Friday, 13 September 2013

Alexander versus Caesar - the use of rhetoric in tertiary debating

Ever since I was a first year in 1997, I have watched or participated in debates organised by The University of Queensland's Classics and Ancient History Society.  I have been on triumphant and losing teams and debated a number of topics: "Agrippina the Younger was more generous than Monica Lewinski" in the late 1990s to "MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground] is a greater venue than the Colosseum" around 2000, and the various comparisons between Alexander the Great and Gaius Julius Caesar.  This year, after a considerable lacuna, this topic was once again trotted out.  Despite the fact that I am officially no longer a student, and my title of "Doctor" still sounds tinny in my ear, I once again volunteered to debate for entertainment.  The Society has always tried to get members of staff to participate with students.

It was only after I had done so that I realised that the Society had decided to implement rules.  The various alumni with whom I had studied as an undergrad were horrified!  This year they requested that speakers use as many ancient sources as possible and still be humorous.  In the past I had created evidence, used false etymologies, and even suggest that witchcraft was a real problem in the politics of late republican Rome, thus allowing me to use a voodoo doll of the vice chancellor for easy laughs.  Now they wanted to judge speakers on historical content, rhetorical capabilities and humour. I was going to have to actually work and not make up facts when I couldn't remember my sources.

I managed the best I could, wrote out my speech and went along to the event, trusting in my sources, popular culture references and comparing not just Caesar and Alexander, but also the events of the recent election, for giggles.  I tried whenever possible to embrace my inner Cicero and use three examples whenever possible for rhetorical effect, and the occasional use of profanity which undergraduates don't expect to hear from academics.  My team lost the coin toss and I was to speak after an undergraduate on the opposing team, Carlos.  The delivery of his speech blew me away!  I knew if I wanted to make an impact, I couldn't rely on my notes.  So I stood and spoke my piece as much as I could remember it.  It was received well, but I realised I had forgotten some of my funnier lines.

Carlos and I had participated in some online sledging before the debate on the Society's Facebook page, and Carlos had suggested that a true reflection of Cicero rhetorical behaviour was not to deliver a speech, but rather publish it instead.  Because I missed some jokes and some people could not attend, I have decided to open thus blog with a record of the speech I prepared.  As for those speeches of Cicero's which were published after they were actually delivered, we have no idea as to what resemblance they actually shared to what was spoken, but I can assure you that a majority of what is written below was indeed spoken at The University of Queensland on Thursday, 12th of September:

"Today my team will illustrate how Caesar must be considered far greater than Alexander of Macedon.  I will be discussing their lives and character, Luca [Asmonti] will be comparing their legacies, and Izzy [Mansfield] will summarise our arguments and refute the spurious claims of our opposition.  You will all be convinced by the accuracy of our claims, and the judges will have no choice but to award us the win.

"My proof could be simple:  Gnaeus Pompeius, son of old Cross-Eyes, sorry Strabo, adopted the cognomen Magnus, ‘Great’, because he considered himself Alex’s successor in capability, potential and nature.  And who kicked Pompey the Great’s arse?  One Gaius Julius Caesar!

"But you deserve a better explanation than one so simple and so obvious, so let me continue to explain how Caesar was far greater than Alexander.  Let me start in true Plutarchian fashion by discussing their early lives and their childhoods.

"Alexander, I refuse to call him by the misnomer ‘Great’, came into the world as a spoilt brat.  He never had to work for his position in life.  Why, because his mummy and daddy gave it to him.  In fact, when you look upon Alex’s character, you quickly see that he was the Draco Malfoy of antiquity.  He never had to earn anything, he considered it his birthright.  Whatever he wanted, he got, not on a silver platter, but on gold.  When his dad suggested that he compete in the Olympic Games, as great an honour then as it is today, his response was to pout and ask whether everyone else competing were the sons of kings.  [Plutarch, Alexander 4.5]. His interest was not in merit, but instead he judged people by their birth.  Slytherinesque to the core.  In addition, his very conception is associated with snakes.  Philip feared to enter his wife’s bed after he saw a snake lying beside her naked body; nine months later Dra… sorry Alex was born. [Plutarch, Alexander 2.4]. This sneering, pouting, spoiled child, whose interest lay in his royal family tree can easily be seen spitting the insult “mudblood” at other kids in the classroom, had he ever been forced to associate with the social underclass.  The sorting hat would have wasted no time considering his placement.

