Saturday, December 29, 2012

Maria Wyke's "Caesar in the USA"

Maria Wyke has taught classics at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Reading, and she currently holds the chair of Latin at University College London.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Caesar in the USA, and reported the following:
I hope that Ford Madox Ford is not entirely right about the importance of a book’s ninety-ninth page – because page 99 of Caesar in the USA is blank apart from the heading of a new section called ‘political culture’. Julius Caesar holds an important place in the modern United States of America not least because in the first decades of the twentieth century young Americans read and reread his descriptions of his campaigns in Gaul in their Latin classes and acted out his assassination and its consequences in their English classes. Page 97 ends a discussion of how Caesar’s Gallic War and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar were taught to students –surprisingly - as moral mirrors in which they might glimpse ethical and political lessons for their lives and as a means to educate them into an identity as ‘Americans’. Yet Caesar was a troubling model. He might be praised by teachers as one of the greatest generals and statesmen who gave the Roman republic a different form of government ‘with absolute power centred in the hands of a single strong man’. But he was also damned for exactly the same reason. Page 101 begins a demonstration of how, outside the classroom, momentous political events (like assassinations, wars, or the rise of dictatorships and empires) could stimulate a sudden escalation of American interest in and topical use for the Roman statesman. For example, once Caesar had regularly been claimed in Italy as glorious predecessor of Mussolini, so Orson Welles played out the Mussolini/Caesar pairing on the New York stage in the 1930s as an attack on the rise of fascist dictatorships at home as well as abroad. Caesar in the USA shows how – from the Latin classroom to the Shakespearian stage, from cinema, television, and the comic book to the press and the internet – Caesar has been mobilized in the United States paradoxically as a resource for acculturation into the American present, a prediction of America’s political future, and as a way of providing both education and entertainment.
Read Chapter 1 of Caesar in the USA, and learn more about the book at the University of California Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Maria Wyke's Caesar: A Life in Western Culture.

--Marshal Zeringue