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September 01, 1985|PAUL DEAN

JULIUS CAESAR: THE BATTLE FOR GAUL, a new translation by Anne & Peter Wiseman (Godine: $12:95, illustrated). Much of the intellectual separation between study hall followers of Caesar and elective appreciators of Gaius Julius Caesar, patrician, poet, orator, author, general and politician, will be closed by this deft work. It is a smooth yet vivid translation from the Latin of Caesar's seven "Commentaries" on the Gallic War and a fascinating first-person (Caesar wrote the original in the third person) account that engenders a definite eeriness . . . as the chronicle of a man not simply reporting history, but actually creating it. Of an engagement upon returning to Gaul from Britain in the autumn of 54 BC: "Titus Balventius, a gallant and highly respected soldier who had been chief centurion of his legion the previous year, had both thighs pierced by a spear in this battle . . . the legate Lucius Cotta was wounded by a sling stone that hit him full in the face as he was going around encouraging all the cohorts and companies of men." The book remains in that absorbing mode; a simple drama of easy explanations detailing the person, his era, victories, defeats and intricacies of high military command that haven't changed that much. Illustrated by photographs, sketches, maps and aerial surveys showing traces of Roman camps and cliff castles, this is close-up writing of a military campaign that is much more Ernie Pyle than it is Winston Churchill. Or as Cicero said when reviewing Caesar's original text in 46 BC: "Splendid: bare, straight and handsome, stripped of rhetorical ornament like an athlete of his clothes."

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