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Pharsalae, on the necessity of Caesar's dictatorship

Frontispiece of Lucan's Pharsalia (17th century).
Frontispiece of Lucan's Pharsalia (17th century).

As a side-note to this piece, a few things have to be mentioned.

First, the letter itself is purely fictional.

The events and people described in it however are not. My attempt with this piece was to write a letter, that could have been written from the viewpoint of one of Caesar's supporters to describe a historical narrative in a different way from the standard essay.

A second remark is that, as mentioned, Aulus Hirtius was a devoted supporter of Caesar who was actually present at Caesar's side in Greece. He was also a man with some influence in Rome which is what makes this fictional letter believable. While reading, it is then also important to keep in mind that he would have described Caesar in a very positive light and his opponents in a negative one.

The third and final point I’d like to make is that the letter was inspired by Cicero’s Philipicca. These works are speeches he wrote for the Senate after Caesar's assassination. In them he attempted to persuade the senate to take a certain course of action against the people who wanted to punish the conspirators to preserve the old values.

They are widely praised for their style even though Cicero never actually gave the speeches in the Senate. It is after these I modelled the letter.

With that said...

* * * * *

Before, O conscript fathers, I inform you of those things that transpired in Greece I feel bound to remind you of the circumstances that led to this tragic course of events.

Our glorious republic is no longer what she once was. Caesar, the man you all opposed has become a victim of this. He was forced to take action in a way that no true Roman would ever wish for. Yet it is your blind belief in his enemies that forced his hand.

You all know what I talk about.

Caesar did nothing but add to the glory of our republic by his most successful campaign in the barbaric Gaul and yet you all demanded his return to this city without his legions so that you could isolate him and deny him the glories he deserved. This was without doubt the work of his enemies, who also undermined his longstanding relationship with Pompey and even pitted these two friends against each other.

Furthermore, they hereby ignored the will of the people, and declared Caesar a public enemy because he failed to adhere to their absurd conditions. It is all these events I briefly summarized which forced our beloved republic into a most unfortunate war. It is these men, these so-called protectors of the republic who lie at the stem of it all.

No doubt they thought their actions to be true. But our republic has not been well. I need not remind you of figures such as Sulla who prosecuted many a good Roman. Nor do I need to remind you that the people lie at the foundation of our republic and of our city. It is these people you ignored when you went against Caesar. Because you know as well as I that they support Caesar. And is it not them who built our great city? Is it not them who fight our wars? Who brought our city to the glory she deserved? Where would we be if they did not fight to bring us victory against the mighty Carthage? Do we truly doubt their support for Caesar?

It is with this in mind that I will now, with a heavy heart, inform you of the events transpiring in Greece.

Undoubtedly many of you will have heard of the proceedings in Greece, as many of you had friends or family who fought for either side in this most unfortunate war. Many of you turned against Caesar and supported Pompey, in doing so starting this war Caesar never wanted. For you I will now repeat what happened and show you once and for all Caesars forgiving nature and prove your mistrust in him was wrong. After Caesar was forced to cross the Rubicon, Pompey fled to Greece to gather support. This you all know without a doubt for many of you supported him in his flight or accompanied him. You also know that Caesar did not immediately follow him but first attended to the unrest in Greece and Massilia.

You know this because Caesar came back to Rome after these events and attended to the political stability in the capital itself.

After this he finally decided to follow Pompey, still hoping for dialogue with his old friend and a peaceful solution to the conflict. Unfortunately, Pompey’s mind was poisoned by Caesar's enemies and no treatise was to be had. A first clash then happened at Dyrrachium, where no decisive result occurred. A short time later a decisive confrontation occurred near Pharsalus where Caesar showed his military genius and achieved total victory. Pompey was forced to flee and it is at this point in time I write to you.

Also, at this point Caesar once again proves he has nothing but good intentions towards you senators, the people and Rome itself. He forgave many of you who turned against him and through his compassion made himself better than all who called him differently. The arrogance of those who stood against him was shown by the condition of their encampment. For instead of a strict, military camp we found extravagant displays of luxury combined with lavish banquets for unobtained victories. These are not the characteristics of true Romans but of fools who turned themselves against Rome itself.

It must also be said that Pompey himself did not show great belief in his cause and victory. For why else would he flee the battlefield so prematurely, his men had not yet lost but still he fled. Such a deed can not be worthy of a Roman commander. He now flees to Egypt and it is Caesar's plan to follow him and finally put a long overdue end to this miserable conflict.

Meanwhile Antony will return to Rome to make sure that our great city will undergo no further injustice. In light of these events, I urge you, honorable senators, to grant Caesar the title of dictator as you did for numerous lesser men in the past. In this way he can finally restore peace and order to our great republic.

* * * * *

Dries Cuykx is a recent history graduate from the VUB in Brussels. He has been interested in ancient history for most of his life and has written a thesis on Caesar's campaigns in Africa and Hispania.

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