearl. Later, Augustus is stated to have set up in the temple a statue of the deified Julius with a star above his head, although some scholars believe that this is a mistake for the temple of divus Iulius in the forum.

A colossal statue was erected near the temple in honour of Tiberius by fourteen cities of Asia Minor which had been relieved by him after the earthquakes of 17 and 23 A.D., with personifications of them on its base: and a copy of this in relief was found at Puteoli.

A statue of Drusilla was erected in the temple after her death.

The Forum of Julius Caesar

The forum Iulium was rectangular, about 115 metres long and 30 wide, surrounded by a colonnade and wall. Its main axis ran north-west to south-east, corresponding with that of the curia Iulia which adjoined it at the south corner. On this axis the temple was built, facing south-east. All that remains of the forum is part of the enclosure wall of peperino on the south-west side (Via delle Marmorelle 29), 12 metres high and 3.70 thick, and some small vaulted chambers or tabernae opening into the corridor of the forum through a row of peperino arches with Anio tufa piers and travertine imposts. Of the temple of Venus, excavations in the sixteenth century brought to light portions of the foundations of peperino and travertine, and fragments of columns and frieze. At this time Palladio and Labacco drew a plan and reconstruction from what was then visible, representing a peripteral octostyle structure with very narrow intercolumniations. A piece of the architrave still exists in the Villa Medici.

Caesar: A Historical Overview

RRC 458
Obverse: Head of Venus right, wearing diadem. Border of dots.
Reverse: Aeneas left, carrying palladium in right hand and Anchises on left shoulder on right, CAESAR downwards. Border of dots.

The 'Marius' Statue (Munich Glyptothek)

RRC 443
Obverse: Elephant right, trampling dragon in exergue, CAESAR. Border of dots.
Reverse: Pontifical emblems &ndash culullus, aspergillum, axe and apex. Border of dots.

RRC 480/4
Obverse: Wreathed head of Caesar right, behind crescent before, CAESAR·IM downwards behind P M upwards. Border of dots.
Reverse: Venus left, holding Victory in right hand and sceptre in left hand behind, L·AEMILIVS downwards before, BVCA upwards. Border of dots.

C. Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC to a patrician family who had recently regained some political influence through an advantageous marriage between his aunt Julia and the famous general C. Marius. His family traced its history back to the first kings of Rome as well as to Venus and Aeneas (RRC 458).

Caesar was initially married to the daughter of Marian supporter L. Cornelius Cinna and appointed Flamen Dialis in 87 BC, an important priesthood, but one that prevented further political advancement. The rise to dominance of Sulla, the chief opponent of Marius, put Caesar in an untenable situation. In 82 BC he was stripped of his role as Flamen Dialis, and ordered to divorce his Marian wife Cornelia. Caesar refused. He subsequently spent his next ten years in Asia studying and gaining military distinctions including the corona civica.

After the death of Sulla in 78 BC, Caesar prosecuted Sullan supporters, winning fame as an orator. In 73 BC he became a pontifex and in 69 BC he was elected as quaestor. The death of his wife and aunt before his departure to Spain allowed him to advertise his family and political inheritance through his aunt's funeral oration (Suet, Div. Iul. 6.1). It was at her funeral that he displayed as an image of Marius thus clearly affirming his political affiliations. Upon his return to Rome Caesar supported Pompey's extraordinary commands against the pirates and the war against Mithridates VI in 67-66 BC. At the same time Caesar won the favour of L. Licinius Crassus, who provided him financial support, particularly in his aedileship in 65 BC. This support provided Caesar with funds for large-scale bribery in the elections of 63 BC, when he obtained the office of Pontifex Maximus.

In 62 BC, while praetor, Caesar was embroiled in religious controversy. The presence of P. Clodius Pulcher at the exclusively female festival of the Bona Dea (held on Caesar's property) caused Caesar to divorce his second wife Pompeia to avoid suspicion of impropriety. He travelled to Spain as a propraetor heavy with debt. Through warfare and subsequent booty in his year in Spain Caesar cleared his debts and won a triumph for his success against the independent Spanish tribes. He was, however, forced to choose between the triumph and election to the consulship. To ensure his election to the consulship Caesar rallied support from Pompey and Crassus. Caesar's consulship in 59 BC proved difficult owing to his hostile partner in office M. Calpurnius Bibulus.

