“Veni, vidi, vinci”—“I came, I saw, I conquered”—is one of the most famous military dispatches of all time, and totally characteristic of Julius Caesar. He sent it to Rome after his defeat of King Pharnaces of Pontus in 47 b.c.e., a campaign that added greatly to Rome’s eastern power but which represented almost an interlude between Caesar’s victories in Egypt and his final triumph in the civil war. The message captures the essence of Caesar, that almost superhuman mix of energy, ability, and ambition.
This mixture fascinated his contemporaries and has enthralled the world ever since. Caesar was ambitious, but so were others, Pompey among them. He was bold, but many other bold Romans had their schemes come to nothing. He was certainly able, but the Roman world was full of men of ability.
It was Caesar, however, who united all these qualities and had them in so much fuller measure than his contemporaries that he was unique. As a writer or speaker, he could easily hold his own against acknowledged masters such as Cicero; in statesmanship and politics, he was unsurpassed; in military skill, he had no peer. When all of these qualities were brought together, they amounted to an almost transcendent genius that seemed to give Julius Caesar powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
The central question, in 44 b.c.e. and today, is to what use—good or bad—did Caesar put those qualities and abilities? Clearly,...
(The entire section is 475 words.)