I will not spend time talking about the chapter of the first book I read today, which was the 21st of John, where Jesus shows Himself again and eats with some of the disciples. There’s also the famous scene where He asks Peter if he loves Him, but with the famous words play in Greek (agapás me, filo se). Instead, I want to talk about something else. A couple of months ago I started memorising 2nd Timothy in Greek and besides the great feeling of knowing something by memory, there are other benefits that this practice has for you.
It’s no wonder the Greeks were so smart: they started memorising the Iliad and the Odyssey since their childhood. You know how much is that? Around 27.000 lines!!! Memorization is a great way of training your brain to remember all kind of things, not only the text you memorise, for it gains strength to retain more information. It’s exactly like going to the gym, more you lift, easier it gets. Another important ability that you develop is focusing. Studies have shown that the kids who were required to memorise from an early age, had less probability of losing focus in their posterior studies. If you are a person like me who never wants to stop learning new things, this might help you as well. For example, if you want to learn a new language, when it comes to memorising and using new vocabulary, sometimes you just feel like giving up (been there, lived that – kudos for German-). In these moments, if your brain is already trained to retain new information, it will be much easier. Do you know what’s one of the things that I fear the most? Memory loss by the time I’ll get old. The memory training can stave off cognitive decline and you will be able to maintain higher cognitive functioning and everyday skills. Practising memorization allows the elderly adults to delay typical cognitive decline by seven to fourteen years. If you start practising memory training now, you can stay sharp in years to come.
I was in my second semester of my first year of uni when I had in front of me what appeared to be one of the most known Latin sentence. “Gallia est omnis diuisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt belgae, aliam aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua celtae, nostra galli appleantur.” Yes, it’s Caesar! Exactly, the one stabbed in the senate! Whoops, I hope I didn’t spoiled anybody’s ending. Back then I was for the first time in contact with a Latin prose text that wasn’t adapted. Our professor picked a couple of fragments from Caesar’s De bello Gallico so we learn the well known accusativus cum infinitivo. Since we were focusing so much on the morphology and syntax, we kind of missed the point of the story we were reading. That’s the reason I feel very indebted to the narcissistic, sadic but super-smart general, self-declared dictator perpetuus, whose intelligence I can not, but admire, also known as Julius Caesar. I felt that I needed to read him again and get more into the story than into the grammar. That’s why today I decided to read the first book of The Gallic War, written in third person. (Yes, Caesar talks about himself in third person *cough* narcissistic *cough*).
(*Quick reminder – All the fragments I cite from the books I talk about on my blog are intended to raise your curiosity so you read them yourself.)
I found very interesting the determination the Helvetii had to leave their own lands and expand. They burnt their own towns just to be sure that they won’t be tempted to go back and started their crazy adventure of conquering the entire Gallia.
“…the Helvetii nevertheless attempt to do that which they had resolved on, namely, to go forth from their territories. When they thought that they were at length prepared for this undertaking, they set fire to all their towns, in number about twelve-to their villages about four hundred-and to the private dwellings that remained; they burn up all the corn, except what they intend to carry with them; that after destroying the hope of a return home, they might be the more ready for undergoing all dangers. They order every one to carry forth from home for himself provisions for three months, ready ground.”
History never forgets. So tells us Caesar, when he shows no mercy to the Helvetii who have not obeyed what he said.
“Attacking them encumbered with baggage, and not expecting him, he cut to pieces a great part of them; the rest betook themselves to flight, and concealed themselves in the nearest woods. That canton [which was cut down] was called the Tigurine; for the whole Helvetian state is divided into four cantons. This single canton having left their country, within the recollection of our fathers, had slain Lucius Cassius the consul, and had made his army pass under the yoke. Thus, whether by chance, or by the design of the immortal gods, that part of the Helvetian state which had brought a signal calamity upon the Roman people, was the first to pay the penalty. In this Caesar avenged not only the public but also his own personal wrongs, because the Tigurini had slain Lucius Piso the lieutenant [of Cassius], the grandfather of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, his [Caesar’s] father-in-law, in the same battle as Cassius himself.”
A lot of people are surprised when they find out how advanced was the Roman engineering for their times, and this is a great example.