The use of illegal methods during his consulship forced Caesar to continue his alliance with Pompey and Crassus to avoid prosecution. The alliance was sealed with Pompey's marriage to Caesar’s daughter Julia and in turn, Caesar's marriage to Calpurnia, the daughter of L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, consul in 58 BC. From this alliance, Caesar gained the proconsulship of Illyricum, Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul for five years. During this time he successfully waged war in Gaul, providing him with money, prestige and loyal soldiers. In 56 BC after attempts to recall Caesar for prosecution, Pompey, Caesar and Crassus met at Luca to renew their alliance. Caesar's command was extended while Crassus and Pompey were to govern Syria and Spain respectively. To achieve this Pompey and Crassus were to be co-consuls in 55 BC. However the deaths of Julia in 54 BC and Crassus in 53 BC gave Pompey the impetus to break his alliance with Caesar. In 49 BC, ostentatiously to protect the tribunate, but in reality to avoid prosecution, Caesar crossed the Rubicon and began a civil war.

During the war, Caesar held many political and military offices traceable on his coinage. He first began to mint coins in his own name upon his return to Rome in 49 BC (RRC 443) and continued to mint until his death in 44 BC. Caesar quickly regained control of Italy and pursued Pompey and his supporters to Greece. He defeated Pompey at Pharsalus in 48 BC. Caesar pursued him to Egypt, where he met Cleopatra VII and helped her to secure the throne. Caesar then left Egypt to reorganise the eastern provinces and defeat Pharnaces II, King of Bosporus, at Zela in September 47 BC. Meanwhile the death of Pompey did not mean the end of the Republican cause. Republican strongholds in Africa and Spain continued to provide resistance. Caesar finally obtained control of Africa and returned to Rome in September 46 BC to celebrate four triumphs. While he celebrated his victories, Pompey's sons Gnaeus and Sextus raised thirteen legions in Spain. Caesar defeated their forces at Munda in March 45 BC. He returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph for his victory and was awarded many honours including dictatorship for life and the title parens patriae. In 44 BC his portrait appeared on Roman coinage (RRC 480/4).

Caesar's power and unrivalled position created many enemies amongst his peers. While outwardly rejecting the title rex, Caesar adopted some of the symbols of monarchy, such as the dress and ornaments of the Roman kings. His monopoly of power led to his assassination on 15 March 44 BC, at the hands of a large group of men, including Cassius and Brutus, who believed his death would restore the republic. However, the death of Caesar led to unrest and further civil war. Antony, Lepidus, and Caesar's adopted son Octavian, fought over Caesar's legacy. Antony and Octavian used Caesar's image and their relationship with him to build support from his veteran armies. In November 43 BC the three men joined forces to consolidate their power, and through the lex Titia formed the Triumviri Rei Publicae Constituendae (III VIR RPC, the three men for the restoration of the republic). Once their power was established they undertook a campaign to punish the assassins of Caesar. The main body of conspirators had fled to Greece and Macedonia where they attempted to gain support for the restoration of Libertas. In 42 BC Antony and Octavian defeated the republican forces at Philippi, finally avenging the murder of Caesar.

The Valiant Caesar

The history of Rome can not exist without a name called Caesar in its timeline. He can be depicted to all ages for all the qualities he exhibited in his reign. The word Caesar originates from the family of Julius Caesar, who became a dictator, when Rome was still a republic.

A Bust of Julius Caesar (Image source: Wikipedia)

Who Was Julius Caesar?

A skillful swordsman, a great orator, an efficient politician and an eminent ruler, that’s what the world calls him, Julius Caesar, an eminent personality, whose name became synonymous with Rome and with the Roman emperors. He is considered as the most famous of all the Roman emperors . He was not an emperor, rather a dictator who acted as a beacon for ages.

Gaius Julius Caesar, is the perfect Latin Roman name people consider. He was born in Rome on 12 July 100 BC , in a patrician family, the gens Julia, claimed to be descendant from Lulus, son of the Trojan prince Aeneas.

