The Business Affairs of Mr. Julius Caesar by Bertolt Brecht

This book just recently made its debut in English.  Trying to get a hold of it was a job and 1/2.  I had no desire to pay 25 dollars on Amazon, so I went to the local library for an interlibrary loan.  I was willing to wait for it.   Now let’s take a look at Caesar from a different angle.  Was Caesar in it for the glory of Rome, or just for his bank account?

Book review: The Business Affairs of Mr. Julius Caesar

The book is about an aspiring scholar determined to write a book about Julius Caesar twenty years after his death.  He relies on diaries and eye witnesses while balancing the politics and the economics of this ancient Republic to come up with a draft.  He begins with the idealized perception of Caesar, and then is slowly bombarded with the realities of money and power that decided Caesar’s fate. 

At first the idea of reviewing a book by Bertolt Brecht seemed daunting.  “I am not worthy!  I am not worthy!” I thought wildly, risking sounding like the characters from 1992 movie Wayne’s WorldThis is Bertolt Brecht.  Brecht lived from 1898 to 1956. Poet.  Playwright.  And theater producer on an intellectual avant-garde scale.  This is a big deal.  How do I get the chance to review his work?  “I am not worthy!”  I shout again in my best Wayne and Garth imitation.   

Well, worthy or not, I am going to attempt it. 

Brecht born in Bavaria, escaped to live in the U.S. during World War II.  After the war he came under surveillance during Hollywood’s blacklisting era perpetrated by the ever popular House Un-American Activities Committee.  Face it.  He had some very left-leaning ideas.  However, he was never a communist, though he lived in Each Germany during the 50s.  Though investigated by the American government, like many script writers and film actors of the 50s, he still had a very respectable reputation for his genius. Others investigated included Dalton Trumbo the screenwriter for the movies Spartacus and Exodus, and Ring Lardner the author of the 1970 film MASH.      

Those of you that say, “I’ve never heard of Brecht” may still know something ‘of him’ from the musical Three Penny Opera.  If you are still wondering, you may have heard the song Mack the knife sung by the 60s heartthrob Bobby Darrin.  THAT SONG was borrowed from Three Penny Opera, a socialist critique of the capitalist world.   Darrin may have sung it in a very hip Las Vegas style rendering, but I’ve heard it sung in the tempo of a corner side organ grinder in a movie version of the original Three Penny Opera.

And that brings us to The Business Affairs of Mr. Julius Caesar I did not expect to like this book, but after all it is Brecht.  The work of German intellectuals was never my thing, but it’s a great read.  The content was riveting, and the translation was unnoticeable (as it should be).  

The book was determined to bring down a peg or two the great Julius Caesar.  The protagonist looking for details consults a poet named Vastius Alder that describes Caesar in the following way,” People like that are depicted and copied from one to the next over thousands of years.  A few strokes in water colour [sic] are enough.”   

So in modern times there are many interpretations of the great man, and one could say the above quote gave Brecht permission to interpret Caesar in his own way.  After all it’s his book.   I’m not saying he is right or wrong!  I’m just going with the flow of the book.  Much of the book is divided into diary entries that seem to paint Caesar as a man controlled by his debtors.   The book does not cover his spectacular conquering of Gaul, but Caesar’s wanting a percentage of the silver mines after taking Spain, and moving populations form their mountain homes to the valleys because of the impossibility of taxing mountain people.  Concerns in the book cover the subjects of shepherds not making good slaves to the number of foreigners that are in Rome.  There is even a scandal associated with a Triumph which seems strangely prescient of the funds that disappeared from an inaugural ceremony from the previous president.  There is no ending, by the way.  It’s unfinished.  However the authors provide a section titled:  Proposed Contents of the Rest of the Novel.   I imagine much was found in the remaining notes of Brecht’s outline for the book.  Much of the story is during the Catalina Conspiracy, and the author (considering he is a playwright) provides strong character development.    

Being a history geek I have read all sorts of history.  Mostly works on Cleopatra, Antony and Caesar.  Serious historians get into the weeds of the policies that had to do with the corn dole, The Catalina Conspiracy, voting, and assorted class warfare between the plebian and patrician classes.  In this book, Brecht’s book brings to life these mundane details with the same color and immediacy as President Reagan lauding his “trickle-down theory” and when President Trump gave a tax break to the wealthiest one percent in the nation.   The economics of then, and the economics of now, all seem to come alive with Brecht’s dive into the policies of that age. 

Now, before you say anything, I get it.  What I am comparing to the now, is purely from where I sit in 2021.  What Brecht saw is purely from his perch in the 1930s and 40s.  All you have to do is take one look at any National Socialist Rally.  All you have to do is YouTube (used as an adjective) the black and white propaganda film The Triumph of the Will to see the pain staking similarities the NAZIs made to visually compare themselves with Ancient Rome –eagles, symbols, and rallies with backdrops of roman columns.  What’s more, with the rise of Nazi power the German industrialists had no qualms in using slaves – yes, I said slaves – to support their production quotas.  Even Mussolini used Rome as a propaganda tool, and you can prove this by checking out the 1937 movie Scipio Africanus:  The Defeat of Hannibal, a blatant propaganda film to support Mussolini’s foray into Ethiopia. 

