A Different Blue
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“Caesar had some friends in high places. They snooped around, whispered in a few ears, and blatantly tried to influence the Senate. But the Senate wanted no part of it. They told Caesar to disband the army and resign his position, or risk becoming an 'enemy of the state.' We use the same term today in the US government. It basically means the government finds you guilty of crimes against your country. People who sell national secrets, spy for another country, that kind of thing, are deemed 'enemies of the state.' Very 007 without the glamour or the amazing stunts or the fit Bond girls.”
I found myself smiling as the rest of the class laughed, and I marveled that I'd forgotten for a moment that I didn't like Mr. Wilson.
“Plus, can you imagine what that label would do to someone? Some would argue that such a label is used as a political tool – a tool to repress or intimidate. You charge someone with being a traitor to their country, an 'enemy of the state' and their life is over. It's like accusing someone of being a child molester. It wasn't any different in Ancient Rome. So we have Julius Caesar, ambitious, angry that he is being told he can't lead his army anymore, and basically being threatened with ugly labels and treason.
“Long story short, he brings his army to the banks of the Rubicon, which doesn't exist today, so no one really knows if it was just a little stream or a substantial river, and he stands there, thinking. He says to his men. 'We can still retreat. It's not too late, but once we pass this bridge, we will have to fight.'”
“You said he was rich, right? Why didn't he just take his money and go. Say to hell with the Senate, let them run the army, conquer people, whatever. They didn't appreciate him, fine. What was the point? What did he have to prove?” I found myself asking the question before I even realized I was saying the words out loud. I felt the heat of embarrassment travel up my cheeks. I never asked questions in class.
Mr. Wilson didn't act surprised that I was participating, and he immediately answered. “He was rich, he was powerful. He could have retired to Gaul, lived in the lap of luxury, and been fed grapes for the rest of his life.” Everyone laughed. I scowled. Mr. Wilson stopped in front of my desk and looked down at me quizzically.
“Why do you think he took his army into Rome, Blue?”
“Because he was a bloody peacock, and he wanted to be king,” I responded immediately, trying to mimic his accent. The class burst into laughter once more. “And because he didn't like being used or controlled,” I finished more quietly, without the accent.
“I think you're right on both accounts.” Mr. Wilson shifted away, drawing the rest of the class into the conversation. “It ends up that Julius Caesar grabbed a trumpet and ran to the bridge. He sounded the advance with a blast of the trumpet and cried out . . . and I am quoting, 'Let us go where the omens of the gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! The dye is now cast.' What do you think that means? The dye is now cast.”
The classroom was silent. Of course there were kids who knew the answer, but, per usual, no one raised their hand.
“The deed is done, your goose is cooked, the milk is spilled, your bed is made,” I droned in a very bored voice.
“Yes,” Wilson ignored my tone. “It was in the hands of destiny. He had crossed the Rubicon and there was no turning back. We all know what eventually happened to Julius Caesar, yes?” No, we didn't. I did, but I was through being the star student.
“Julius was murdered – a murder plotted with the help of his friend. Shakespeare wrote a wicked play called Julius Caesar, which you have all been assigned to read and which you will be tested on this Friday.” Moaning commenced, but Wilson just smiled. “I told you, literature tells the history so much better than the text books, and it's infinitely more enjoyable to learn it that way. Quit your whingeing. You'll thank me someday.” Whingeing? That was one I hadn't heard before.
“So Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, rushing to his destiny. And it was a destiny both glorious and tragic. He reached the very pinnacle of power, and in the end he discovered power is an illusion.
“So that brings us to round three, people. Feel free to add pages as you need. This is the assignment we started the first day of school. And it's just going to keep on growing. You've written some of your history, at least in broad terms. Now I want you to take one moment from your life. A moment where the dye was cast, where you crossed your metaphorical Rubicon and you couldn't go back. I want you to tell me how it formed you or changed you. Maybe it was something that was beyond your control, something that happened to you, or maybe it was an actual decision you made. For better or worse, how did it affect the direction of your story?”
One by one, Wilson started passing papers to my classmates, making a comment here or there. I sighed, remembering how I had thrown mine in the trash. Again. The classroom got quiet as people got to work. I tore a clean sheet of paper from a notebook and prepared to start over. Wilson was suddenly standing in front of my desk, which unfortunately had remained right on the front row since he had assigned us to the seats we had “chosen” on the first day of school.