Honors | Caesar
H203 | 6367 | Giancarlo Maiorino


This new course focuses on a study of Caesar as one of the symbolic
figures of the Western tradition. This course deals with this icon
from our own post-imperial, post-colonial, and hopefully democratic
point of view. It is for this reason that the syllabus alternates
autobiographies, imaginative autobiographies written during the
twentieth century, the theorist’s text about political leadership,
and artistic treatments of Caesarian figures. This interdisciplinary
study takes historical markers as instruments for exploring the way
we have learned to view such an influential figure as Caesar.
Whether visual or literary, the texts studied in this course have an
aesthetic quality that justifies my own approach at the level of
cultural history.

The figure of Caesar, in its various historical personifications,
stands as a point of entry into the study of political motivation,
ambition, and corruption of two basic ideas: that of the Republic
and of the Empire. The first part of this study focuses on Rome,
which was first monarchic, then republican, and finally imperial.
The opening text, of course, is Caesar’s own writings on the Gallic
Wars. The other figures chosen (Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Julian)
belong to the late period of the Roman Empire, when expansion was
yielding to decline. The waning of political might provoked
philosophical and aesthetic alternatives.

The mid-section on Machiavelli brings forth a model of political
conduct and personal ideology that has made a fundamental
contribution to the definition of human nature in modern times. To a
significant extend, the Prince is Modern Man – for better or for
worse.

The final section centers on extreme versions of Caesarism in our
own experience of the twentieth century. The focus will be on
Mussolini and Fascism, as parodic and aesthetic versions of
Romanism. Of course, comparisons will be made with Nazism because of
their shared ideas about cultural and racial superiority. The
section on Carnegie brings to the fore the economic aspect of
Caesarism and its role in social and political agendas.

From the modernist to the post-modernist, Morris’ biography of
Ronald Regan takes us to our own days, when the idea of Caesar seems
to have become obsolete; or it might have been disguised under less
totalitarian or tyrannical pretenses.

This is not a course in political sciences, even though much of its
subject matter is political in nature. My approach is literary with
regard to methods of analysis and cultural with regard to the
ideological issues raised by the chosen texts. An effort has been
made throughout to look at the texts in the syllabus in relation to
the relevant art that somehow deals with the Caesarian theme.

Samples of issues to be discussed are spelled out in the weekly
assignments of the syllabus.