Recent links of note:
“Julius Caesar’s Last Words”
J. S. Ubhi, Antigone
For centuries, the death of Julius Caesar has captivated poets, playwrights, and philosophers. Legends on what Caesar uttered before his assassination on the Ides of March abound in Anglophone literary culture. J. S. Ubhi in Antigone seeks to pull together evidence to authenticate whether the dictator indeed uttered “Et tu, Brute?”—as Shakespeare would have it—and what it meant in the context of ancient Roman language, culture, and politics. Ubhi begins by examining the six historical accounts of the assassination, some of which only survive in fragments. Of the six, however, only Suetonius and Cassius Dio report Caesar to have said anything at all as he was stabbed (twenty-three times, reportedly). For the two historians, Caesar’s exclamation to Brutus, καὶ σὺ, τέκνον (“You too, child”), was only a rumor that “certain men hold.” That Suetonius and Cassius Dio recorded Caesar’s last words in Greek, not Latin, presents further questions, though Ubhi believes that Caesar was bilingual from a young age. Whether Caesar died before he could finish a quotation of Greek verse, or whether parallels to the phrase exist in earlier Greek precedent doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Ubhi concludes that the brevity of the phrase itself and the context within which it was spoken (i.e., Caesar bleeding out on the floor before the conspirators) presents enough reason to believe that there is some credence to the belief that καὶ σὺ, τέκνον were the dictator’s last words.
“Orwell, Camus and truth”
William Fear, The Critic
Two literary giants of the twentieth century, George Orwell and Albert Camus, scheduled a casual meeting at a café in liberated Paris in April 1945. Tuberculosis prevented Camus from attending, and Orwell himself died from the same disease years later. William Fear writes for The Critic on the striking similarities between the two writers, specifically their view that “truthfulness was more important than ideological allegiance and metaphysics.” Camus himself saw his similarities with Orwell, though he never met him, writing that Orwell had “exactly the same experience as me . . . and exactly the same ideas. . . . He was one of the very few men with whom I shared something.” In one striking example, Fear pulls this quotation: “There comes a time in history when a man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death.” Surprisingly, these are not Orwell’s words, but Camus’s, from his novel The Plague (1947). For both, writes Fear, truth did not come from ideology or from a certain philosophical framework, but rather truth was the mentality that embodied a commitment to reality.
“Mona Lisa v ‘the monstrous’: the grotesque, shocking side of Leonardo da Vinci”
Jonathan Jones, The Guardian
Many of us are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings of the beautiful, as seen in his Mona Lisa. Equally fascinating for da Vinci, however, was his depicting of the grotesque, which he did with the same level of intricacy and devotion paid to his more well-known art, writes Jonathan Jones for The Guardian. We see da Vinci’s love for the ugly in his sketch A Satire on Aged Lovers (ca. 1490), as well as in Quentin Matsys’s The Ugly Duchess (ca. 1513), an oil copy of da Vinci’s most famous caricature (the original is lost). Matsys’s copy may seem recognizable: it inspired John Tenniel’s illustrations of the duchess in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). In the painting, we see an old woman with severe skeletal distortions in her face dressed in fancy garb that appears to suggest the woman’s absurd pride despite her grotesque features. In fact, Renaissance artists, writes Jones, shared a remarkable interest in such caricature and satire. In the words of da Vinci, such “monstrous faces . . . naturally stay in the mind.”