Monday, May 19, 2008

Ave Caesar

At the age of 12, at Grafton High School, I started learning Latin under the guidance of a marvelous teacher named Robert Sinclair... who was present at a delightful gathering of friends, at the home of Cathryn Prowse (née Fuller), when I returned to Sydney in August 2006. Like generations of students throughout the world, I encountered that archaic but lovely language through fragments of a literary work written by a celebrated Roman general and statesman: Gaius Julius Caesar [100-44 BC]. The English title of Caesar's book: Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. Now, this didn't mean much to me, back in Grafton, for the simple reason that I hadn't fully realized that the adjective "Gallic" designated a real place, known today as France. But Caesar's Latin was lucid, and even a Grafton schoolboy in 1952 could understand that the author was a victorious soldier who must have been some kind of a mixture of Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill.

Much later, I discovered the splendid city of Arles, birthplace of Christine's maternal grandfather, Paul Marteau [1896-1976]. I even got around to taking my children there to watch to watch bull fighting in the Roman arena. And I finally realized that this charming city on the banks of the Rhône was closely associated with the ancient Roman named Caesar who came here to fight his famous Gallic Wars.

A few days ago, archaeologists announced that they had found a splendid life-size bust of Caesar in the Rhône at Arles. The marble sculpture was probably created during Caesar's lifetime, around 49-46 BC, when he was founding the Roman colony of Arles. After 56-year-old Caesar was assassinated in Rome by Brutus on the Ides of March, folk in Arles probably decided that it would be wise to dump his effigy in the Rhône... not far from the right-bank neighborhood of Trinquetaille, where Paul Marteau had grown up without ever knowing that Caesar's marble head was lying alongside in the mud. Meanwhile, a string of Catholic popes had reigned at Avignon, and hordes of folk had danced beneath [not upon] the famous bridge. Countless bulls were slaughtered, too, over the centuries, in Caesar's colonial arena. Later, I started learning Latin. Not long after, Christine and I were married, then Emmanuelle and François came into existence. To my mind, it was high time that Caesar's head resurfaced at Arles!

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