His father, Gaius Julius Caesar, ruled the province of Asia, and his mother Aurelia Cotta, came from an aristocratic family. Caesar’s aunt married Gaius Marius, one of the most eminent persons of Roman history, responsible for many reforms.

The Julian-Claudian dynasty lasted from 27 BC to AD 68. The famous Julius Caesar belonged to this dynasty and others include Augustus Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.

Childhood and early life of Julius Caesar:

Caesar was taught by Antonius Gnipho of Italy. The surroundings of Caesar included his uncle’s friends, soldiers and statesmen, who were selfish and considered to be dangerous. When he was 15 years old, his father died, with him died his expectations that Caesar should engage on political career. Caesar tried to better himself, and he set out to prove his worth to the world.

Caesar used his first marriage to build his political career, by marrying a woman from an influenced network. He began building a network of connections, of which some included politicians, out of favour and the nineteen year old Caesar paid the price of getting arrested. Sulla, the dictator of Rome spared him, like the way he did for others and some influential friends of Caesar managed him to get released. To make thing settle, he had to leave Rome for a while.

Military career and the Island of Rhodes:

Caesar, entered his military career with the posting of a military assistant to a provincial governor. Then he was posted to Cilicia, where he exhibited his courage by saving a comrade and its believed that his next assignment was among the soldiers against Spartacus slave rebellion.

Later, Caesar left the army and had spent time in Italy, improving his education. He decided to spend the winter on the island of Rhodes, but unfortunately the ship taking him there went under the control of pirates, who held him hostage for about 40 days, until a large amount bought his freedom. Burgundus, Caesar’s favourite slave brought the money from the city and held him free. Later, Caesar crucified all the pirates, according to the sources of history. During the time he was captured, Caesar exhibited his fearlessness which proved him to be famous later. He joked with the pirates that he is going to pin down every pirate, if untied and accordingly, the same happened after he got released from them.

Caesar returns:

Mean while, the conditions in the city of Rome changed and Caesar returned to Rome, to set his political career. As fate decided, his wife died and determined Caesar again went into a politically useful marriage. Though he divorced her basing on suspicion of adultery and it later got proved to be false. Caesar achieved the post of aedile and he used it for various political purposes. He used bribes, public shows, games and contests to gain popularity. This character of Caesar drew many against him to make foes and Caesar minded little about them.

Later, he bribed to enter in to the office of Pontifex Maximus (chief priest) in a religious post, and acquired the sheer status of a powerful position.

The First Triumvirate:

In 59 BC, proving himself as a capable ruler, Caesar formed a pact with two of the most prominent Romans forming The First Triumvirate, that later helped Caesar to achieve his goal of electing to consul, the highest office of Rome. The other two people in the triumvirate were the rich banker Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius or better known as Pompey.

Crassus had started his career as a colonel in Sulla’s army and earned large amount of money in his regime. As praetor, Crassus had crushed the revolt of Spartacus and later got involved in Catiline conspiracies.

Pompey was leading general in the city of Rome. He also started his career in Sulla’s army and later suppressed the risings of Marius in Spain and helped Crassus in suppressing the revolt of Spartacus. He annexed Syria, conquered Jerusalem and there by doubled Rome’s capital income.

The three had benefited equally from the formation of the triumvirate and entered into inter marriages in the triumvirate. Pompey married Caesar’s daughter Julia, Caesar married Calpurnia, the daughter of Piso, a very close friend of Crassus.

Governor of Gaul and The battle of Alesia:

Before his one year of consul term expires, Caesar has to defend himself from his enemies by acquiring a position in an office and fortunately, with the sudden death of Governor of Gaul, he obtained the Governorship. Gaul consisted of south of Alps and east of Appenines till the river Rubicon.

Caesar, perfected himself in the art of war fare. This is evident from various facts that he defeated the tribe of Helvetians, Germans, the Nervii and his attacks on Germany and Britan.

In 52 BC, Gaul rose against its conqueror and the Arveni chief, Vercingetorix, allied with other tribes of Gaul against Rome. Caesar, immediately, launched attacks on the allies, eliminating the enemies, one after the other.

Vercingetorix, instead of waiting for the right time, made a fatal error of attacking Caesar’s army and loose by the hands of Caesar. Later the battle has taken place ferociously between the two with innumerable infantry and cavalry against twenty five thousand infantry and eight thousand cavalry of Caesar’s army (though numbers are not confirmed). Mind games of Caesar had worked very well for the army, confusing the enemies, Caesar carved his name on the battle of Alesia, 52 BC.

