It is not uncommon to encounter the shadow of Julius Caesar in Macedonia. Brutus—her murderer—saw her with horror in his tent at Philippi on the eve of the battle which he lost and at the end of which he fell on his sword: Shakespeare recounts it. Santiago Posteguillo’s encounter is much friendlier and thankfully didn’t include the ghost or the gladiolus. The 55-year-old Valencian writer traveled to this region of northern Greece to present his new novel, the polysemous Rome is me (Ediciones B, 2022) —Roma is Caesar, but without a doubt Posteguillo himself is already for four million readers—, with which he began the unusual and ambitious project of telling the life of the great Julio through six novels, what is will occupy him, he calculates, until 2032!, at the rate of a title every two years, “if all goes well and that Putin does not invade Poland”. And he chose Macedonia for the launch because this territory plays a vital role in the first part, focusing in particular on the recreation of the historical trial in which a young and inexperienced Julius Caesar acted as a prosecutor against the corrupt Roman governor of the province, Gnaeus Cornelius. Dolabella. .
For Posteguillo, who presents Dolabela, an ally of the all-powerful dictator Sila, as depraved (these are the two great villains of the first book), this trial, in 77 BC. J.-C., marked the destiny of Caesar. In the novel, with part of Thriller in French court case, Caesar travels to Macedonia to question witnesses against the proconsul and has the opportunity to pass through Pella, the ancient capital of the Macedonian kingdom where another conqueror was born and raised in whose shadow – precisely – Julius lived, emphasizes the writer: Alexander the Great. So here we are, with Posteguillo, visiting the ruins of Pella covered with a spring blanket in which wild flowers appear and in which it is easy to imagine grazing Bucephalus, Alexander’s horse. Everything about this trip is inspiring, starting with the fact that the driver of the bus that brought us from Thessaloniki, 50 kilometers away, is called Achille (whose shadow fascinated Alejandro, who fascinated Caesar, who fascinated Santiago …).
Some time ago, the writer took command of the expedition to explain that we can share the feelings that Caesar must have had here and that he recreates in his novel (which he takes advantage of to read on the site the passage of the protagonist’s visit to the place). It indicates that Caesar stopped at Pella on his journey to Thessaloniki along the strategic Via Egnatia (1,120 kilometers, from the Adriatic to Byzantium) “and saw something similar to what we see”. Pella had been destroyed by an earthquake and by Roman troops after the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC – the victory of the legion over the phalanx – which sealed the end of Macedonia as an independent kingdom. “He stayed two nights, it was a ghost town, but he was undoubtedly moved by remembering Alejandro. Caesar admired and envied him. We will see him in the novels. There is that moment significant that Plutarch mentions, comparing the two in one of his parallel lives, in which, while contemplating a statue of Alexander in the sanctuary of Hercules at Gades, Cádiz, Caesar wept when he realized that he was already the age of the Macedonian when he died, 32, and that while he had already conquered the world, he hadn’t done anything that anyone remembered yet. “His planned campaign against the Parthians, foiled by their assassination, may have been an attempt to imitate Alexander and then move on to India. There are differences, to be sure: Alexander shows irrational vehemence, nostalgia, which we do not find in Caesar. Differences in age, perhaps: Julius Caesar died at the age of 56, and the full demonstration of his military and political talents did not take place until much later.
Posteguillo, looking rejuvenated, enthusiastic and smooth after his very satisfying first encounter with Julius Caesar (he’s already immersed in the second), takes an emotional pause among the ruins while on the horizon, behind the hill of the Pella Palace, a few high-tension towers mimic the bronze giant Talos, and a kestrel hangs for a few moments in the leaden sky before falling on its prey.
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Later, inside the new museum in Pella, in front of a bust of the great Macedonian – Alexander and Caesar’s novelist face to face – he will continue to unravel the link. Caesar will be the lover – and the father of a son – of a woman of Macedonian origin, Cleopatra, a descendant of Ptolemy, general of Alexander who created his own dynasty in Egypt. “The relationship had to mean something very special to him; I put it on to be with Cleopatra, that’s for sure,” he mused. The Queen will have an important role in the series of novels and her birth will be chronicled in the next one. In Rome it’s me A wink when Caesar’s young wife asks him on their wedding night — after Julius refused fellatio (“Roman matrons shouldn’t do that”) — if he has been with an Egyptian, considered more liberal, and he replies that he hasn’t And he thinks he never will be. “These are small complicities with readers, like young Caesar’s interest in Gaul, or his concern for his hair,” he laughs.
