On this day in 49 BC, Julius Caesar made a momentous decision that transformed a small Italian river into a powerful metaphor.
Prior to 49 BC, Caesar served as conquering Roman general, expanding the Roman Empire as far north as Britain. His most notable conquest came in Gaul, the area of Europe that today includes France, Belgium, and Switzerland. By winning the Gallic wars, Caesar made Gaul a Roman province and established himself as its governor.
Although Caesar expanded the territory of the Roman republic, his rivals feared his ambition and envied his success. Caesar’s most notable foe was a rival Roman general named Pompey. In January 49 BC, Pompey convinced the Roman Senate to send a message to Caesar, commanding him to leave his army and return to Rome.
This message is what led to Caesar’s faithful decision to cross the Rubicon River. He knew that returning to Rome alone without his army would surely lead to his demise, but to take his army across the Rubicon and into Italy was against Roman law and was essentially a proclamation of civil war. Knowing the consequences of his actions and that there would be no turning back, Caesar boldly led his army across the river as he uttered, “The die is cast!” — a gambling metaphor that means once a player throws (casts) the dice (plural form of die), he has reached a point of no return.
Caesar’s bold gamble paid off. He defeated Pompey, and when Caesar eventually arrived at the gates of Rome, he was proclaimed dictator for life (1). (For Part Two of Caesar’s story, see March 15: Ides of March Day.)
Today, “Crossing the Rubicon” has become a metaphor for any courageous commitment to moving in a bold, new direction for which there is no turning back.
Today’s Challenge: Mapping Metaphors
What are some examples of geographical sites that evoke a universal theme, such as courage, failure, change, or nonconformity? What is the story or history behind how this place acquired its abstract meaning? Like the Rubicon, other geographical sites have acquired meaning beyond just a name on a map. The history of what happened in each of the places listed below has made each site a metaphor for some abstract idea or universal theme. Select one of the place names below, and research the story behind how it acquired its metaphoric meaning. Write a paragraph explaining as clearly as possible the location of your selected site and the story behind its meaning.
Waterloo, Watergate, Alcatraz, Agincourt, Alamo, Bedlam Bohemia, Chappaquiddick, Damascus, Dunkirk, Fort Knox, The Bay of Pigs, Siberia, My Lai
(Common Core Writing 2: Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Language is the Rubicon that divides man from beast. -Max Muller
1-Eye Witness to History.com. Julius Caesar Crosses the Rubicon.