Oratory skills:

Great leaders are often great orators. This has been proved in the case of Caesar. His oratory skills can be depicted from various situations that proved him as a convincing orator. One such include the funeral of his aunt Julia. It was obvious that eminent persons make on oration at the funeral and Caesar utilized it to show his excellence. He threw pride on his aunt’s character descending one side form the gods and the other from kings.

Assassination of Julius Caesar:

The dictatorship was the reason for Julius Caesar’s assassination, most people presume. The conspiracy against him grew larger and the assassination plans were set up for March 15, 44 BC , ides of March, when Caesar would meet the senate. Republic was the main aim of the conspirators and it is believed that there were twenty men in the conspiracy.

Caesar entered the Senate, Trebonius interrupted Mark Antony with a conversation and as Caesar approached senators, the conspirators stabbed Caesar twenty times. It is presumed that Caesar, uttered the words of “ET TU BRUTE” (And you too, Brutus?) , addressing Brutus for his backstabbing and could not believe that Brutus could do such a thing to him. There ends Caesar’s life followed by oration of the conspirator for Republic restoration of Rome. Later, Octavian and Antony went on against Brutus and other conspirators to avenge the death of Caesar.

Great people are often assassinated despite of the ideals, they followed and the service they had provided to their country and the case of Caesar is no exception.

Julius Caesar has changed the face of Roman empire and set an example not only to the future Roman emperors, but also to the emperors of the world. Two years after his death, Caesar was formally declared as a god DivusIulius (divine Julius).

The Julius Caesar bust discovered in Arles in 2007

In September-October 2007 divers led by Luc Long from the French Department of Subaquatic Archaeological Research, headed by Michel L'Hour, discovered a life-sized marble bust of an apparently important Roman person in the Rhone River in Arles, together with smaller statues of Marsyas in Hellenistic style and of the god Neptune from the third century AD.

The larger bust was tentatively dated to 46 BC. Since the bust displayed several characteristics of an ageing person with wrinkles, deep naso-labial creases and hollows in his face, and since the archaeologists believed that Julius Caesar had founded the colony Colonia Iulia Paterna Arelate Sextanorum in 46 BC, the scientists came to the preliminary conclusion that the bust depicted a life-portrait of the Roman dictator: France's Minister of Culture Christine Albanel reported on May 13, 2008, that the bust would be the oldest representation of Caesar known today.
The story was picked up by all larger media outlets.

The Julius Caesar bust discovered in Arles

The realism of the portrait was said to place it in the tradition of late Republican portrait and genre sculptures. The archaeologists further claimed that a bust of Julius Caesar might have been thrown away or discreetly disposed of, because Caesar's portraits could have been viewed as politically dangerous possessions after the dictator's assassination.

The bust of Julius Caesar is exposed at the Arles Museum of Antiquity


Abbott, J. 1849. History of Julius Caesar . Gutenberg.

Canfora, L. 2007. Julius Caesar, the Life and Times of the People’s Dictator . University of California Press.

Crompton, S. 2013. Julius Caesar . Infobase Learning.

Freeman, P. 2008. Julius Caesar . Simon & Schuster.

Gelzer, M. 1968. Caesar: Politician and Statesman . Harvard University Press.

Stevenson, T. 2015. Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic . Routledge.

Thorne, J. 2003. Julius Caesar: Conqueror and Dictator . Rosen Central.

Wiseman, T. 2018. Julius Caesar, Roman General . Cavendish Square.

Wyke, M. 2006. Julius Caesar in Western Culture . Blackwell Publishing.

The Bust of Caesar

About 20 years ago my wife and I were walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when, at the end of a corridor, I came upon a bust of Julius Caesar. It was made about 500 years ago by Andrea Ferrucci. He seemed so real, I felt a jolt when I saw him.

The statue portrays Caesar at the age of 45 or 50, showing some wrinkles, but still quite vigorous. He’s a good looking man: thin, broad forehead, direct eyes, beautiful Roman nose, nice mouth, smallish jaw with a slightly prominent chin and a long neck. He’s wearing a magnificent breastplate with a screaming Medusa — to turn his enemies to stone, presumably — and a Roman eagle.

