Sealed With a Curse As Sharp As a Knife…

When Julius Caesar was 25, he was temporarily kidnapped by Cilician pirates [brit] who mocked him for his aristocratic airs and youth.

Caesar insisted on paying double the pirates’ ransom, on the grounds that he was worth it, and promised them that he would come back and see them all crucified. To their surprise, the enlarged ransom was paid, and Caesar was released, then raised a naval force, came back, and saw them all crucified. This was, in my opinion, one of the greatest acts of revenge ever committed.

What makes Caesar’s revenge on the pirates so perfect? First and foremost, it was bold and public; the pirates could have easily disposed of him, when they had the chance, but he was willing to look them in the eye and say “I will fuck you up.” So, Caesar went from weakness to overwhelming power, without dissembling – it was not a “back stab” it was coldly deliberate and methodical thing. It would have still been revenge had Caesar simply escaped and appeared later to cheer when the pirates were captured by someone else – but the beauty of Caesar’s revenge was the clearness of his total involvement with it; the pirates had absolutely no doubt who had screwed them, and how badly.

One of my other favorite scenes of revenge (marred by the fact that it’s fiction) is in the film To Die For, in the closing credits. Spoiler:
Gur jbzna jubfr oebgure jnf zheqrerq orpnhfr bs gur punenpgre cynlrq ol Avpbyr Xvqzna neenatrf n znsvn uvg zna gb xvyy ure va eriratr. Nf gur perqvgf ebyy, gur jbzna vf vpr-fxngvat ba gur fhesnpr bs n sebmra ynxr, cerfhznoyl jurer gur obql bs Xvqzna’f punenpgre vf erfgva, punvarq gb n pvaqreoybpx be fbzrguvat.
The revenge in To Die For was not carried out by the hand of the person claiming revenge; but it’s still pretty good.

My point is that revenge should ideally be predictive, open, personal, and intimate. It is not “revenge” if your enemy steps in dog shit and you laugh at them. That’s more a matter of cowardice; you’re waiting for the fates to do their job, or karma to re-balance the universe, and you didn’t have the power, opportunity, or courage to do anything in the first place. Caesar, in other words, stepped into the role of The Hand Of Fate, which is some kind of mind-blowingly profound statement of personal power as well as revenge. But, Caesar was like that.

Here’s a guy who is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Caesar.

original bell curve chart [source] (my horrible photoshop skills)

I know it’s practically unfair to compare Trump and Caesar in any possible way, but Trump, as usual, led with his chin, when it comes to revenge. Trump blathers about revenge in his brilliant but mis-named ghost-written masterpiece Think Big. [wc, actual author Bill Zanker] In a sense, Trump’s book probably does bear some resemblance to aspects of Caesar’s revenge on the pirates: Caesar, it is said, used to lecture the pirates on topics of his choice, as a way of practicing his rhetoric. Trump, presumably, rambled semi-coherently to his ghost-writer who bashed the output into a form of readable text. I would have paid to hear Caesar’s lectures to the pirates, but I bought the Trump book used on so that I paid a whopping $.75 for the thing. I knew what I was getting into, so I won’t say I was robbed.

I read shit so you don’t have to

Trump on revenge. Literally, Chapter 6 is entitled “Revenge”:

I always get even. In the 1980s I recruited a woman from her job in government where she was making peanuts. She had nothing when she met me. I thought she was smart and that under my mentoring she could be very good. She was a nobody in her government job and going nowhere I decided to make her into somebody. I gave her a great job at the Trump Organization, and over time she became powerful in real estate. She bought a beautiful home.

When I was going through tough times in the early 1990s, I needed her help. I asked her to make a phone call to an extremely close friend of hers who held a powerful position at a big bank and who would have done what she asked. She said, “Donald, I can’t do that.” I had taken her out of a dead-end government job. I encouraged her. I mentored her. I made her, and then she told me she couldn’t do it. I got rid of her and then she started a business of her own.

Later, I found out her business failed. I was really happy when I found that out. She had turned on me after I had done so much to help her. I had asked for one favor in return and she turned me down flat. She ended up losing her home, her husband, who was only in it for the money, walked out on her and I was glad. Over the years many people have called asking for a recommendation for her. I only gave her bad recommendations. I just can’t stomach the disloyalty.

Never mind that the woman probably said “I can’t do that” because Trump was asking her to commit felony fraud, that’s not “revenge” that’s gloating over someone else’s misfortune. It would be as though Caesar remained a captive of the pirates for the rest of his life, and smugly (and quietly) cheered whenever one of the pirates stubbed a toe. Then, eventually, when Pompey came and wiped the pirates out, Caesar danced. I can’t picture it.

