Beware What Seems to Be

Beware What Seems to Be
Lent 27

I consider myself to be spiritual. I am also an educator, both by professional status at one time in my living and by character. I consider all of life to be a series of lessons through and by which we learn, evolve, and …well, live. Conversations surrounding spiritualism are not uncommon since I view my world through such. Having a conversation regarding such with a learned, ordained minister and one of my progeny was, therefore, not unusual. During the conversation which the minister interrupted to remark upon its sophistication and how pleasant it was to have a young person able to conduct such, my son repeated a quote regarding the subject of our conversation. The minister, this man with multiple advanced degrees, recognized by both theology and government, pondered pensively for a minute and then agreed with my child and asked: “Where in Scripture does that appear because I’ve forgotten? My son smiled and said he did not recall its exact location. Both agreed to its veracity and then looked at me. I replied: “I also agree with the truth of its intent but I’m not certain it qualifies as theological proof. It comes from the gospel of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Using a line from a song in “Jesus Christ, Superstar” might not be the greatest “proof”.”

Yesterday was March 15th or, at Shakespeare made it known – the Ides of March. Many of us have read Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”, and perhaps some of us were students of Roman antiquity and its history. The fact is that most of the world believes in error many things about the final days of Julius Caesar’s death. Actual facts do not always make the best dramas and yes, even in the time of Shakespeare, the documentary play was more histrionics than history. Do you know the facts about the Ides of March?

First of all, many believe Julius Caesar was not a military strategist due to his use of the very important soothsayer. Shakespeare is said to have employed the character of the soothsayer to illustrate the foreshadowing of Caesar’s death. He did and it worked quite well. Caesar’s habit of consulting with the soothsayer was in keeping with Roman tradition. The soothsayer’s name was Spurinna and he was an Etruscan. The Etruscans were a culture known for their divination, their spirituality, their wisdom. Spurinna had his fingers on the pulse of the wealthy and gave Caesar a warning to be on alert for the next thirty days.

The Romans had named for certain times of the month. The beginning was called the nodes; the end was known as the calends. The middle of the moth, which varied depending on the month, was called the ides. Spurinna’s warning was that he had found a bull with no heart on February 15th. Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome on March 18th to embark on another of his famous military campaigns. This one was slated to last over the course of several years. Caesar seeking the wisdom of the soothsayer before such an undertaking would have been expected in the Roman culture of their king. According to the timing of Spurinna’s find, the ides of March would have been the end…of the thirty days to be on alert.

It is true that Julius Caesar was assassinated and killed by a group of politicians. Caesar had changed the way Rome and its appointed officials did business. Prior to Julius Caesar, the governors, especially those of distant territories, could rule as they wished and that included taxing and plundering the pockets of their constituents. Caesar enacted strict laws and followed up to ensure they were being followed. Only state-sanctioned plundering was allowed under Caesar’s reign. Not everyone agreed. Cornell professor Barry Strauss wrote one of the most recent books on Caesar titled “The Death of Caesar”. In it, he discusses the complexity of how a politician thinks. “I think politicians don’t have a firewall between ideals and practical benefits,” Strauss says. “They think what’s good for the country is also good for themselves. The senators who joined the conspiracy against Caesar can sincerely say he was a threat to the republic and to them and their way of life.”

Caesar was a great military strategist and some might claim he was a great ruler. He was, however, a mere mortal and as such had mortal appetites which he indulged, not always in keeping with the monogamy aspect of his marriage. History is fairly confident in claiming one of Caesar’s mistresses had once been Servilia, the mother of the most famous of Senate assassins, Brutus. Servilia was also a mother-in-law to the second most famous assassin, Cassius. Perhaps the reasons for the killing were more personal than Shakespeare implied.

Julius Caesar was a military man, first and foremost. He had stayed home during the final days of the warning to appease his wife but on that last day, he was convinced by his best friend and fighting partner Decimus to leave his house and go to the Senate. Shakespeare pretty much ignores Decimus and relegates him to being a very minor character when in fact, he had fought alongside Caesar more times than anyone else. Caesar valued his strength in both battle and friendship, although Dr Strauss and other historians believe Decimus was the third co-conspirator along with Brutus and Cassius in the assassination.

Killed in front of a statue of his former enemy Pompey, with whom Brutus had fought until money and prestige convinced him to join Caesar, Julius Caesar died the death of a military man. He was not stabbed with the dramatic long swords of Shakespeare but with daggers the senators had concealed under their togas. He fought back, turning the portico area into the scene of a scrappy street brawl better suited to the alleys of New York City but when death became inevitable, he covered his face with his hands and died. It was the way military men were trained to die.

The period following his death was chaotic because the military genius of Julius Caesar lived on and the Senators could not gain the approval of the Roman military that had stood behind Caesar. They honored him in his death as they had in his life and held fast to his leadership. Remember, Caesar was about to embark on a multiyear military mission and he had many soldiers awaiting their departure on the outskirts of the city of Rome. Instead of the assassination heralding in a new republic, failure to engage and win over the military led the Roman Empire into a continuation of an emperor with Octavian (who became known as Augustus) becoming the new reigning power.

Unlike the portrait by Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Death of Caesar, there was no grand scene. A military man in his living, Caesar had provided for the Roman army in his will. Each soldier received, for following their leader all over the Empire into battle, an inheritance of sorts, a cash settlement which severely damaged the coffers of the Roman Empire. By killing Caesar, his assassins had bankrupted their government. What we all think we know about Julius Caesar is from a playwright, not a historian.

The same is true about so many things in life, things we consider to be sacred. We are now over halfway through our series on finding the sacred in our every day. What we must do is be aware of that which is true and that which is not. We cannot make false prophets sacred. That which we hold to be dear should be that which is truth. The ides of March are but a middle point, not a day of mysterious death. The greed that is around us every day just happened to boil over that day on one year. We will pass on as we have lived so it is important that we live with meaning, with purpose, with truth. Whether we are at the nodes of a period of our living or at the calends, how we live is up to us. When we focus on the positive, we will see the positive. Life is a perception and no one has everything. We create the sacred in what we have when we give it value and recognize it has importance. All life has value and it can be valued, respected, and honored when we see it as it really is and can be.


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