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How to be civil in an uncivil world

  • 13 October 2017


On 23 October 42 BCE, Marcus Junius Brutus killed himself. His action followed that of his mate, Gaius Cassius Longinus, on 3 October that same year.

Brutus and Cassius were among the scores of assassins (or tyrannicides, take your pick) who had dispatched Rome's leader two years prior to their deaths. Both had been soundly beaten in battles by avenging generals Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) and Marc Antony, who duly went on to prolong their own uncivil civil war.

The demise of the Roman Republic and the growth of the Roman Empire is one of the most documented historical transitions; largely it stems from the death of one man. The lessons for us today are still salutary.

As you'll recall, when Julius Caesar wandered in to start senate proceedings, in the Curia of Pompey back in 44 BCE, the dictator was met with a wide selection of very sharp daggers. There were many motivations behind the assassins' numerous thrusts. Jealousy. Ambition. Kinship and patron/client obligation. Political ideology and partisan adherence to tradition and accepted practice. Cuckolded husbands, shamed brothers, lovers and others. Resentful sons of some of Julius' mistresses.

Thwarted career paths. Resentment. Patriotism. Old, old scores to settle. There was undoubtedly deep anger at Caesar's ego and perpetual defying of convention, exhibited by gallivanting around in royal purple, a series of grandiose titles and statues and (unprecedented for a live Roman) coins minted bearing his likeness.

Perhaps the strangest factor in the mix, however, was the hatred that many of his assassins harboured at Caesar's famed policy of clemency. Key assassins, such as the aforementioned Brutus and Cassius, had been spared and forgiven by Caesar years beforehand; their benefactor had gone from the first man in Rome to reign as the republic of Rome's seemingly permanent dictator, and their bitter anger grew with each breath they took.

As William Blake described ire, in A Poison Tree: 'I was angry with my friend/I told my wrath, my wrath did end/I was angry with my foe/I told it not, my wrath did grow. And I waterd it in fears/Night & morning with my tears/And I sunned it with smiles/And with soft deceitful wiles ... '


"As my children put the doctrine, ever so eloquently, we can all choose not to be a dick."


As two-faced as the Roman god, Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, powerplayers and decisionmakers still walk the land. Thankfully words, rather than jagged metal, are the