I’m not going to wade you through the muck that is Chapter 6 of this steaming pile of free-associated bullshit, but Trump gives several examples of “revenge” and all of them are actual examples of cowardice – Trump’s inability to directly confront the people he wants to see hurt.

He recounts a story of a golfer who he allowed to train using his courses. When the golfer becomes famous, Trump’s agent asks if he’d wear a Trump logo at PGA tournaments and the golfer says “you’d have to ask my agent.” From then on, any time that golfer wanted to practice at a Trump course, he was told “you’ll have to ask Trump’s agent.” First off, a PGA golfer is mired in contracts 9 layers deep regarding marketing and promotions, and is paid millions of dollars to wear someone’s logo – the golfer said “you’d have to ask my agent” because they didn’t want to say, “are you fucking kidding me?” at such a stupid request. But it wasn’t Trump asking, it was Trump’s marketing agent – and it wasn’t Trump who took revenge on the golfer; Trump had his golf club managers do his dirty work. Caesar would have paid the golfer for an iron-clad contract to wear a logo, then wiped his ass on the golfer’s shirt and pointed out that he was contractually obligated to wear his shit-stain at the next tournament, or he’d have him crucified.

What Trump is revealing here, in the form of empty boasting, is his own stupidity, cowardice, and passive-aggression. Need I say that nobody, ever, called Julius Caesar, “passive-aggressive” or, if they did, they have been obliterated from history for doing so. Besides, 2 million dead Gauls and Gothic tribes-people, and the plotters who killed him for being too ambitious, would testify that Caesar was aggressive-aggressive.

Trump goes on to describe how, when Martha Stewart was not grateful enough for his agreeing to be involved with her show – Martha Stewart, meanwhile, who is an actual self-made multi-hundred-millionaire – Trump gloated when her show failed, and he says he wrote her a “scathing letter.” Uh, huh, I bet he did. If it actually happened, I bet Stewart opened the card, covered with crayon scribble, and threw it away. First off, writing someone a gloat-a-gram when their show is cancelled is hardly courageous. Secondly, I don’t believe for a second that a cowardly piece of shit like Trump would stand up to Martha Stewart, even to that tiny degree. And, lastly, I don’t believe Trump could write an entire scathing letter, unless he used really big letters. This is a guy who palpably struggles to come up with a coherent nasty tweet full of playground insults.

Another “revenge” story Trump tells is under a section heading entitled “When somebody hits you, hit ’em back harder” and is about Rosie O’Donnell.

With Rosie O’Donnell it got a lot worse. Rosie O’Donnell is a total degenerate. She attacked Kelly Ripa, who’s a wonderful person, because Clay Aiken put his hand over her mouth to shut her up. Rosie Attacked Kelly for that incident. Kelly’s nice and she didn’t really attack Rosie back. Rosie attacked Danny DeVito. She talked about him as if he was an alcoholic because he went out drinking with George Clooney the night before a show. He’s not an alcoholic. I know him; he is a friend of mine. I called him, and I said, “Danny, she called you an alcoholic. Why don’t you do something about it?” This is before I had a problem with her.

[… blah blah blah for 2 more pages]

then, when Rosie loses her show for being an idiot, Trump:

Now, I had a choice; I could attack back or I could pass. I chose to attack her so hard she would rue the day she decided to attack me. The media was very interested in my response. [Oh, really?] I gave them an earful! I got calls from Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, Access Hollywood, Extra and others, asking, “Do you hae a response?” Yes, I had a response. I said, “Rosie O’Donnell is disgusting, both inside and out. Take a look at her, she’s a slob. She talks like a truck driver, her show failed, her magazine was a catastrophe, she got sued. So, I’ll probably sue her, because it would be fun.”


That’s Trump’s idea of “revenge”? That’s not even “kicking someone when they are down” level, that’s taking cheap shots at someone who can’t respond. And, it’s not even playground-quality combat [vanity fair] – he never sued her because he didn’t have any grounds for a lawsuit, and he actually did not participate, at all, in O’Donnell’s self-inflicted comeuppance. I wonder if Rosie O’Donnell thinks that she’d be taking revenge when she sees Trump getting impeached, then run out of the white house on a rail – none of which was anything but self-inflicted fail by Trump. The point is, it’s not revenge if you sit around and gloat when someone you dislike hurts themself. I am not taking revenge by laughing at Trump for being a failure as a president, as a man, and as a human being because I had nothing to do with it. Although, for the record, if I had a chance to crucify him, I’d bring my favorite forging hammer and I’d hand-forge some damascus nails. Just give me a heads’ up, and I’ll pack my gear and I’ll be there with bells on.

