Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Masculinity of Julius Caesar

A recent article posted on David Meadow's outstanding blog, rogueclassicism, offered wonderful and concise information on how we know how the ancient Romans pronounced Latin. I've searched for the actual article but cannot put my cursor on it at the moment.

Julius Caesar's arrogant boast, "Veni! Vidi! Vici!" is one of the most well-known Latin phrases tossed about in a variety of contexts. Many who quote this ditty then go on to claim that it could never have been pronounced "WAY-nee, WEE-dee, WEE-kee" because Julius Caesar never would have been caught dead saying anything nearly so wimpy. It seems that the "W" sound is not masculine enough for this general-turned dictator-turned god and that it must have been pronounced with a very forceful "V" sound accompanied by a dramatic extension of the arms.

Well now. One's language is not a matter of choice but one of necessity. If a person wants to get his point across, he must communicate in the tongue offered to him. Imagine today the tragic discomfort of a man, a real man who has just gotten off an eighteen-hour shift building, bare-handed, a bridge across a raging river, who drives his mud-encrusted SUV through the drive-thru lane of the popular fast-food restaurant and must speak into the plastic character's mouth, "I'll have the Ballerina Belle Chicken Sandwich with the Pink Tutu lemonade, the Petey Pirate Jolly Roger Burger with the Ahoy Matey shake, and a side order of Baby Bunny Tasty Delight Cinnamon Rolls." Does he have his gym card taken away? Do his buddies cancel their hunting trip? Do his monster tires deflate for having to say such unmanly things? Of course not.

We cannot judge Julius Caesar and his masculinity based upon our perceptions in modern society. If "Veni! Vidi! Vici!" was pronounced with a "W" (and indications are that it was), who are we to judge whether this was a manly-enough sounding phrase? His language was his language and he spoke it without a thought. We've been told that the shoes of Roman senators were pink. Does this fact make that august body any less manly? I won't even mention that Julius Caesar is said to have plucked his body hair and even wore a tunic instead of pants. Were these girly-man traits the true cause of the fall of the Roman Empire? Hmmm...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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