Render unto Caesar

by Maria on May 15, 2008

BBC news reports that a bust of Julius Caesar has been found in the Rhone. It’s a rare (unique?) contemporary representation, and none too flattering. Who knew there was a Roman ‘realist’ style?

It’s driving me crazy because he reminds me of someone. On first glance, he looks like a Ferengi. It’s certainly a far less noble countenance than your average Julius Caesar. But on second and subsequent glances, he becomes very endearing, and not just in a Short Man Syndrome kind of way. (Dear God, he doesn’t look like Nicolas Sarkozy, does he?) You can really see that this needy little jerk had the smarts to survive Sulla and the gumption to cross the Rubicon. Well worth a look.



Nathaniel 05.15.08 at 5:09 pm

Mary Beard doesn’t think so: The face of Julius Caesar? Come off it!


biff3000 05.15.08 at 5:16 pm

I swear, when I saw the picture, before I read the text, I thought “Oh God, please don’t tell me someone commissioned a bust for the George W. Bush Presidential Library.” It seems like something an assmuffin like VD Hanson might suggest.


PL 05.15.08 at 5:17 pm

He looks a bit like David Bamber, who played Cicero in the series Rome, but that may just be the association. They share a slightly aggrieved look…


Maria 05.15.08 at 5:22 pm

Hmm, Mary Beard’s piece does have the ring of truth to it. Though her parting shot that they wouldn’t have chucked the bust in the river just as Julius Caesar was being made a god doesn’t stick – that didn’t happen till 2 years after he was assassinated.


Steve LaBonne 05.15.08 at 5:23 pm

Actually Roman portrait busts from the Republican period are known for their unvarnished realism. Non-realism came later in sanitized, Hellenicized portraits of emperors from Augusts onward.


Doctor Memory 05.15.08 at 5:30 pm

He reminds me a bit of a slightly older, reedier Daniel Craig.


noen 05.15.08 at 5:34 pm

“A group of republican senators assassinated Caesar in 44BC.”



Remfin 05.15.08 at 5:36 pm

How about the Nick Nolte mugshot?


brooksfoe 05.15.08 at 5:38 pm

It’s driving me crazy because he reminds me of someone.

Dustin Hoffman.



SomeCallMeTim 05.15.08 at 5:40 pm

On first glance, he looks like a Ferengi.

Huh. I was thinking Dr. Gaius, but you might be right.


Steve LaBonne 05.15.08 at 5:47 pm

In the comment thread to Mary Beard’s article it’s being compared to W. That makes me feel sorry for the statue.


mc_masterchef 05.15.08 at 5:58 pm


notsneaky 05.15.08 at 6:00 pm

The penguin edition of Suetonius’ Lives of Ceasars has a picture at the beginning of each chapter of the guy it’s talking about, based on contemporary Roman coins. Pretty much none of them, except maybe Augustus, are flattering. Vespasian in particular looks ugly, but happy.


LowLife 05.15.08 at 6:07 pm

Walk through any Roman section of an art museum and you’ll find plenty of craggy faces staring back at you. The Greek influence on Roman sculture was mainly from the neck down. The heroic bodies of gods and heros appealed the the Roman sense of vitality but it was the old men that ruled the place. Only the wizened visage of the patron had sufficient gravitas to lead Rome. Thus, one gets the head of Nestor on the body of Achilles.


Melissa 05.15.08 at 6:19 pm

Something about the bust calls to mind Norman Mailer. The ears? tilt of the head?


fargo north, decoder 05.15.08 at 6:31 pm

Michael Bloomberg. Although Rudy would be funnier, ha ha. Or wait–scarier?


David in NY 05.15.08 at 6:39 pm

I find myself surpised that a marble bust wouldn’t have eroded, or dissolved, more in 2000 years, but I don’t know anything about this. I guess the Rhone is not very acid around Arles, or maybe being buried in mud protected the bust. I think ancient statues have been found at the bottom of the Mediterranean, so I guess its preservation is not so surprising.