Revenge is an active thing. It’s not necessarily an act of courage, though I’d say Caesar was courageous because he was mouthing off to people who could have easily killed him. And, he made them regret not doing so; I’m sure they had plenty of time on their crosses to wish they hadn’t made fun of the intense, arrogant, young aristocrat. In every sense, Trump does not compare to Caesar, though it’s not too late for the republican senators to gang-stab him and leave him bleeding at the foot of a statue of Robert E. Lee. That’s a hint, guys. Do with it what you will.

Remember, Trump’s a real estate developer from New York, who grew up around Roy Cohn. He’s rubbed shoulders with mobsters, scammers, and a few genuine sharks. Revenge is a concept that he should understand, but he’s such a coward he’s left congratulating himself for stepping on someone’s toes after they’re down for the count. Hell, that’s not even a good metaphor; he sends someone a letter reading “nyaa nyaa!” after they inflict their own comeuppance on themselves.

When Trump dies, they’re going to have to have armed guards standing by his grave, so there isn’t a block-long line of people waiting to piss on it, which would be a more courageous revenge than Trump has ever managed to inflict on an enemy.

The point of all of this is that I wish the Trump campaign had given out copies of his books to prospective voters, so they could have gotten a chance to read his ghost-written words and see what a completely ineffective jackass he is. I imagine that Xi Xinping and Kim Jong Un, who are educated and literate men (Xi is scary smart, Kim is just scary) read some of Trump’s bleatings, and sat for a while, stunned by the vistas of opportunity that spread before them; you can tell a tremendous amount about Trump’s character from even a few pages of his highly revealing books. You can tell how simple he is to manipulate. To be fair, you can tell a tremendous amount about Caesar from Comentarii de Bello Gallico, too; sticking a dagger into Caesar was an act requiring terrible courage. As Verbal Kint asks in The Usual Suspects, “what if you try to shoot the devil in the back, and miss?” Donald Trump? Pffff… We’re going to have to him whining like a loose fan-belt until he dies, which will hopefully be soon because I need to pee.

Tearing books, even phonebooks, is a trick I learned in high school. It’s actually quite easy – you need to know how to recognize the kind of glue that the pages are laid in. If it’s the kind of glue that dries hard, it’s crumbly, and you can easily break the back with a quick wrench – then, once the back is broken, push with one hand, pull with the other, and the pages will shear sequentially. It takes some strength, but less than you’d expect, and it’s an impressive demonstration, “oh, yeah, I’ve been studying kendo and it’s really helped me with my forearm strength…” (ripppppp…)

Another master of revenge was Marcus Licinius Crassus, whose epitaph “No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full” was written by Lucius Sulla Felix – another man who was not to be trifled with.

Watching the Trumpenputsch staggering around the political stage, I am not as worried as I would be, were it headed by a politician of intelligence and resolve. I know it’s popular among pundits today to talk about how “American democracy is at stake” but, compared to the Romans of the dying age of the republic, Trump and the republican senate are a cross between the Marx Brothers, The Little Rascals, and Wil E. Coyote. We should fear their incompetence and lust for power, but not their effectiveness. Unfortunately, they’re opening cracks that, eventually, an American Caesar will drive to their inevitable conclusion.


  1. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    In every sense, Trump does not compare to Caesar

    …except in being bald and intensely ridiculous in trying to hide it.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    Trump may be writing to Martha Stewart again soon, begging for advice on how to survive prison.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    Trump and his equally brilliant son Eric have threatened to ‘primary’ any Republican congressperson who does not support his effort to overthrow democracy. I think this can be safely ignored, as the Trumps will be busy with legal issues after the inauguration.

  4. bmiller says

    The real scary part of the situation is how the Capital Police just let it happen. “They were afraid of injuring one of their off-duty coworkers” one wag opined.

    Just imagine if these tools were BLM protestors. We would be talking tanks and machine guns and mass casualties. “Law und Order, mein Fuehrer! “

  5. cartomancer says

    It is a wonderful story of revenge and self-confidence, perfect in every detail. Which is why, needless to say, it is almost certainly highly embellished if it ever happened at all.

    It doesn’t help that the source for it is Plutarch’s Life of Caesar, which was written over a century after Caesar’s death by an author far more interested in painting vivid and morally instructive character portraits than telling the truth. Where Plutarch got the story from is anyone’s guess – he doesn’t say, and it doesn’t appear anywhere else in earlier sources – but it is not difficult to imagine that a Roman of Caesar’s fame and reputation would attract any number of such tales in the wake of his death and the upheavals that followed it.

