Gaius Julius Caesar. Master of war. His original name probably looked something like Caius Iulius Caesares – interesting if you are into Roman Gentes. The man was assassinated in 44 BCE by members of the Roman Senate. Before that, he had become the foremost ruler of Rome, and participated in a triumvirate with none other than Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey – probably the first true Roman dictator for life) and Marcus Licinius Crassus (more than likely the richest man in history – yes, of all time). Pompey was killed in Egypt ca. 47 BCE, as Caesar pursued him, by a pharaoh no more than twelve – later, Cleopatra would have her brother and husband murdered. Crassus died in combat in the East, far from Rome. To many, their deaths are not only ironic, but also expected. Perhaps, in these words from Caesar we may find an explanation as to why:
Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest… parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit.But Fortune, who is able to do many things… by means of small momentum it is able to effect great changes.
Pero Fortuna, la cual puede hacer muchas cosas por medio de un pequeño impulso puede entonces crear grandes cambios.
Fortune, once more, assails us. Caesar, in his De Bello Gallico, emphasizes the power of Fortune, but he also emphasizes what makes luck so powerful. It is parvus momentum (if you are wondering why it looks different it is due to the fact that in the quotation the phrase in is an Ablative form, while I repeat it in the Nominative) or, in translation, little moments. We speak of momentum as as the build-up of velocity in relation to mass. That pesky physic’s class will never go away. The bigger the mass of an object and the greater momentum it gathers, the harder it is to stop. Multiply mass (m) and velocity (v), and you end up with basic momentum. Fortuna makes use of this mathematical equation. The more popular the man is, multiplied by the speed at which he moves, is his overall speed towards the end of his life. Socrates agreed when he said “If I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago.” In other words, the more mass and gravity, the more things are attracted to you, such as danger, fortune, and enemies. Socrates thought people should simply walk through life, seeking to aid fellow citizens but not tempting fortune by overexerting. Caesar was of a different stock, so were Pompey and Crassus. They thought the duty of man was to become as massive and quick as possible, without care for overall velocity.
Consider the metaphor of the race. Every man starts at the same place, not moving. The fastest man wins, of course, but he also gets to the end faster than the others. A man who wishes to live long (enjoy the race) should not run, but walk, even slow down and stop here and there to enjoy the sights. However, both Socrates and Caesar would agree that an individual not moving along in the race is far worse than another who struggles to race to the end as quickly as possible. Life is the same. We run our race, some quickly, some slowly. Many enjoy the walking while looking around, others just cannot help it but run as fast as possible. Many people notice they are arriving to the end of the line and try to stop before it comes; however, fortune has already dictated their fate, momentum is too great, and they end the race, inevitably, amongst wailing and gnashing of teeth – and death.
What are we to do, then, to become great. Change little. It is an interesting idea, in this world of progress, that to change little may mean both success and a longer-lasting life. I am not saying not to change, nor am I promoting a utopian world in which little things happen. Rather, we must think of changing step by step, gradually, as things come in life. Caesar is not saying that change is bad, he is saying that little change can make big changes down the road. In a world like the Roman, in which there was such a thing as a cursus honorum (a list of political key-points everyone had to hit in order to become a man of honor), to skip a step by running too fast was indeed seen as over-zealousness, what the Romans called superstitio. If the word looks familiar it is because we make up our modern ‘superstition’ from it, which is nothing more than over-stating religion.
In summary, should never run faster than one can afford. To do so may grant us immediate pleasure, even higher office, but it also builds our momentum, the speed at which we race towards our own end. We may find, at the end of our lives, that we have over-stated our beliefs, over-run the race, over-acted our role but, then, as we are to heavy with position and to quick by virtue of our advancement, there will be no stopping to see the world around us. Fortune will drag us, inexorably, to our demise. All pay the debt of death, eventually; how happy we are at the end, is completely up to the way we run the race. I don’t know if Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus died with smiles on their faces, but I do know many regretted they did not get to live longer lives. They could have slowed down, but it wasn’t in them. Maybe it is not in you either, reader, what you do in life is up to you, but keep in mind the inexorable fate that awaits us all and, perhaps, while still attaining your goals, you can also slow down to gaze at the wonders around you.