On a voyage to Rhodes in 69 BC to study under the rhetor, Apollonius Molon, Caesar and his ship were taken hostage by pirates. The group was kidnapped off the island of Pharmacussa (6 miles south of Miletus) by a pirate leader named Polygonus. He sent home a ransom message for 20 talents, which was the going wage for a senator. Caesar, upon hearing this, insisted that he was no ordinary senator (in fact he was a senator only because he had just won the civic crown and had not even become a quaestor yet) and demanded that the ransom be raised to 50 talents!
After 40 days, he was released. During his
capture, Caesar behaved with aristocratic arrogance. He won all of
the men over with jokes and such and had his way with many of the women.
One of the “jokes” he told over and over was how he was going to come back,
capture them, and then crucify them all. The pirates all laughed
about this because it was impossible for anyone to find the cove – except
that Caesar had counted coves from a certain landmark on the way to the
hideout. Burgundus, Caesar’s large and favorite slave, was sent home
with the ransom note and brought back the money, much to the chagrin of
many now empty pocketbooks in Rome. 50 talents – holy cow!
All of the pirates saw Caesar off after the ransom was paid. Caesar brought the pirates to Pergamum after capturing them (where Q. Pompeius was proquaestor) and leaves them there. He goes to Bithynia to ask Marcus Junius permission to crucify the pirates and is denied. He then goes back to Pergamum and tells Pompeius that he had gotten permission and all 500 are crucified.
Possible related discussion topics:
- Caesar’s skill as a rhetor and his court cases (including info on Dolabella case)
- his audacity
- the civic crown or corona civica(what is it? Why did he get it?)
- pirates in the Mediterranean (and Pompey cleaning them up)
- Caesar and women
- Crucifixion as punishment
- Appolonius Molon
Scene I (69 BC; on the waters near Miletus)
Julius Caesar, Burgundus, and an oarsman are on a boat heading towards Rhodes.
The actors are sitting in three chairs on center stage; the first chair, in which the oarsman sits, faces the other two
Oarsman: And over here to the left you can see the island of Pharmacussa.
Julius Caesar: This is wonderful to be away from everything! It is just too bad that I should leave Rome after losing my trial.
Burgundus: Well, master, look at it this way: being away from Rome will give you the opportunity to be away from the public and let things cool down. When you get back, the only thing that mob will remember, if anything at all, will be the masterful way you prosecuted Dolabella.
Caesar: I suppose you’re right… and just think of how great my speeches in the Forum will be after Molon trains me!
Oarsman: Ecce! Up ahead! (he points) A pirate ship! Oh no – we’re doomed!
Caesar (calmly): It seems that we will be taking a detour.
Polygonus and his shipmate enter the scene
Polygonus: Well, it looks as if we’ve found ourselves a Senator! We will make lots of money off of you!
Burgundus: Not if I have anything to do with it…
Caesar: Burgundus, it is alright. I am no mere senator, I can assure you. Who are you?
Polygonus: I am Polygonus, the leader of the most fierce pirates of the Mediterranean, and you are now my prisoner! Come aboard my ship, senator, and let us go back to my cove.
Actors walk to the left. Caesar looks as if he is counting something
as he walks.
Scene II: Pirate Cove
Caesar, Burgundus, the oarsman, Polygonus, and his pirate enter the cove.
Actors walk back to center stage. Polygonus carries a piece of paper.
Polygonus: Tell me your name senator.
Caesar: I am Julius Caesar, son of Gaius Julius Caesar and winner of the civic crown.
Polygonus: I am pleased to meet you, especially pleased now that I will be asking 20 talents for your release.
Caesar (laughing): 20 talents! That’s it!? No, my friend, I am worth much more than that! You will ask 50 talents for my release.
Polygonus: You will tell me what to do!?!
Caesar (smugly): I just did.
Polygonus: I hardly think that you are in a position to order me around… but I like your proposal – 50 talents it is!
Caesar: You will need a messenger. Let Burgundus carry the ransom note back to Rome. He’s my oldest and dearest slave and completely capable and trustworthy.
Polygonus: Very well.
Polygonus gives Burgundus the ransom note
Burgundus: Very well! I will take the message.
Burgundus exits left with the message.
Narrator: So, Caesar settled into his captivity. He behaved like his usual charming self – wooing women…
Women (of the class): Wooooo!!
Narrator: …and telling jokes to the men.
The pirate stands next to Caesar
Caesar: A man walks into a bar….
The pirate and the male students laugh
Narrator: One of Caesar’s favorite things to joke about was how he was going to come back and crucify all of the pirates. All of the pirates laughed because no one could find his way back to the hidden cove. After 40 days, Burgundus comes back with the ransom money and Caesar is released, much to the dismay of many women and pirates.
Polygonus, pirate, and woman: Goodbye Caesar!! We love you!!
The women blow kisses
Caesar: Valete! It’s too bad that the next time I see you, I will kill you!
Julius Caesar exits left
Narrator: And one month goes by…
Caesar comes back to center stage
Caesar: Hello! Remember me? I’m back to crucify you! Did you miss me?
Caesar leads all of the pirate crew off stage
Scene III: Pergamum
Caesar comes back on stage with Polygonus
Polygonus: Caesar, you must be very intelligent! How did you find your way back to my cove?!
Caesar: It was simple math, my doomed friend. Instead of trying to remember what your cove looks like, because it looks like every other cove, I counted how many coves it was away from an obvious starting point.
Polygonus: You truly are destined for greatness!
Caesar: And you, my man, are destined for the cross! Join your 500 friends up on the cross here at Pergamum. Only you, being the leader, will not have your legs broken and die a slower death than the rest of your unfortunate friends.
Polygonus: Oh no, this is not good! (he hits his head with his hand)
Polygonus lays back against the dry erase board and assumes the position of a man on a cross.
Julius Caesar, talking to the audience (the class)
Caesar: Now, as for all of the treasure taken from the pirate cove. I shall divide it up into halves, giving one half to Rome, in addition to the fleet of ships taken, and the other half to the people of Rhodes. For myself, so that I may avoid extortion charges later on in my political career, I will take only this small collection of pearls to give as gifts to all of the women I will conquer back in Rome on my way to my in suo anno consulship.