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Dear Professor Caesar

by TheRebel2007

Dear Professor Caesar,

I have found a piece of article which might interest you. In my trip to the Vatican, I came across a small piece of codex in the deepest corner of the Vatican Library. It was written by the Aquila or the Eagle Standard-bearer of the Tenth Equestris Legion who is supposedly the first Roman ever to land on the British Isles during Julius Caesar's first invasion of Britain in 55 BC or 699 AUC. It is a small anecdote about the man's landing and his feelings during and after the campaign. It is a rather unique bit of prose written like an autobiography, which is rare to find in ancient literature. It was written just before Caesar's Civil War. I had loaned it from the Library for two months, and the time has already passed, so I have had to send it back. I have made an English translation of the original ancient Latin text, which is attached to the letter below.

Yours respectfully,

Tribune Pontius Aquila (Assistant Aquila Roberts)


I am Adeodatus Quintius of the Tenth Legion, I am its Aquilifer [Eagle Standard-bearer] and a proud Roman. I am one of the first Roman ever to cross the Oceanus Britannicus [the British/English Channel] and the first to land on Britannia. And this is a short and brief essay about my feelings, for I do not have any other friend but my pen and parchment.

I am the son of Marcus Quintius, a Quaestor and an orator, and I was compelled by him to join the Tenth Legion, though I daresay that I had no intention of doing so. My age is 21, but yet it seems to me that my father's wish of sending me to the Tenth Legion is based on political ambitions rather than Roman honour and glory of soaking in blood for the Fatherland and Victoria. He made me believe the latter and I was compelled to believe that there was nothing greater than Roman glory - but, alas, how wrong I was...

I joined the Tenth Legion and with the help of my father, I became its Aquilifer. I remember the day very vividly when I was first adorned with a cape of lion fur, with its canines over my head and the entire skin resting upon my shoulders and my back. Under the command of Imperator Caesar, I held the proud Aquila on the march to Bibracte. I realized the vanity of warfare when we first fought the Helvetii - thousands of my brethren throwing themselves upon other peoples only because they were born in the wrong place, is it not futility? Do not the javelins that pierce through the skin and heart cause them as much pain as they do to us? The clanging of swords, the neighing of horses and brutality of it all rings in my head at this moment as much as it did back then. Even after it was all over and the Helvetii were nullified, I had hallucinations in my dreams about that battle, my contubernales [soldiers who live in the same tent and a part of a contubernium] told me that I could be heard screaming and shouting in fear and anguish during my sleep. My contubernales never came close to me, and I could sometimes hear them calling me a coward during the bonfire in the night when they thought that I was asleep. They knew not that I was lying wide awake with my eyes wide open trying to cope with my new-found fear of war, I have never been afraid of anything before this...

As Caesar made us venture deeper and deeper into the Gaul, fighting against Ariovistus, the Nervii and the Veneti, before handing our command over to Legate Labienus for the winter. In spring, Caesar came back from Cisalpine Gaul prepared to cross the Rhine to neutralize Germania. No other Roman army or man had ever crossed the Rhine, and that would have been one of the most glorious event of my life - only if I had ever seen a crueler campaign before. Caesar ordered us to destroy their camp and to slaughter every man, woman and child without exception - is such brutality indeed necessary? After eighteen days of futile massacre, Caesar led us back to Gaul and loaded us into ships for a campaign... into Britannia! I was amazed by the brave outrageousness of Caesar, no Roman ever had ever tried to cross Oceanus Britannicus. In late summer, we crossed the sea, despite heavy winds and rain and the first thing that greeted us in Britannia were high cliffs of white chalk, named Dubris [Dover]. Legends told us that gold and silver were found simply lying around on land in Britannia, we wondered if that were true. But, alongside the hills, thousands of Bretons stood blue with dye and swords in hands. We tried to find a way around the cliffs and Bretons and we succeeded in the former, but the Bretons trailed us all along the borders of their land. We finally found a small inlet, where the ships finally anchored. The Bretons stared upon us with maniacal glee as they stood with spears and swords. Our soldiers, and especially those of my legion, were utterly terrified of their sight, so much that none dared to step out of the ships despite the orders of our commander. Ha! Indeed! I was the coward, of course! I mocked my contubernales and jumped onto the golden sand, I stood with my Aquila fixed within my strong, strict hands. I shouted, "Leap, fellow soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy. I, for my part, will perform my duty to the republic and to my general." And, as I expected them to, they followed my example and jumped out of the ship in shame as I heard catapults and ballista sling boulders into enemy shoulders and the battle started. If there were indeed any glory in war, it would have been this. I could proudly say that if it were not for me, Caesar would have never put his foot on Britannica, and I would not be lying.

