Julius caesar

Conrad Black adheres firmly to the ‘great man’ view of history

George Orwell has a story that when Sir Walter Raleigh published the first volume of his projected history of the world while in prison, he witnessed a brawl outside his rooms in the Bloody Tower which resulted in the death of a workman. Despite diligent enquiries, Raleigh was unable to discover the cause of the quarrel. Reasoning that if he could not even ascertain the facts behind what he had observed he could hardly accurately report what had happened in distant lands centuries earlier, he burned his notes for the second volume and abandoned the entire project. No such doubts assail the 79-year-old Conrad Black, sometime proprietor of The Spectator,

What we could learn from the classical courts

This year, in its annual Supreme Court moot trial of a famous ancient figure, the charity Classics for All charged the consul Cicero with illegally ordering the execution of five traitors working with the failed politician Catiline to bring revolution to Rome (63 bc). In his history of that crisis, Sallust composed speeches for Julius Caesar in defence of the conspirators, and for Cato the Younger for their execution, followed by a character assessment. This package may prompt reflections on our times. Caesar argued that men facing difficult questions ‘should clear their minds of hatred, amity, anger and compassion… success is achieved by applying judgment; but your passions will rule

Enthralling: BBC4’s Colosseum reviewed

In the year 2023, the Neo-Roman Empire was at the height of its powers. A potentially restive populace was kept in check using a time-honoured technique known as ‘Bread and Circuses’. The ‘Circuses’ part consisted of a remarkable piece of technology in which spectacles could be beamed directly into the homes of the citizenry, filling them with awe, wonder, gratitude and a sense of their insignificance in the sweep of history. One such spectacle was a docudrama called Colosseum (BBC4), in which no expense was spared to recreate the majesty, power and cruelty of the original Roman Empire, as evinced by that grand precursor to the television: a vast amphitheatre

Newcomers will need to read the play in advance: Julius Caesar, at the Globe, reviewed

Some things are done well in the Globe’s new Julius Caesar. The assassination is a thrilling spectacle. Ketchup pouches concealed inside Caesar’s costume explode bloodily with each dagger blow and the conspirators are doused in dripping scarlet gore. During the assault, Caesar fights back and very nearly survives. Highly realistic. Afterwards, his statue is toppled and rolled off the stage in a subtle echo of Colston’s ducking in Bristol docks. The crowd relished every minute of this pacy, high-energy show even though the visuals are wildly confusing. Brutus (Anna Crichlow) is a lesbian who sports a beige pashmina, a white T-shirt and a fetching gold turban. She looks like the

How to tell your Roman emperors apart

Rising professors do well to be controversial if they wish to be invited to contribute to mainstream media. But the elder professor, lauded, loved and telly-tastic, has the privilege of swerving controversy without losing the limelight. And so Mary Beard gives us this rich disquisition on the Caesars’ visual representation (and misrepresentation), from swapped plinths to forged heads. Handsomely illustrated and brightly ringing with Beard’s enjoyment and scholarship, the book doesn’t inflame debate but brings it down a few degrees. While her publicist might have preferred more engagement with today’s ‘sculpture wars’ (touted on the dust jacket but not mentioned within), Beard provides no ammo for either side, but takes