How Brutus Focused in the Face of Chaos

Marcus Brutus just before the most significant act of his life and one that would change the course of the Republic, a major distraction occurred. At home his wife, Porcia, was worried nearly to death about the actions her husband was about to take. She couldn’t sit still, she was unable to breathe, turned white and fainted. Her maids took her to her room, but not before the commotion attracted a large crowd outside. Whispers spread from onlooker to onlooker. Soon rumors swirled, as they often do in crowds, that she had died.

The news of Porcia’s death reached Brutus at the Senate. All his life, Brutus had drilled himself to focus on what was in his control. Even in his younger years in before the outbreak of major battles, Brutus spent the time studying and strengthening his mind, not worrying like his fellow soldiers. Plutarch compares Brutus to other soldiers preparing for battle the following day:

“It was then the height of summer, and the heat was overpowering, especially as Pompey’s army was encamped near a marsh, and the soldiers carried Brutus’s tent were slow in arriving. He was exhausted by the lack of shade, but although it was almost noon before he had anointed himself and taken a little food, he spent the time until the evening – when his companions were either sleeping or brooding anxiously about the future – in writing out a summary of Polybius*.” – Plutarch

The conspiracy against Caesar relied on Brutus. His character was known around Rome as reliable, just and moral. His actions were always aimed at the preservation of the Republic and the people knew this. Cassius, the main plotter, recruited Brutus for this very reason.

Brutus, obviously torn apart by arrival of news of his wife. What could he do at the moment? She was already dead, Caesar was still alive and threat to the freedom of Rome. Brutus followed the plan just as the conspirators had gone over. Antony was cornered, Caesar was murdered by a crowd of Senator’s. Bloodstained, they had achieved their desired outcome.

Porcia hadn’t died.

Years of trained focus in the face of difficulties and battles had allowed Brutus to focus on what he could control in the moment and what had to be left for later. He could have chosen to panic before major battles, like his fellow Roman’s, but he chose to study history instead. He could have returned home to check on his dead wife, but he chose to change the course of history.

What can I do today that sweeps away the distractions and allows me to focus on changing my own course?

*Polybius is a Greek historian.

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Quintis Sertorius

Quintis Sertorius (c. 125-72 B.C.) – A Roman general and leader. Losing a major war, he was banished from Rome by the dictator Sulla. Sertorius assembled an army of Spanish and Italian deserters and refugees along with African warriors and missionaries that was large in number. He would go on to fight and defeat many of Sulla’s top generals in Civil War. He was known for attacking supply lines and cutting off enemies. His strategies and ability to fight back became a great thorn Sulla’s side.

“His promotion to the rank of commander did nothing to diminish his daring as a fighting soldier: on the contrary, he continued to carry out extraordinary feats of courage in battle and to expose himself unsparingly, with the result that he was wounded and lost the sight of an eye. This was an injury on which he always prided himself. Others, he used to say, could not always carry about with them the decorations they had received for their valour, but must leave their necklaces and spears and crowns behind, whereas he could wear the badge of courage wherever he went, and those who saw what he had lost saw the proof of his bravery at the same time.” – Plutarch on Setroius’ valour .

“Sertorius was a man, it is said, whose nature enabled him to resist pleasure and fear alike: he was unmoved in the face of danger, nor did he become over-elated with success.” – Plutarch on Setroius’ nature.

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Cornelia and Fate

Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus or Scipio the Great. Africanus won his fame as a Roman General in the Second Punic War in which he defeated Hannibal. Hannibal was one of the great enemies of Rome and Africanus became a hero for defeating the Carthaginian.

Cornelia gave birth to 12 children including two brothers nine years apart. These brothers were Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. Both would champion the cause of the public to the Roman Senate. Both were murdered as a result of their challenges to the Senate.

Tiberius along with three hundred of his followers were beaten to death by the Senators. Plutarch reports that Gaius fled the forum until “he reached a grove which was sacred to the Furies, an these his slave Philocrates first killed his master and then himself.”

Cornelia survived her two sons and lived her days in a villa in the bay of Naples.

Cornelia is said to have borne her misfortunes in a noble and magnanimous spirit, and to have said of the sacred places where her sons had been murdered that these tombs were worthy of the dead who occupied them. She went to live… in her normal mode of life. She had many friends and kept a good table which was always thronged with guests; Greeks and other learned men frequently visited her, and all the reigning kings exchanged presents with her. Her visitors and intimate friends would listen with pleasure as she recalled the life and habits of her father, the great Scipio Africanus, but what they admired most of all was to hear her speak of her sons without showing sorrow or shedding a tear, and recall their achievements and their fate to any inquirer, as though she were relating the history of the early days of Rome. This made some some people think that old age or the weight of her misfortunes had affected her mind, and so far dulled her feelings as to make her incapable of suffering. Yet the truth is that such people are themselves too dull to understand how far a noble nature, an honourable ancestry and a virtuous upbringing can fortify men against grief, and that although fate may defeat the efforts of virtue to avert misfortune, it cannot deprive us of the power to endure it with equanimity.

Plutarch – “Gaius Gracchus”

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Spoila Opima: Marcus Claudius Marcellus (271-208 b.c.)

Spoila Opima - Marcus Claudius Marcellus
“He attacks out of confidence when he is winning, and out of shame whe he is beaten.” – Hannibal on Marcellus

Marcus Claudius Marcellus was five time Roman consul. He was respected by his enemy for his tenacity. Known as the “Sword of Rome” in comparison to Fabius Maximus (“The Shield of Rome”) for his offensive military strategies. Marcellus was awarded the most prestigious award for a Roman military leader the spoila opima for killing the opposing general and king in hand to hand combat.

Plutarch on Marcellus achieving spoila opima:

“The most generally accepted account is that the only spoils which rank as opima are those which are captured in a pitched battle before the fighting begins, when the general kills the opposing commander with his own hand.”

Plutarch – Markers of Rome

“It was now that the king of the Gauls first saw Marcellus. He guessed from his badges of rank that this was the Roman commander, and riding dar out in front of his men he made directly for him, shouting out a challenge and brandishing his lance. He stood out among the rest of the Gauls, not only for his size but for his complete suit of armor, which was embossed with gold and silver and decorated with brilliant colours and elaborate designs, so that is glittered like lightning. As Marcellus glanced along the enemy’s ranks, he though that this was the finest armour of all, and concluded that it must be the offering which he had vowed to the god. So he charged the Gaul and pierced his breast plate with his lance: the impetus of his horse hurled his opponent to the ground still living, and a second and third blow immediately dispatched him. Thereupon Marcellus lea[ed from his horse and laying his hands on the dead man’s armour, he gazed up to heavens and and cried:

“Jupiter Feretrius, you who judge the great deeds of generals and captains in war and on the battlefield, I call upon you to witness that I, a Roman general and a consul, have killed with my own hand a general and a king, that I am the third Roman commander to do this, and that I dedicate to you the first and finest of the spoils. I pray that you will grant us no less good fortune as we fight out the rest of this war.”

Plutarch – Makers of Rome

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