Tuesday means Latin or, as the Romans would say, ‘Dies Martis Latina est.’ Thus, I will give Suetonius a bit of a moment in the spotlight:
In triumphō Caesar praetulit hunc titulum: “Vēnī, vīdī, vīcī.”
During the triumphal procession Caesar displayed this placard: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Durante la procesión triunfal César mostró este placa: “Vine, Vi, Vencí.”
If you have ever wondered where the reference could be found for Caesar’s famous phrase, Suetonius is your man (Suet. Jul. 37). Although the phrase is quite simplistic in nature, what has always interested me is machoness (just made that up) with which Caesar is associating himself. Have you ever noticed how many virile words in Latin begin with V? Let’s shoot a bullet through Dan Brown’s argument that the shape ‘V’ represents women. Could it represent a male genitalia? Could it, perhaps, represent the navel of a man? Let’s go through some examples in Latin that represent this idea of masculinity.
Vīs – Force
Vī – Stregth (literally ‘many forces’
Vir – Man, hero
Vinculum – Bond; if you are in jail, a chain.
Vivus – Alive
Virtus – Virtue
Vigor – Vigor
Victor – Victor
Victōria – Victory
Vīctus – Living (in a manly way, of course)
Vigilō – Be watchful
Videō – See, but also ‘to understand’
Vīta – Life
Vicissitūdō – Change
All of these examples contain the root for ‘force,’ indicating the ancient concept of men as the forceful characters of life. In the film “V for Vendetta” (2005), the hero (vir in Latin) delivers a speech in which most of the words begin with ‘v’:
“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. [carves “V” into poster on wall] The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. [giggles] Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.”
You might as well call V ‘the man.’ Indeed, V is such a man he is beyond men, the hero, the savior of his time. His speech is forceful, his actions are forceful, he must take action to be the hero, we must do in order to become. Consider this sentence in Latin:
Vī est vīs sī virī vigōrem vitae vigilant.
Force is strength if men are mindful of the vigor of life.
The gravitas of the sentence lies, fully, in its use of force. All of those ‘v’ words together imply strength. Caesar was trying to convey the same message to the Romans watching his triumph. Earlier, as he wrote to the senate about his war in Gaul, he had called them effeminate because they did not dare conquer as he did. Now, in his moment of victory, he could emphasize his own maleness while taking whatever masculinity the senate had left. “Vēnī, vīdī, vīcī” was not only a placard, it was a hammer on the conscience of those who defied Caesar. I came, you stayed; I saw, you ignored the problem; I conquered, you did nothing (doing nothing is bad enough in itself to a Roman). One can imagine the submissive faces of Caesar’s enemies when they could read, as well as we can, the very words that condemned them to be forgotten by history.
Quite the crazy statement; which is why Suetonius decides to let us know it happened. The historian understood the meaning perfectly.
Interestingly enough, however, at least three of the terms discussed above (Virtus, Victōria, and Vīta), although discussing manly attributes, are feminine in gender. Another fascinating aspect of Roman culture. To the Roman, the ethereal and complicated was feminine, the described and clear masculine. Virtue, Victory, and Life were such complicated things that the Romans rendered them feminine. What can we gather from that? Well, that’s for another time.