“This battle ended, that he might be able to come up with the remaining forces of the Helvetii, he procures a bridge to be made across the Saone , and thus leads his army over. The Helvetii, confused by his sudden arrival, when they found that he had effected in one day, what they, themselves had with the utmost difficulty accomplished in twenty namely, the crossing of the river, send embassadors to him;”
There’s a scene that made me doubt a bit that cold-hearted Caesar that I knew about, that merciless and sadic man who he was. I guess in the end he was a man with a heart. Or was he? Wasn’t there only political and economical reasons behind his facts. After the next scene you might be wondering yourself the same thing. The scenario is the following: Caesar finds out that the brother of one of his allies, for whom he had a lot of respect, put in danger his military plans. After he begs Caesar for his brother, this is the reaction of the roman general:
“Divitiacus, embracing Caesar, begins to implore him, with many tears, that “he would not pass any very severe sentence upon his brother; saying, that he knows that those charges are true, and that nobody suffered more pain on that account than he himself did; […] As he was with tears begging these things of Caesar in many words, Caesar takes his right hand, and, comforting him, begs him to make an end of entreating, and assures him that his regard for him is so great, that he forgives both the injuries of the republic and his private wrongs, at his desire and prayers. He summons Dumnorix to him; he brings in his brother; he points out what he censures in him; he lays before him what he of himself perceives, and what the state complains of; he warns him for the future to avoid all grounds of suspicion; he says that he pardons the past, for the sake of his brother, Divitiacus.”
This man knew his way. He was a really good general and was aware that the victory didn’t only stand in a good handling of the spears and swords, but also in taking away one of the biggest human necessity: food. The Helvetii were already weak and hungry when this happened:
“After the battle about 130,000 men [of the enemy] remained alive, who marched incessantly during the whole of that night; and after a march discontinued for no part of the night, arrived in the territories of the Lingones on the fourth day, while our men, having stopped for three days, both on account of the wounds of the soldiers and the burial of the slain, had not been able to follow them. Caesar sent letters and messengers to the Lingones[with orders] that they should not assist them with corn or with anything else; for that if they should assist them, he would regard them in the same light as the Helvetii. After the three days’ interval he began to follow them himself with all his forces.”
Then, it came the result:
“The Helvetii, compelled by the want of everything, sent embassadors to him about a surrender. When these had met him on the way and had thrown themselves at his feet, and speaking in suppliant tone had with tears sued for peace, and [when] he had ordered them to await his arrival, in the place, where they then were, they obeyed his commands.”
After all this happened, the entire Gallia was aware of the force of Caesar and tried to make him an ally, that’s why they organised an assembly thanking him for his help against the Helvetii, and asking desperately help in another situation they had. Ariovistus, the German general already made his way in Gallia and was suppressing some of the territories there. In the assembly, the Sequani didn’t have the courage to talk, and Divitiacus, the head of the Haedui took the word and said:
“…the lot of the Sequani was more wretched and grievous than that of the rest, on this account, because they alone durst not even in secret complain or supplicate aid; and shuddered at the cruelty of Ariovistus [even when] absent, just as if he were present; for, to the rest, despite of everything there was an opportunity of flight given; but all tortures must be endured by the Sequani, who had admitted Ariovistus within their territories, and whose towns were all in his power.”
When Caesar tried to talk with Ariovistus and ask nicely to leave Gallia, due to their past relationship, the German answered:
“That he had come into Gaul before the Roman people. That never before this time did a Roman army go beyond the frontiers of the province of Gaul. What [said he] does [Caesar] desire?- why come into his [Ariovistus] domains?-that this was his province of Gaul, just as that is ours. As it ought not to be pardoned in him, if he were to make an attack upon our territories; so, likewise, that we were unjust, to obstruct him in his prerogative.”
In the same section, a few sentences below it comes an affirmation of Ariovistus that made me laugh, knowing what happened to Caesar years after all this conversation. He was talking about a possible war with them, and what would happen if he’d kill the Roman general. Can be this a sign of what would happen to Caesar later on ?
“And that unless he depart and withdraw his army from these parts, he shall regard him not as a friend, but as a foe; and that, even if he should put him [Caesar] to death, he should do what would please many of the nobles and leading men of the Roman people; he had assurance of that from themselves through their messengers, and could purchase the favor and the friendship of them all by his [Caesar’s] death.”
There are much more passages that I’d like to cite, but I will stop right here and encourage you to read it yourself. It’s such an interesting reading.
See you tomorrow,