So in case if you haven’t caught it, I’ve found my social consciousness being raised by Brecht’s unfinished manuscript.  I don’t claim to believe everything that  Brecht’s claims about Julius Caesar, after all; he is just one of many artist that have used this historical character in the cause of art, but I began to see similarities between a look to the past and recent events in the now.   The fog of time has dampened or colored our perception of Caesar.  Brecht’s vision is just as valid as anyone else, and how an historical piece is written is decided by the he or she that wields the pen. 

So forgive me when upon reading Brecht’s book I could see a Trumpian world where the rich get richer, and money is the only reason for power.  Brecht reduced the motivations of Caesar to the compound-interest of banks.  As Caesar, in Brecht’s book, is hounded by creditors, I wonder if Trump’s run for the presidency was controlled less by public interest and more by the compound-interest of Trump’s main creditor Deutche Bank.  The jury is still out on that one.  I said “jury”…”Ha!”

It seems to me, and prove to me that I’m wrong, that most of Trump’s motivations has been to enrich his own purse, but that in itself is not too far off what Caesars hope to gain from the sale of slaves, interest in silver mines, and raiding the holy bank of Rome to pay the legions.  How has Trump helped his credit line?  Just the disappearance inaugural funds, Secret Service assignments to live in his hotels, and the taking of donations for Veterans that have mysteriously disappeared.   

This perception is only if you stare at the problem through a ledger sheet.  So let us leave Brecht’s lefty agenda and just measure the men. 

Here is an excerpt by Brent Renalli from the website THE GLOBALIST make the comparison. 

  1. One was a soldier used to hard campaigning. The other was notoriously soft, a shirker from military service whose primary talents, honed by decades of tabloid celebrity and reality television stardom, are shocking and titillating, bullying and pandering.
  2. One was the scion of an impoverished ancient noble family. The other is gaudy nouveau riche.
  3. One was objectively successful as a general — arguably the greatest general to serve the ancient world’s greatest empire.
  4. The other is a poor spectacle of a businessman, most notable for his unethical practices (such as not paying vendors and contractors, exaggerating his assets) and his spectacular bankruptcies.

End of excerpt.

Frankly, Caesar led from the front, and Trump after telling his supporters on Jan 6 to march on the Capital of which he declared “I will be there with you” hid in the Oval Office to watch the riot on TV.

From Trump’s dealings in real estate, he is more Crassus than Caesar.  Crassus crushed a slave revolt (which Trump would happily do if he was brave enough) and had gold poured down his throat when captured by the King Mithridates.  Take a look at Trump’s apartment and you can see how I came up with that analogy. 

It’s at this point I am dropping the Caesar / Crassus comparison.  I suggest there’s a better Brecht masterpiece when it comes to Trump:  The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (German: Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui).  This play is a fictional chronicle of a 1930s Chicago mobster, and his attempts to control the cauliflower racket by ruthlessly disposing of the opposition.

This story could be about Donald Trump, but the story is REALLY about…

Adolf Hitler. 

Pg. 185

Opinion Survey in the time of Ancient Rome

Cruppulus (wool):  Whatever happens in politics, weapons decide things, short term and long term.  The politicians won’t have the last word, the generals will.  So we don’t need Caesar, we need Pompey.

Celor (skins and leather):  If it’s up to the Senate, it’ll be Cato.  If it’s the army, Pompey.  If it’s us, Cicero.  If it’s the streets, Clodius – And Caesar?  I asked.Well, C’s got the creditor’s after him.

A Senator:  The best way to dispose of Pompey is not to block his way – down to the rabble.  If he starts playing the part of a Democrat, there’ll no part for him to play in a Democracy.  Caesar can tell you all about that.

Second Senator:  The City has go the war in Asia on is conscience.  The value of our estates had dropped by half.  Now they want to snatch aways from us any income we could derive from the new governhips too.  If they succeed, it will be impossible for us to maintain our estates in Italy any longer.  That’s wher the real danger likes.

Third Senator:  Caesar is a Catalina who is attempting to use legal means.

Fourth Senator:  We don’t need slaves, we need tenant farmers.  As far as that goes, I’m with the better Democrats.  Cicero is a spent force.

Tax contractor:  What good is Asia to us if we don’t exploit it?  What we don’t need now are more adventures, or more adventurers.  Nothing scares me more than that Caesar.

Banker:  A strong man is what’s required.  Unfortunately, Caesar is just crafty.  We’re crafty enough ourselves.

Another banker:  Democracy won’t have a chance like this again.  The old families are bankrupt, unable to change over to wine and olive production on their estates without us.  The Senate without an army.  Asia in chaos.  The Roman citizen is the only one who can solve the land question.  If C., could put a stop to his womanizing, he’d be in power.

A poultry dealer:  Caesar?  Isnt he in Africa?

A shirtmaker:  It’s that C’s fauilt that the clubs have folded it up.

A dockworker:  He’s still the only one of those bigshots who’s on the people’s side.  But they got rid of him. 

A ropemaker (unemployed):  His games weren’t bad.

Peasant Farmer:  Anything, as long as there’s no more war.  If my boy Reus has to join up, I won’t even be able to keep the vineyard going for one more year.

Check out the following

tales for sale