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Friday, June 27, 2014

“Caesar’s Commentaries: On The Gallic War & On The Civil War”, by Gaius Julius Caesar, translated by W.A. MacDevitt, edited by James H. Ford

340 pages, El Paso Norte Press, ISBN-13: 978-0976072614

Caesar’s Commentaries are an essential read for anyone who aspires to a good education. For several centuries, English public schools (meaning private) required their students to translate Caesar’s Commentaries from the original Latin; since the decline of written Latin for church and scholarly purposes, translating Caesar has fallen out of favor. But the main reasons for reading Caesar still persist: It provides an excellent model of clear, simple exposition and demonstrates how a man of substance should express himself. Make no mistake about it, Caesar was a clever, calculating, complicated man, but when he wrote, he was certain about what he intended to say and said it. MacDevitt’s translation is not that of a schoolboy; it is that of a schoolmaster; where there is a subtle reference in Caesar’s prose, MacDevitt captured it in his English translation clearly and succinctly.

There are eight “books” in the Commentaries, each comprising about 15-25 pages with each book a reflection on the previous year’s effort in Gaul. The style is plain and to the point, written in order to curry favor in Rome and document his campaigns. Though Caesar is often guilty of inflating enemy numbers (according to most historians) he nevertheless painstakingly records the relations between the tribes of the time: Gauls, Celts, and the many Germanic peoples are all referenced at one time or another. The final three books regarding the Civil War are longer, as they were meant by Caesar to record his justification for launching the Civil War in the first place. How convinced you are by his arguments rather depends on what you think of Caesar.

It is a very interesting read, but can be hard to follow if you are not a history buff or a fan of Roman History and/or Caesar, but if you want to get a real sense of history with first-hand knowledge, then this is a great read, for when you read Caesar’s Commentaries, you are not reading the ranting’s of a third-rate politician: you are reading the words of one of the most important figures in the entire history of the human race. The accomplishments of Julius Caesar, whether for good or evil, will stand as a monument to human ambition for all time.

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