Saturday, January 14, 2017

TCM aired Cleopatra (1934) with Claudette Colbert and Henry Wilcoxon last night as part of their "Cleopatra" night.

Just so you know: Julius Caesar was murdered on March 15 at the Theater of Pompey. It was a sports and gladitorial arena, but also had a building at the rear which contained a steep amphitheater where the Senate often met. A gladitorial contest in Caesar's honor had been arranged, and Caesar himself asked that the Senate gather beforehand in the antechamber to the theater's main entrance for a brief meeting. As Caesar entered the chamber, one Senator detained Caesar's friend, Marc Antony, outside.

Every single one of the 60 Senators in the conspiracy agreed to stab Caesar, so that none of them could be blamed for the fatal wound. (In fact, he was stabbed just 23 times. Only one of the wounds was fatal.)

Caesar fell on the floor, dead. The Senators fled from the theater and headed for the Forum, where several of them tried to speak and win the crowd to their side. But the crowd silently dispersed. Citizens went inside and locked their doors, fearful of riots or a purge by the army. The conspirators then fled to the Capitoline, where they offered sacrifices and waited with their gladiators.

Caesar's body lay on the floor of the Senate for three hours. Finally, three of his slaves put his body on a litter, and carried the dead man back to his own house.

The next morning, the conspirators found themselves surrounded by the army, led by Caesar's close friend, Lepidus. With the public still not taking sides, Antony agreed to allow the conspirators to flee the city, and gave them his and Lepidus' eldest sons as hostages to guarantee their safety.

On March 17, the remainder of the Senate convened at the Temple of Tellus. The Senate granted a public funeral at the behest of Caesar's father-in-law, Piso. Caesar's will was read, in which his nephew Octavian was named his heir.

On March 20, the funeral was held at Caesar's unfinished Temple of Venus Genetrix. Marc Antony delivered the funeral oration, and either lifted the bloody toga or exposed the dead and bloody body.

The crowd went wild with anger and grief. Mobs rampaged throughout Rome, looting and burning and seeking anyone even vaguely associated with the assassination. Many people entered nearby temples and shops, ripped out any furniture or wood fixtures, and piled the wood atop Caesar's corpse. The bonfire was lit, and Caesar cremated.

When the fire died out, members of Caesar's family gathered what bones remained. These were buried at the Caesar family tomb. The location of this tomb is not exactly known, but it was on the Via Flaminia, on the same side as the Campus Martius. (The Mausoleum of Augustus may have been built next to it.)

In 42 BC, Octavian -- now known as Caesar Augustus -- constructed a small temple to Julius Caesar on the site of his adoptive father's cremation. It was finished and dedicated on August 18, 29 BC.

The temple wasn't very big, just 88.5 feet wide and 98 feet long. A semicircular niche existed in the front, in which was placed a round stone sacrificial altar. Stairs either were on either side of this niche, or on the sides and rear of the temple.

Behind the niche was a podium, set atop the place where Caesar was cremated. Short steps led up to the temple proper, which had six columns in front. Going through the bronze doors, you could see a double-life size statue of Julius Caesar, a star on his head (reminding people of the comet that blazed in the sky after his death) and a wooden "lituus" (shepherd's hooked staff, the inaugural item for Roman rulers) in his hand.

The temple was destroyed by fire some time between 193 and 211 AD. It was rebuilt.

At some point, the altar in front was removed and the niche filled in. It's not clear when this occurred: 14 BC, in the 340s AD, or just after 397 AD. (The latter two are the deaths of Constantine the Great and Theodosius I, both of whom were Christians and wanted to stamp out worship of Julius Caesar.)

The rebuilt temple remained intact until the late 1400s, when it was mostly dismantled to construct churches and palaces. Only parts of the cement core have been preserved.

One of these elements is a somewhat circular mound that marks the site of Julius Caesar's cremation. You can get within three feet of it, and people leave flowers there every March 15 to this day.

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