Good Morning, Examiner of Life.
Last week we discussed the way in which Julius Caesar so meticulously planned his gladiatorial games in order to win the respect and admiration of the people. This week we will discuss how he built his reputation from the other side of the spectrum: through guile1 and violence.
Let us read this passage from Livy, historian of Rome and contemporary of Caesar:
On his voyage back, he was captured, near the island Pharmacusa, by pirates, who already at that time controlled the sea with large armaments and countless small vessels. When the pirates demanded twenty talents for his ransom, he laughed at them for not knowing who their captive was, and of his own accord agreed to give them fifty. In the next place, after he had sent various followers to various cities to procure the money and was left with one friend and two attendants among pirates, most murderous of men, he held them in such disdain that whenever he lay down to sleep he would send and order them to stop talking.
For eight and thirty days, as if the men were not his watchers, but his royal bodyguard, he shared in their sports and exercises with great unconcern. He also wrote poems and sundry speeches which he read aloud to them, and those who did not admire these, he would call to their faces illiterate Barbarians, and often laughingly threatened to hang them all. The pirates were delighted at this, and attributed his boldness of speech to a certain simplicity and boyish mirth.
After his ransom had come from Miletus and he had paid it and was set free, he immediately manned vessels and put to sea from the harbour of Miletus against the pirates. He caught them still lying at anchor off the island, and captured most of them. Their money he made his spoils, but the men themselves he lodged in the prison at Pergamum. But since the governor of Pergamum cast longing eyes on their money, which was no small sum, and kept saying that he would consider the case of the captives at his leisure, Caesar went to Pergamum himself, took the robbers out of prison,and hanged them all, just as he had told them on the island that he would do, when they thought he was joking.
Ok… Let’s recap
- Julius is captured by pirates. When they tell him what they’re going to ransom him for 20 talents of silver (equivalent to just over 10 million USD today). Caesar laughed at this and told them to make it 50 talents! (25 million USD).
He had cojones: when he wanted to go to bed, he would send his servant to go tell his pirate captures–who Livy describes as the most murderous people on the planet– to shut up.
He adapted to his surroundings: the entire 38 days he was held prisoner, he acted so amicably2 with the pirates that it seemed like they were old friends.
He wrote poetry and would read it to his captors. When they didn’t applaud, he called them illiterate morons.
Despite all of this, the pirates found his effrontery to be so charming that they actually began to enjoy Caesar’s company.
As soon as his ransom was paid, he manned his army and attacked the pirates, taking all of his money back and imprisoning all of the pirates he captured.
When the governor of the province delayed the punishment of the pirates, Caesar took matters into his own hands, took all of the pirates out of prison and hanged all of them, just as he had (what they thought was jokingly) threatened.
There’s a lot to take away from all of this, possibly the primary thing being that Julius sounds a lot like a sociopath. He probably was, but there is still much we can learn from this. Some include:
An unflinching belief in yourself.
Following through with your word.
Knowing when to take matters into your own hands.
Ensuring that everyone understands that you are not to be trifled with.
Sometimes being respectful and resourceful just won’t cut it and we must be an unbridled force to be reckoned with.
Godspeed, dear Examiner.