    Nor, given his talent for self-promotion, is it difficult to imagine Caesar himself spinning it up for public consumption. Particularly given that his big rival Pompey made his name in part through clearing the seas of Cilician pirates at a young age, so having his own anti-pirate anecdote from his youth would have been helpful for adding the same sort of flair to his reputation. Plutarch would probably have found the tale of youthful confidence and ruthlessness reminiscent of stories he told about Alexander, whose life was the Greek companion piece to Caesar’s in his Parallel Lives series.

    Though it is, just about, possible that it actually happened in the way Plutarch describes it.

    At the very least, of course, it shows that Caesar understood how to paint himself as a ruthless political actor who understood revenge very well, whereas Trump can’t even pay someone else to make him look like that.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    … 2 million dead Gauls and Gothic tribes-people…

    Citation, please? That sounds like the total Gaul/Goth population of 2,070 years ago, or close to it.

    A little websearchery indicates JC claims to have killed 1M Gauls and to have enslaved another 1M, but I want to see the long-form death certificates.

  7. rrutis1 says

    Pierce @#6 “I want to see the long form death certificates”

    That is all kinds of funny!!!

  8. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#6:
    I said “Gauls and other Gothic tribespeople” – that covers/includes the Teutones and Cimbri and whoever else Caesar stomped while he was at it.

    The 2m number is from Dan Carlin’s hardcore history episode The Celtic Holocaust
    I do not fact-check everything Carlin says but I’ve spot-checked him often and I find he’s pretty accurate/honest. Your mileage may vary.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 8: … Dan Carlin’s hardcore history episode The Celtic Holocaust

    Added to my watchlist – thanks!

  10. says

    When I was going through tough times in the early 1990s, I needed her help. I asked her to make a phone call to an extremely close friend of hers who held a powerful position at a big bank and who would have done what she asked. She said, “Donald, I can’t do that.” I had taken her out of a dead-end government job. I encouraged her. I mentored her. I made her, and then she told me she couldn’t do it. I got rid of her and then she started a business of her own.

    One thing that catches my eye about this text is the sentence structure. It sounds like those texts written by 12 years old kids who are forced to write essays for school. All the sentences are very short, they have similar structure, little eloquence. Even a semi-competent writer wouldn’t use language like this. I would have expected a ghost writer to make Trump sound more eloquent. Then again, Trump’s spoken word was probably much worse than what’s written in this book, and the writer already improved it.

  11. John Morales says

    Andreas, first, anything with any substance purportedly written by Trump and published is probably ghost-written — as you note.

    Second, short declarative sentences are a most excellent way to communicate ideas. Nothing wrong with that.

  12. lorn says

    Would the overall flavor of the story change if it was revealed that Brutus was the son of one of the pirates?

    More on-topic: Trump is incapable of revenge simply because he hasn’t enough inner life to make it personal. Or, perhaps, for Don everything is personal so nothing is. That, and he is extremely lazy. For him seeing his victim fail, not by Donald Trump’s hand, is likely even sweeter for him in terms of desired outcome for invested effort.

  13. says

    Or, perhaps, for Don everything is personal so nothing is.

    I think that’s probably it. When the whole universe is all about you, then when an accident happens, it’s fate stepping in for you.

  14. says

    John Morales @#11

    Writing style is certainly a matter of opinion. You are welcome to prefer whatever writing style you like.

    That being said, if you were to take a language class, teachers would encourage you to use different sentence structures. They would lower your grade if you wrote an essay in which you started every sentence with “I did this… I did that…” (At least that was what my Latvian and English teachers did at school.)

    Moreover, a language/writing teacher would also encourage you to use linking words .

    Of course, great artists always prove that masterpieces can be created by breaking every possible rule. There certainly are amazing writers who have created wonderful literary masterpieces with only the simplest sentences and no linking words.

    However, in this case, at least to me Trump’s ghost written text simply sounds exactly like those texts written by school age kids who are still in the process of learning how to write well.

  15. says

    Re: Trump and speaking style, patterns in speech, and childhood development.

    I’ve struggled with this one some, but I have not felt like I could post about it yet. I think that there is a pattern related to childhood development, but it is more like an adult using (or over-using as a matter of taste) that particular pattern. I think there is some relationship between Pieget’s “symbolic function” stage and tourette syndrome that gets noticed about 3 years later (average 7), and it plays out like personality.

  16. cvoinescu says

    To the solipsist, all mishaps are personal revenge. And the armed guards are there to manage the line, obviously. Other than that, I agree.

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