After our small incursion there in Britannica, we returned to Gaul and went back with larger force the following year. This time, we defeated their King, and had garnered tribute from them. After returning from our second expedition from Britannica, our command was switched again to Legate Labienus when we wintered in Gaul. The Gauls were forced to provide food to our legions, even though they were infested with famines - I wonder how many stomachs groaned and moaned as we feasted in our camps. No wonder the Gauls rose up and attacked our brethren under Sabinus and Cotta and demolished them entirely. Caesar punished them later, but the seeds of rebellion had been planted. A year after, rose up Vercingetorix to take up the cause of the Gauls and to save them. But, alas, as Fortuna would have it, they had Caesar as their enemy, if he had rebelled in any other time, in any other age, against any other man - he would have definitely succeeded. Caesar slaughtered Avaricum, slaying forty thousand men, women and children before we got defeated in Gergovia, where thousands of our soldiers got slaughtered by the Gauls. As my fellow soldiers vowed for vengeance, I begged for peace - how much more slaughter, how much more bloodshed, how much more pain and bane and rain and stain in Roman honour would make them understand that wars are futile in its very foundation?

Later, Vercingetorix was defeated at Alesia, by Caesar's genius. We besieged an army bigger than ours, and then we were besieged and then we defeated them both, such was the battle as everyone knows. And, after Uxellodonum, Gaul was completely pacified. In the span of 8 years, a civilization was slaughtered, enslaved and subjugated by Rome.

We are in Gaul for now, but we recently heard of a rumour - at least, I believe it to be so. There are rumours in the camp that Caesar has crossed the Rubicon, and that Labienus has rode off from his legion's camps. I am certain that this is a false rumour, at least, I hope so. And, if my hopes are false, Roman blood will be shed, and I hope we will finally realize that - to conquer, to slaughter, to mindlessly massacre fellow men has never been for good, and never will be, for, there is no war that comes with glory, and no peace that comes without.

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Thu Mar 10, 2022 7:12 pm
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...

Hi TheRebel2007,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

A nice little short story you present us here and I like it very much in the context of historicity. It's rare to read something like this here.

Let's start by saying that a few points caught my eye. One positive thing I would like to point out is the writing style between the letter and the actual story. The letter is much more personal and direct in its structure than the actual short story. You can see this in the more frequent use of some sentence forms, the lack of main and subordinate clauses and the use of "I" at the beginning. I think it's very good and also makes you curious about the actual plot.

Another point that struck me positively was how the narrative actually feels like such a chronicle from the past. I almost thought that you had translated some things from Latin. I like the voice you use here. It reminds me of travel chronicles. You stay matter-of-fact in many of the things you describe, but become human as soon as you get to a point where you talk about other characters. Very good, because it also gives a bit of an opinion about the writer, what he thinks of everything that's going on.

A third thing I liked was the inclusion of background info to give the reader a better geographical grip on where exactly we are. I think you did a really good job with that and even though it can seem a bit intimidating at first when you are given so much history in a letter, you always stay there with the least information in many parts.

In summary, I think it's a really great and successful short story and I have the impression that you could certainly write more about Professor Caesar and Roberts and tell a bit more of their stories. :D

Have fun writing!


TheRebel2007 says...

Thank you for the review, Malice! :p

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Thu Mar 03, 2022 3:29 am
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Horisun wrote a review...

Good afternoon! I hope you're having a wonderful day so far!
I really enjoyed the premise of this short story! Am I correct in assuming that it is based on a real event? I'd be super curious to see which sources you used, and what inspired the initial idea!
The opening paragraph to, was a fine addition. By addressing the fact that this is an ancient letter written by a long dead man really sells what I read to be the theme of this piece; the futility of death and the meaninglessness of war.
My one critique in regards to this is that the paragraph immediately following up on it is rather repetitive. All the information provided by it, you reader has gleaned from earlier lines. This is simply a suggestion, but I would recommend cutting it out entirely. Perhaps you could skip the introduction, and cut to a random journal entry.
I like the way you word things throughout this piece. Especially when it is the historian speaking. You made them just the right amount of pretentious for it to be believable. I don't know whether this is intentional or not, but the fact that you can see hints of the translators voice peeking through is pretty neat.
I would suggest to break up your sentences a tad more, but because it is a diary entry written by a soldier, I think it can be forgiven.
Overall, however, this was an excellent example of historical fiction. We really don't see too much of that on YWS, so I'm glad to have caught this one! Keep on writing, and have a wonderful day!

TheRebel2007 says...

Thank you for the review, Horisun! :p

Yes, this short story is inspired by the real Aquila who, according to Caesar's Bellum Gallicum, landed on the beaches first and inspired the soldiers to land. That quote in the landing part ( "Leap, fellow soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy. I, for my part, will perform my duty to the republic and to my general." ) is directly taken from the Bellum Gallicum. And yes, the letter in the first part of the story is intended to be a short summary of what there is in the codex. I should have thought that it might have taken some interest away from the reader, but well, I guess it would be a bit unrealistic if a random student just sends their professor the translation of an ancient codex without telling what it is. I think I should change the first part of the story to something else, thanks for the suggestion :p

A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses.
— Jean Cocteau