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66.2.Potter

When T. P. Wiseman argues that Caesar published his Gallic war commentaries to the masses by means of public readings in large venues, he recognizes a performative quality to the text. Henderson likewise speaks of the Bellum civile as being a performative speech to the Senate (38). Both of these scholars point to an aspect of Caesarʼs art that has received comparatively little attention: as a writer, Caesar was a master of narrative. Bellum Gallicum 7 is perhaps the most artfully crafted piece of Julius Caesarʼs extant works. Within the text Caesar appears as an adept stage manager, as an actor in the drama that unfolds, and as a spectator of much of the action. The reader, too, is spectator of Caesarʼs production. The author directs a drama that he stages for the readerʼs eyes and for Caesar to star in. To some extent, the theatrical elements of BG 7 hint at the art of the lost tragedies. This paper argues that the performative quality of the text can be seen in the final battles at Alesia. Here, Caesarʼs description of the battlefield is meant to evoke images of the arena, the site of theatrically staged death. The soldiers have a view down onto the field from their camps along the ridge above it (7.80.2). This image underscores the similarity between arena and battlefield as the locus for glory. Both the gladiator and the soldier require a witness to recognize that glory is theirs. The reader serves as the witness not only of the nameless soldiers and warriors who fight, but also of the final showdown between Caesar and Vercingetorix. The reader/spectator confers glory upon Caesar by recognizing his accomplishments at Alesia and throughout the Gallic campaigns. The final scenes also serve the narrative arc of the entire text. While the events at Alesia did not bring an end to campaigning, as Hirtiusʼs continuation attests, they do function as the finale to Caesarʼs narrative. Thus, the depiction of the final battle at Alesia stands as denouement not only of BG 7 but of the Bellum Gallicum as a whole.

Bibliography

  • Henderson, John. 1998. “XPDNC: writing Caesar.” Fighting for Rome: Poets and Caesars, History and Civil War. Cambridge UP. 37-69.
  • Wiseman, T.P. 1998. “The Publication of De Bello Gallico.” Julius Caesar as Artful Reporter. Kathryn Welch and Anton Powell, eds. Dukworth, London. 1-9.

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