My Heart Bleeds for Brutus

I’ll admit it: I’ve always been a nut for the Fall of the Roman Republic. Anyone who’s seen the two brilliant (and outrageously luxurious) two seasons of HBO’s Rome and doesn’t have an apoplectic fit every time a boob appears on camera will probably agree it’s a great story. At any rate, it brought the ideas to people who would never have watched a History Channel show on Rome. Given our vast lack of knowledge about exact conditions at the time–and you scientists say you’ve figured out everything back to the Big Bang of the universe, except for the first few cajillowseconds…riiiiiight–I thought they did an amazing job bringing it to life.

Of course there were “dramatic rewritings”. One of them was Brutus…

I’m sorry, I’m assuming you know the plot. Here it is: Rome just said No to kings, and has had a patriarchal, senate-driven republic for a few hundred years. One G. Julius Caesar decides his best way out of the legal problems that would entrap him following a career of probably illegally killing hundreds of thousands if not a million Gauls and Germanic tribespeople for his personal gain, is to instead of standing down and returning to Rome, come back with his army and take the lead becoming dictator. The senate, their authority and good sense threatened, conspire to murder Caesar but need the approval of his um, sort of adopted son, Brutus. They get it, and Brutus goes down in history as JC’s most famous killer.

Then Brutus, along with the conspirators, is ousted by Mark Anthony–no, not the singer–and retreats to the far (Balkan) side of the Empire. There he gathers an army to return and clear his name as a defender of the republic. Anthony and the soon-to-be emperor Octavian’s armies meet them sooner rather than later, and…

In Rome, Brutus has a totally cool, I Am The Man ending where his forces are defeated and he discards his armor while going alone to fight the oncoming legions. After being a bit in awe of him, and watching him slice a couple of their friends, they close in and pierce Brutus to death in a way that recalls Caesar’s end.

In real life, Brutus’ legions were defeated and he fled to some hills with a remnant. In totally acceptable Roman style, he there committed suicide.

One can, through Shakespeare anyway, admire the flair of Mark Anthony. Caesar was nowhere near as bad as nearly all the men who ruled after him. But for me, Brutus is the most compelling character in this Roman drama: he has many moral and personal decisions to make, about who and what he will support and why. He is a killer yet a defender of a kind of democracy. Any way he turned was going to make him enemies. As an individual who has had to make choices and because of which been deemed “against” certain groups that felt someone who didn’t unconditionally agree with their point of view was an enemy, I can say that I know how he felt. The difficulty and responsibility of retaining one’s own judgment makes my heart bleed for Brutus.

And you? Have you ever been in a situation where whatever choice you made would make you enemies? How did it turn out?