Anderson 05.15.08 at 6:48 pm

He has a lot of hair to be Julius Caesar.

Remember what his troops sang at his triumph: “Put away your wives and daughters, the bald adulterer is back in town!”


Giotto 05.15.08 at 7:04 pm

I gotta go with Mary Beard on this one. This sort of flimsy yet sensationalistic claim is all too common in ancient archaeology, though it seems the worst offenses relate to the Bible; witness the recent claim that the palace of the Queen of Sheba has been found in Ethiopia. Which is absurd, because everyone knows the Queen of Sheba was from Yemen!


Giotto 05.15.08 at 7:13 pm

oh, reminds me of Steve McQueen.


Grand Moff Texan 05.15.08 at 7:51 pm

Who knew there was a Roman ‘realist’ style?

[raises hand]

Late Antique psychedelia is cool, too.

mane sealiensis posturpedicis est!


Mrs Tilton 05.15.08 at 8:05 pm

Bit like Reggie Perrin, surely.

As for Short Man Syndrome, though, I’d thought old Gaius Julius wasn’t particularly short?


mollymooly 05.15.08 at 8:24 pm


CK Dexter 05.15.08 at 8:38 pm

He looks a little like Lou Reed.


Maria 05.15.08 at 8:46 pm

Mrs Tilton – no. At least I don’t remember Suetonius having anything to say about his height, and he’s pretty much my sole, if very entertaining, source. But he just has a short guy kind of expression, you know..?


lisa 05.15.08 at 8:55 pm

But I find it more heartening to think Caesar was sexy in that Tommy Lee Jones way rather than in that Ralph Fiennes way. Damn the lack of historical evidence. That would explain so much.


Anderson 05.15.08 at 10:09 pm

At least I don’t remember Suetonius having anything to say about his height

Suetonius says Caesar was “of lofty stature” (1.45).


Bro. Bartleby 05.15.08 at 10:36 pm

Looks like Baretta, aka Robert Blake, also in later life acting somewhat like Julius did:


Mrs Tilton 05.16.08 at 8:23 am

Maria, Anderson,

perhaps we might best say that GJC was a tall man who aspired, successfully, to spiritual shortness.


Tim Worstall 05.16.08 at 10:37 am


belle le triste 05.16.08 at 1:14 pm

i’d say clive james (except with hair)


fuyura 05.16.08 at 2:16 pm

Looks like Tom Brokaw to me.


bernard Yomtov 05.16.08 at 2:24 pm

This is an obvious mistake.

Probably, the archaeologist who actually found the bust yelled out,

“Great Caesar’s ghost!!” and was taken literally.


Martin Wisse 05.16.08 at 2:59 pm


Rich B. 05.16.08 at 7:05 pm

Oh, come on! He’s the spitting image of George W. Bush, if Bush had taken one of those beauty pills from the “Mudd’s Women” episode of Star Trek and got one of those sultry, come-hither looks in his eyes.


Jon H 05.17.08 at 4:13 am

The overall shape is like Bush or Alfred E. Neuman, though the mouth isn’t quite right for Bush. Not simian enough.


glenn 05.18.08 at 9:37 am

W? Can’t be… any bust of Bush would have floated down the river.


bill 05.18.08 at 8:17 pm

He looks like the HR guy from the US version of the TV show The Office.


Li'l Innocent 05.19.08 at 1:44 am

There’s an excellent American actor named Robert Foxworth whom the bust somewhat resembles.

I can see the point-for-point comparison with W – – but the gestalt is way off. The Arles bust is of a man of sensuality and intelligence, corrugated by stress and responsibility.

See wot I mean? Couldn’t be Bush.


ChristyZ 05.19.08 at 6:41 pm

William H. Macy a.k.a “I know I’ve seen him in some movie”


abb1 05.20.08 at 12:01 pm

@40 Sorry, but I categorically object to your characterization of Macy. He’s not ‘some actor’, he played the main role in Fargo.

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