Friday, November 29, 2013


FROM A STANFORD UNIVERSITY NEWSLETTER (by a graduate student Benjamin Hein):

Professor of classics revisits Julius Caesar’s time-honored work "The Gallic War," revealing that beneath the military garb prowled a man of supreme intellectual abilities.
Glorious general, cunning politician, ruler of the mighty Roman Empire: this is the Julius Caesar we have long known.

But this appears to be only half the story, according to Stanford Classics Professor Christopher Krebs. A specialist in ancient Roman literature, Krebs notes that, apart from his well-known military exploits, Caesar was a man of letters who saw eye to eye with the famed Roman orator Cicero; a prolific writer and skilled linguist; and commissioner of the Julian calendar.

It is this lesser-known Caesar – the literary virtuoso rather than the conqueror of Gaul – whom Krebs describes in a new project he calls "Caesar 2.0." His research involves reading Caesar's main surviving text, the Commentarii de Bello Gallico (also known as The Gallic War), in an entirely new way: as a piece of literary art and a product of its cultural context rather than as a straightforward military journal.

According to Krebs, Caesar's literary accomplishments are arguably just as important as his talents on the battlefield for explaining the man's extraordinary longevity in modern memory. "Caesar was a leading linguist of his time who contributed extensively to debates about the Latin language. . . . Two hundred years after his death people still referred to Caesar as an authority on the Latin language," Krebs said. "And, more than any other author – with perhaps the exception of Cicero – Caesar has shaped the way we teach classical Latin in school today."

None of this should come as surprise to us, Krebs added. The son of wealthy Roman aristocrats, Caesar received intensive rhetorical and linguistic training from early childhood, mastering the arts and languages well before guiding Roman legions across the Alps on their way to Gaul. As both a scholar and a public intellectual, Krebs – whose previous work includes a highly acclaimed study of the Roman historian Tacitus – does more than simply set the historical record straight. He insists that historians should also devote themselves to making the distant past more accessible and exciting to present audiences.

For example, Krebs combines his new reading of the Commentarii with recent discoveries about Caesar's real world environment, including recent archaeological excavations of the ancient Roman road network.

"Today, we can use ORBIS, Stanford's Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, to calculate how long it would have taken Caesar to travel across the Po Valley and which roads he was likely to have taken," Krebs said. "Suddenly the text comes alive. The daily routines Caesar describes, the challenges he observes his men facing, the unlikely victories his legions won – we can place all of these stories in their actual geospatial context.

"Caesar 2.0 goes beyond a mere translation. It exposes a man in his full complexity: a man of letters as well as the conqueror of Gaul."


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