"Now Caesar, by comparison, was far more likely to be sorted into Gryffindor.  He grew up in the Subura, Rome’s most impoverished slum area. [Suetonius, Julius Caesar 46]  He really is a Ron Weasley character.  His family was aristocratic, but poor, so unlike Alex, he had to work hard to get anywhere in life.  His family’s past associations with Marius left him devoid of inherited influence. [Suetonius, Julius Caesar 1; Plutarch, Caesar 1.1-2]   He had to earn friends, not inherit them as Alex did Crabb and Goy…sorry I mean Ptolemy and Nearchus. [Plutarch, Alexander 10.3]

"And this highlights what makes Caesar truly great:  he had to work for favour and influence within a political system against those better positioned than himself, rather than inherit and absolute monarchy (possibly at his father’s expense). [Justin 9.7]

"Caesar was a political animal, [David Marr, Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, Quarterly Essay 47, 2012] not in the Abbott sense with budgie smugglers, bikes and suppositories of knowledge, but in a true leadership style.  He was a politician with conviction and the balls to back himself.  The day of his election to Pontifex Maximus, he farewelled his mother Aurelia, whom he was kind enough to support in her old age, stating that he would return as PM or not at all. [Suetonius, Julius Caesar 13; Plutarch, Caesar 7.2]  He did not ask for five dollars from the electorate to help bankroll his campaign, or throw himself on the financial mercy of mining billionaires, or the influence of media moguls.  No.  Instead he put himself in hock and paid for it himself.  That is self-determination, conviction and vision!

"Our opponents cited the story of how Caesar wept when confronted with a statue of Alex in Spain.[Suetonius, Julius Caesar 7; Plutarch, Caesar 11.3; Dio Cassius 37.52.2].  This story is irrelevant to our debate today.  Caesar worked within a political system which required citizens who controlled their armies to be mature men, not adolescents playing with their father’s armies.  This desire among children to play with their father’s military might appears to be a trait shared by those who liked to be called ‘Great.’  Today, we are considering Caesar and Alex and their achievements up to the conclusion of their lives, not the age of 33.

"Like all great political leaders, Caesar met his end in the tried and true fashion:  assassination.  And I’m not talking about the conspiracy theory second gunman on the grassy knoll death, but a true political death – stabbed figuratively in the back, literally in the groin, and left for dead on the caucus, sorry senate, floor by those he had considered his friends, allies and supporters [Suetonius, Julius Caesar 82; Plutarch, Caesar 56.5-7.]  By comparison, Alex was so weak he died at the age of 33 in Babylon from a case of Delhi Belly [B. A. Cunha, 2004. "The death of Alexander the Great: malaria or typhoid fever?" Infectious disease clinics of North America 18: 53-63]; a pretty piss-poor effort when you consider that his dad took an arrow, not to the knee, but in the eye, and continued on. [Demosthenes, De Corona 18.67; see also A. S. Reginos, 1994. "The Wounding of Philip II of Macedon: Fact and Fabrication," Journal of Hellenic Studies 114: 103-19.]  Seriously, knife to the groin at the age of 56 versus a bad case of the runs at 33; you tell me who was greater.

"Sure, Alex was a general, but unlike Caesar, but many papers and books still argue as to whom the credit for his military success should be attributed:  his dad’s generals, or his mates.  Yet no one questions the military genius of one Gaius Julius Caesar.

"So, let us compare the two.  Alex took on the might of the Persian Empire you might say – but how mighty was it really?  This vague collection of satraps and client kings under the leadership of Darius III were in reality a bunch of nancy boys who lived on sweetmeats and baked goods sent to them from their mothers in care packages. [Plutarch, Alexander 22.4]  Darius was hardly an heir to his forebears.  The Persian Empire was ripe for destruction – a child could have, sorry, did beat it.  Comparatively, Caesar first had to earn the support of the jaded people and senate of Rome, and once he did, he took on the Gauls.  And the Gauls were a scary bunch.

