The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Being a boy again

Posted on: October 11, 2007

I-B Caesar’s Journal-Letter to Lucius Mamilius Turrinus on the Island of Capri

Again it is midnight, my dear friend. I sit before my window, wishing that it overhung the sleeping city and not the Trasteverine gardens of the rich. The mites dance about my lamp. The river barely reflects a diffused starlight. On the farther bank some drunken citizens are arguing in a wine shop and from time to time my name is borne to me on the air. I have left my wife sleeping and have tried to quiet my thoughts by reading in Lucretius.

Every day I feel more pressure upon me, arising from the position I occupy. I become more and more aware of what it enables me to accomplish, of what it summons me to accomplish.

But what is it saying to me? What does it require of me?

I have pacified the world; I have extended the benefits of Roman law to innumerable men and women; against great opposition, I am extending to them also the rights of citizenship. I have reformed the calendar and our days are regulated by a serviceable accommodation of the movements of the sun and the moon. I am arranging the world be fed equably; my laws and my fleets will adjust the intermittence of harvests and surplus to the public need. Next month torture will be removed from the penal code.

But these are not enough. These measures have been merely the work of a general and of an administrator. In them I am to the world what a mayor is to a village. Now some other work is to be done, but what? I feel as though now, and only now, I am ready to begin. The song which is on everyone’s lips calls me: father.

For the first time in my public life I am unsure. My actions have hitherto conformed to a principle which I may call a superstition: I do not experiment. I do not initiate an action in order to be instructed by its results. In the art of war and in the operations of politics I do nothing without an extremely precise intention. If an obstacle arises I promptly create a new plan, every potential consequence of which is clear to me. From the moment I saw that Pompey left a small portion of every venture to chance, I knew that I was to be the master of the world.

The projects which now visit me, however, involve elements about which I am not certain I am certain. To put them into effect I must be clear in my mind as to what are the aims in life of the average man and what are the capabilities of the human being.

Man–what is that? What do we know of him? His Gods, liberty, mind, love, destiny, death–what do these mean? You remember how you and I as boys in Athens, and later before our tents in Gaul, used to turn these things over endlessly. I am an adolescent again, philosophizing. As Plato, the dangerous beguiler, said: the best philosophers in the world are boys with their beards new on their chins; I am a boy again.

From The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder


2 Responses to "Being a boy again"

Wilder really worked at humanizing Julius didn’t he? I was excited when I read in your last post that you would post one of the letters – this was a great one.

I thought so, though the ones after get better and better, for the most part.

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