Caesar: A Biography

Caesar: A Biography

by Christian Meier

As politician and diplomat, writer and lover, but above all as a military genius, Julius Caesar is one of the perennially fascinating figures in historyBoswell called him the greatest man of any age. Christian Meier's authoritative and accessible biography is the definitive modern account of Caesar's life and career, setting Caesar's life story against the rich political and social background of the Late Roman Republic.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Biography
  • Rating: 3.93
  • Pages: 544
  • Publish Date: January 31st 1997 by Basic Books
  • Isbn10: 046500895X
  • Isbn13: 9780465008957

What People Think about "Caesar: A Biography"

Interesting, controversial account of Caesar This is written by a German Classics professor and though it's pitched as a book for the general reader, it assumes quite a lot of knowledge about Rome and its politics.

- Meier doesnt seem to be really in his element until he gets to the start of Caesars political career, and that is more than 100 pages into the book. His descriptions of e.g. the Gracchi, the Catiline conspiracy and even Sulla are rather sketchy, though to Meier I suppose they are mostly of interest as "outsiders" among which he includes Caesar; one of his main arguments - and he does a good job of delineating the dynamics of this (relative) "outsider" status. He develops his main argument of Caesar as an "outsider" persistenly throughout the pages of his book, and provides a many-faceted picture of this, by any standard, exceptional man and leader of men. He never thought to convince his opponents." (259) It took me a while to get used to Meiers style of writing; he occasionally poses a whole series of rhetorical questions; he builds up his argument(s) slowly and persistently (again that aforementioned Gründlichkeit), though when I first got used to it, I found it an engaging approach. It reads a bit like a Greek drama, where everything moves ahead in the way it does simply because it must happen that way not so entirely Greek as to include the involvement of the Gods (though just that aspect certainly would have held meaning to Caesar himself, and Meier acknowledges that), but because of the dynamics "on the ground". The total effect of their interaction always far exceeds what they settle between themselves." (348) Meier then goes on to quote Montesquieu: "If Caesar and Pompey had thought like Cato, others would have thought like Caesar and Pompey", and continues: "The roles were ready to be filled, as it were, and to play them was not only a matter of personal guilt, but at the same time a recognition of the structure of the age." Meier speaks of what he calls the "crisis without alternative": "How is it possible for an order to collapse when all who have a share in it regard it as the proper order? I would have wished that Meier had included more about the military part of Caesar's education; and certainly within the specific focus of this biography this could have been useful. In several ways, Meiers book is as much a character analysis as it is a biography of Caesar, but it is also more than that because it includes a thorough discussion of the specific historical situation and background. Meier doesnt include references; he says in the Afterword that "it would have been incompatible with the purpose of the book" he does however usually state his sources whenever he quotes them directly. I would have given Meier's book a higher rating had it been shortened - this is also because he has tendency to repeat himself with different words; it is of course a readers prerogative to simply skim through parts, though that is another matter entirely.

What I mean is that Meier goes into significant detail on the status of the political structures found in the late republic, detailing the effect of Sullas dictatorship, and how this enabled the rise of Caesar and Pompey. Throughout the entire book, Meier details the history of the ultimate decline of the republic, keeping Caesar and the common thread running throughout the entire narrative. Another strength is Meiers examination of Caesar, and to some extent Pompey, as outsiders in Roman politics and society. Meier also gives a good analysis of Caesars conquest of Gaul, and analyzes his Commentaries in light of his actions. Meiers conclusion is an excellent analysis of the decay of the late republic and Caesars role in it.

I asked him "Why did Julius Caesar cross the Rubicon and wanted to stay at the top in old Rome and was not satisfied that his consulship finally ended?" He wrote that there is not an easy (in dutch "niet zo maar") answer on this question. 358) * In Caesar's time the old institutions, designed for a city state, had been "overstretched", as Rome now ruled over a world-wide empire. 358-9, 449) * Civil war, by crossing the Rubicon: ** Caesar was not in principle opposed to the Roman order. Personal honour more important than Republic The career of Caesar can't be understood without Sulla (138 BC - 78 BC). Sulla was the first Roman general who crossed the Rubicon for a march (91 and 87 BC) on Rome with his army. Caesar crossed on his turn the Rubicon (49 BC) after the Senate refused him the honours he owed after he conquered Gaul. His personal honour (latin 'dignitas) was more important than the Republic. Old Rome's static social structures I read this biography because I want(ed) to understand why Caesar was so selfish. For Rome the social structures were static.

Another re-read after a long time. The book captures Caesar's life from his escape from the Sulla civil war, his image of being a dandy and a profligate borrower and spender, his ride to prominence, his long years in Gaul and to his famous return to Rome. The younger generations quest for, quote, "cultivation of its opportunities, its devotion to pleasure, its quest for distinction without commitment..." It seemed like a perfect storm and a perfect time for a man like Caesar to trample on the shadow of the Republic.

Well, there was nothing veni, vidi, vici about my reading of Christian Meiers Caesar: A Biography.

I was intrigued, when I finally picked up the book that it read more like a series of essays about Roman lives and times, rather than the episodes in the life of Julius Caesar himself. Then, the final chapter perfectly summed up the Democratic candidate, their situation being eerily similar - she was Caesar, without the talent; or maybe she had the talent but her own character flaws betrayed her, which is mighty close to Meier's appraisal of the assassination of Julius Caesar by those seemingly closest to him ("Et tu, Brute?" - not presented that way in the current volume; that was borrowed from the Master Will himself).

Provides a sub-par account of Caesar's military campaigns, although a very good account of Caesar's political rivalries during his time in power.