The riches that the Pella Museum exhibits, beauty and gold, remind Posteguillo of the rapacity of Dolabela in the province. “The trial against him changed Caesar’s life, and that is why Macedon is also important in his career. In 77 BC, Caesar was a family name like Pérez, but at the end of the trial, the name begins to mean something else My novel explores when Caesar begins the career that will make him immortal, and it is because the Macedonians have sued a despotic governor and asked him to represent them. i am rome it is the novel of the emergence of Caesar. We owe the Macedonians Alexander, but also this judgment he passed on Caesar”.
Posteguillo says that after 17 years (2003-2020) immersed in the Roman world, since his novels on Scipio, he was finally able to undertake his project on Caesar “the number one”, for which, he underlines, he s always felt attracted. It took two years, as usual, on the first novel in the series. “It was essential to find a powerful and original opening to begin to tell the story of Caesar’s life and that was the fact that Caesar was a prosecutor in the Dolabela trial.” Other axes are the influence of his mother Aurelia, the love for his first wife Cornelia, the relationship with Mario, the friendship with Labienus or the climate of political violence that marks the context of the time. For Posteguillo, the main challenge of his series is “not to disappoint people in the great moments they know and expect from the life of Julius Caesar”, all of which are yet to come: the conquest of Gaul, the relationship with Cleopatra, the civil war, crossing the Rubicon, murder (he still doesn’t know if there will be “et tu Brute”)… “It’s my vertigo”. He assures that he is more concerned with “meeting expectations” than finding things that surprise. In this sense, the first novel, about Caesar’s youth, of which much less is known than about his adult stage, was easier. He is aware that the cast of his series is “overwhelming”: Pompey (another follower of Alexander since his nickname Magno), Marco Antonio, Cleopatra, Augusto, Vercingetorix… “In Rome is me I was particularly careful that a Mario at his peak did not eat a young Caesar”.
Does it make sense to approach Caesar from fiction? “Yes, you can explain things in the story in a more engaging way and that allows you to fill in the gaps.” Posteguillo assures us that he will involve us in his description, for example, of the site and the battle of Alesia, which will occur in the third novel. It’s not hard to believe this after reading in the former its brawny version of the Battle of Aquae Sextiae, in which Mario defeats Teutons and Ambrones, and the cinematography (and bloody, a warrior is trapped between the leaves of the great city gates and his body literally bursts open when these are closed) capture of Mytilene, in which Caesar enters battle for the first time and wins a civic crown for his courage and devoted.
A glass pace in the form of a phallus invites us to remember the passage of the novel in which Posteguillo describes the atrocious rape of a young Macedonian noblewoman by Dolabella. And the famous curse tablet which is exhibited in the museum recalls the legend which appears in Rome is me of the siren who asked if Alejandro was alive and cast a deadly spell if you told him no. Legend has it that this mermaid was none other than Thessaloniki, the sister of Alexander who gave her name to the current capital of Macedonia.
In the city, which seems to revolve around the great equestrian statue of the conqueror surrounded by shields and sarissas and which is reflected in the waters of the Thermaic Gulf where a bireme of fake tourists sways, Posteguillo guides through the extraordinary Museum Archaeological and points out new Macedonian connections. There are elements of the temple of Aphrodite, highly revered in Macedonia, the Roman Venus from whom Caesar’s family claimed descent through Aeneas. Julius himself was revered in Thessaloniki – a city with such impressive Roman monuments as the Arch and Rotunda of Galerius – after his deification by Augustus. We also stop at the famous Dervini crater, with its images of maenads in erotic ecstasy, don’t they remind us of the orgy in the novel where Sulla engages in sadomasochistic practices in her villa in Puetoli? There’s a lot of sex in Rome is me. Curiously, Posteguillo does not dwell on the episode of young Caesar’s relationship with King Nicomedes of Bithynia, which sparked so many malicious rumors and bothered Julio all his life (it was one of the few things that drove him crazy). “I have no problem with the sexual identity of my characters, whether fluid like Heliogabalus or homosexual like Trajan. But the passive relationship between Caesar and Nicomedes — which was humiliating for a Roman citizen — strikes me as a fraud. of his detractors. Caesar has wives, lovers, children; He’s straight and that’s it.”
What would have become of Caesar if he had survived? “He was doomed, they would have killed him another day. But if he had gone on a campaign in the East, who knows, he might have died in the Indus.
Would Cesar be nice to us if we could meet him? “He would be charismatic for us, he knew how to be a very good communicator. Today I would use social networks wonderfully. But there were also creases. He was a man of great personal appeal, but of questionable decisions. What is certain is that it would not leave us indifferent”. Regarding his personal vision, Posteguillo admits that, unlike other novelists who have tried to tell his life from a very critical point of view, he feels admiration for the character. And he admits with a big smile: “Julio César can me”.