Today is the Ides of March, and so the 2055th anniversary (give or take) of Julius Caesar's death. Caesar scorned the famous warning, and was slain by a group of conspirators, among them Brutus. Allegedly the conspirators feared that Caesar would end the republic by making himself a monarch, but traditionally, Brutus is the only one motivated solely by the good of Rome. Following the story roughly, Shakespeare takes some liberties. Making Brutus a libertarian hero, he furnishes him with these lines:
Romans, countrymen, and lovers! ...If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar's, to him I say, that Brutus' love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: - Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his ambition… With this I depart, that, as I slew my best lover for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself, when it shall please my country to need my death.
The mutiny gives rise to civil strife, and a counter-revolution led by Caesar's loyalists, Mark Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, who stir up the distracted multitude against the rebels. Cassius and then Brutus fall on their swords, and the triumvirs take power. Shakespeare ends there, but the rest is not silence: Octavius fought and defeated Mark Antony and became Augustus, a more ambitious Caesar, and the first monarch of imperial Rome.
More than 2000 years on, we don't seem to have escaped this cycle of ambition and death. Almost inexorably, the freedom fighters of one generation are the tyrants of the next. For all our sophistication, our long history, we still live with monomaniacs who would obliterate their own people rather than give up power. Who drop bombs on hospitals, poison lands and waters, shoot little girls who learn to read. Who would kill every last one of their countrymen before themselves.