But it’s the expression Ferrucci gave Caesar that really impressed me. He has his head a little cocked as if he’s curious and amused. His eyes are intense, with creases at the corners and he is looking off to one side as if something had gotten his attention. His mouth is a little compressed, as if he is in control of himself. Overall he looks confident and composed, but also as if he is able to see the humor in things. He seems self-aware and self-assured.

Because of its casual posture and carved-in pupils and irises, the bust looks less stiff than most other statues, more natural. Yet it is a masterpiece of stylization. Ferrucci’s Caesar is idealized, compared to the traditional representation of the dictator as balding and maybe a bit past his prime. But the expression represents a triumph of characterization. I don’t know whether it is what Julius Caesar was actually like, but it is definitely the image of some kind of greatness.

The real Julius Caesar is not a hero of mine. He had many virtues, but he was an agent of Rome’s loss of freedom. The person in the bust, however, is a hero to me. You look at him and say “There is a man.” Nietzsche thought the real Caesar was a superman. I’m not sure I buy that concept, but this depiction does make the idea plausible.

However, it’s not greatness or heroism per se that most fascinates me about the bust. It’s another quality, which I have trouble pinning down. I call it the “exquisite.” It refers to a kind of perfection of character, so particular that it could be real and at the same time almost archetypal.

For example, the character of Howard Roark, in The Fountainhead, is exquisite. It’s not that he’s morally perfect he keeps helping Keating, for example, when he shouldn’t. And it’s not that he’s psychologically perfect, either. Actually Roark is practically a freak. We’re talking about a man who is surprised to find himself thinking about a woman the day after he has sex with her for the first time.

He’s interesting because he’s a freak. What makes him special is he does not start out all tangled up with other people as the rest of us are. He has to learn to be connected. That learning process is an exquisite thing to watch.

Caesar was morally ambiguous and Roark was good, but I even appreciate, if that’s the right word, exquisiteness in the portrayal of evil. In The Fountainhead, Ellsworth Toohey and Gail Wynand are both exquisite characters. Toohey gets the best dialogue Rand ever wrote. Wynand gets the second best.

Also on the evil side, I love Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Ever since the movie came out in 1972, Don Corleone has had a grip on the American mind. For a while, all young men had a Godfather impression. That’s because people sensed, without having the concept, that he was exquisite.

Interestingly, there’s a connection between Corleone and Caesar. According to the novel, Vito chose a path of crime because he refused to have his greatness crushed by a corrupt society. Furthermore, given his criminal behavior, Corleone is actually quite reasonable, and his evil deeds are tempered by his “family values.”

Corleone is also somewhat similar to Wynand, and both are romanticized notions of bad people. Real criminals, of course, are not generally so pure in their motives and are not exquisite.

All the examples I have discussed so far have been great men, in the sense of being larger-than-life human beings of superior ability. But an exquisite character need not be great in this sense, nor a man.

Take for example the character of Ripley as portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in the first Alien movie. She is a thinking person. She is not reactive. She is healthily assertive with the men on the spaceship. But she’s just a second officer on a towing vessel.

Still, I look at her and say “There is a woman!” And it’s not just the climactic duel between her and the alien that makes me say so. She’s admirable throughout the story. Sure, it’s just science fiction, but her character is still indelible.

Ripley is still impressive as a great survivor, even if she is not a “great woman” in a general sense. But greatness need not be a feature of the exquisite character at all. Take another of my favorite film personages: Jean Brodie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The story concerns a teacher at a private school for girls in 1930s Scotland. Jean tries to make her charges into something above the run of the mill, tries to bring some refinement into their lives. Unfortunately, this includes showing slides of her Italian vacation when she is supposed to be teaching history. Even more unfortunately, it includes her sharing her admiration for the Italian dictator Mussolini.

Jean is what I call a “pretender.” She adopts a false sense of life, not as a pose for others, but to try to become something she’s not. (I write at length about the pretender type in my forthcoming book Killing Cool.) The false sense of life that Jean adopts is one of “sophistication.” She believes in art and that all of her little girls are “the crème de la crème.” Jean, played artfully by Maggie Smith, is an exquisite example of the pretender.