"In 390 B.C. a Celtic army sacked the city of Rome, but unlike the Persian sack of Athens, which was the work of a huge empire, this was but a few bands. [Polybius 2.28.4; Livy 6.2.4]  While some sources, Dionysius of Halicarnassus for example, suggest that the Celts fought like wild beasts and delivered blows like they sought to slice and dice their opponents regardless of their armour, [Dionysius of Halicarnassus 14.10.1] they were doing so with huge numbers of men and using Noric steel, the same the Roman army preferred. [Horace Odes 1.16.9; V. F. Buchwald, 2005. Iron and Steel in Ancient Times,113-33]   If that weren’t scary enough, the Celts were head-hunters. [Diodorus Siculus 14.115.5]  Diodorus states that the Celts made themselves appear like Satyrs and Pan. [Diodorus Siculus 5.28.2]  If you add this to their berserker style of fighting, Caesar was fighting people who acted like the frenzied followers of Dionysus straight from Pentheus’ nightmares in Hades, [Eurpides, Bacchae] while Alex was flouncing around the East as if he were the Dionysus from Aristophanes’ Frogs:  dressed up in a hero’s clothes while his character was dressed in his mum’s nightie [Aristophanes, The Frogs 45 ff.]

"Yet despite Caesar's extraordinary efforts in conquering Gaul, he still had respect for those he vanquished – we still know the Celtic names for the cities throughout France [for example Paris and Nantes are named after the local Gallic tribes, and Lyon was Lugdunun].  Alex, by comparison, was so arrogant that for a long time we did not even we know know the Persian name of Persepolis.  This difference is likely because Caesar was not a drunken sot who would be influenced by the suggestion of a prostitute who was brought along on campaign. [Plutarch, Alexander 38]

"That said, I am not suggesting that Caesar was not interested in sexual conquests.  When Caesar returned home, a feat Alex failed to achieve, his soldiers during his Gallic triumph “Men of Rome, lock up your wives, here’s the bald adulterer.”  How did Caesar repay these jokes at his expense? with silver; [Suetonius, Julius Caesar 38, 51] whereas Alex repaid the criticism from his childhood friend Cleitus the Black with death. [Plutarch, Alexander 13.3, 51]  Indeed Caesar’s soldiers stood by him, through the Gallic conquests and civil war, and why would they not?  He had a great respect for their needs and desires.  He shared with them the booty they helped to win, and returned them home to Rome.  Alex, by comparison, was so arrogant he refused to consider his soldier’s desire to return to Macedon and demanded that they marry foreign wives:  its little wonder they mutinied against him. [Plutarch, Alexander 13.3; Arrian, Anabasis 7.4.4-5.6]

"Alex was loosing control at the time of his death.  He was loosing control of his army, his empire and even his own bowels. [Plutarch, Alexander 77 does not actually say that he had diarrhoea, but he was spending most of the time in the bath house and diarrhoea is a common symptom of typhoid]   He is only referred to as great because he died before everything achieved went the same way as his chamber pot.  Without his family’s power, Alex was nothing.  Caesar’s family’s power was nothing, in fact it was a handicap to his political career.  And this was not even the only handicap Caesar faced.  Caesar lived longer, worked harder, was greater.  And he did all of this with the disability of epilepsy, a debilitating disease without the benefit of modern treatment. [Suetonius, Julius Caesar 45.1]

"This afternoon I ask you to answer truly within you hearts who and what is greater:

"Hard work or inheritance.
"Gryffindor or Slytherin.
"Caesar or Alexander.

"You all know the correct answer."

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't realised the idea of historical content would be met with such abject horror... But I am glad that you still enjoyed the night! Look forward to reading more of the blog as well, even if it is via the markedly inferior medium of blogspot. :p