But even Jean Brodie is still a formidable person. Exquisiteness can co-exist with vulnerability, too, and then it becomes a thing so piquant that it’s breathtaking. Look at this painting. It’s the sketch for “Alone Together,” and it’s by realist painter Maria Kreyn, who is based in New York.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what I love about this painting. I tried to look at it as I did the bust of Caesar. The woman is comforting the man, her fingers in his hair as he lays his head in the crook of her neck. She is not looking at him. She is looking off to one side, like Caesar, but I don’t think she’s looking at something specific. I think she’s looking at a source of her own private sorrow. She may share that sorrow with the man, but the pain is her own.

She is vulnerable, not controlled: her lips are parted. He skin is very pale and delicate, also a sign of vulnerability. She almost looks as if she is going to cry, but she doesn’t look like she’s breaking down. She just looks like she’s living with it, whatever it is. She seems present to her feelings.

Now I certainly don’t worship pain. But this woman is beautiful in her suffering. I almost imagine that this is a couple who has lost a child.

Some sadness is part of life. The only way you can avoid it is to withdraw from caring in a stoical or Buddhist fashion or to adopt some kind of Pollyannaish “It all happens for the best” attitude. But how much more life-affirming is it to face pain and go on? This painting shows us the answer to that question. That is its gift.

It’s very difficult for me to describe exactly what exquisiteness is and why I am in love with. It’s almost a cognitive thing rather than a moral quality: I love the perfect example of some human quality, even if it is not a morally admirable or happy quality. I love how a representation of a person can mix unexpected, even paradoxical, qualities and not come out just a muddle. I don’t belong to the cult of moral grayness, but freakish, ambiguous and even evil characters can be exquisitely subtle and therefore cognitively engaging.

Good art shows us what is possible for human beings, for better or worse. The best art gives us not just an abstraction of a single characteristic but a concretized embodiment of that trait, with all the individual notes. Roark is not an allegory of independence, but a fully realized person, freakish in his separateness, loyal to the earth, naïve at the novel’s opening when it comes to people. The unexpected, yet logical, juxtaposition of these traits and many others makes him seem real and at the same time becomes a whole too integrated to reduce to a philosophical abstraction.

I would compare exquisiteness to Rand’s concept of a “sense of life.” One could say that a person has a joyous or a tragic sense of life, just as one could say that Roark embodies the virtue of independence. But the individual notes that make a person unrepeatable would be missing. The joyous person always has something else going on, too: something a little mischievous, some silent wonder, a patient wisdom. And so it is with the exquisite character that’s what makes him a presence.

The exquisite is a dimension of beauty that counts for a lot, sometimes even more than classical beauty or the sublime or even a moral ideal. The exquisite promises us that we will not fizzle out into a tepid gray puddle, but will continue to be interesting and alive. The exquisite energizes the mind by showing it what subtleties it is capable of grasping.

Human beings are the most fascinating thing in the known universe. Their specialness is prior to philosophy and, in a way, transcends it. Look at how Rand’s positive characters struggle to find philosophy. They are already something beautiful, if sometimes tortured, before they do find it. Roark never does find a full-fledged philosophy, just some isolated bits of truth. Ah, but there is a man!

We need to remind ourselves that philosophy serves life, not the other way around. Philosophy helps our natural inclinations find their proper ends, but those natural inclinations and our passion for living do not descend from philosophy — they motivate it. This way of looking at things leads to passion, and it is passion that makes one want to live, rather than merely not wanting to die.

The Reader’s Digest used to run a feature called “My Most Unforgettable Character.” At the risk of trivializing my meaning, I will say that that’s what I’m talking about: the most distinctive and impressive kinds of human beings, good or bad, happy or sad, pure or mixed. Such characters provide us with reassurance that we as a species are not ordinary, drab, and merely “nice.” They are pinnacles.

I’d like to know what you think. Do you believe in the idea of an unforgettable character who transcends good and bad? Was Francis Bacon right when he said, “There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion”? Please leave a message about one of your most unforgettable characters.

Watch the video: Pawn Stars: RARE Julius Caesar Bust is PURE SILVER Season 18. History (January 2022).