A Museum Hails Caesar, Even if Some Antiquarians Don't Agree
Dredged up from the murky depths of the Rhône River, beneath a heap of wrecked cars, rotting tires and more than 20 centuries of silt, the statue’s white marble visage was plain as day.
“My God, it’s Caesar!” Luc Long remembers shouting after his team of archaeologists and divers discovered the statue in 2007.
The Roman appears with little hair, a wrinkled forehead, a prominent Adam’s apple and features that, for Mr. Long, “seem carved in human flesh.” But Mr. Long did not realize at the time that he had discovered what he said was “the first portrait made of Caesar when he was alive.” The bust, which France’s Culture Ministry now dates from 46 B.C., is thought to be the only known surviving statue of Julius Caesar carved during his lifetime.
Historians say images of a contemporaneous Caesar are rare — they are generally idealized versions, produced after his assassination two years later, in 44 B.C. — so the sudden news of the bust’s emergence led some of them to question its authenticity.
Christian Goudineau, a French historian who lectures on Julius Caesar at the prestigious Collège de France in Paris, was caught off guard when Mr. Long told him of the discovery. “I was bewildered,” he recalled.
Some colleagues, he said, have suggested that the Caesar found in the Rhône does not resemble the Caesar usually shown, and that the statue might more likely portray a noble from Arles, a city founded by the Romans. One skeptic, Mary Beard, a classics professor at Cambridge, pointed out in her blog for Times Online, affiliated with The Times of London: “This style of portraiture lasted for centuries at Rome. There is nothing at all to suggest that it came from 49-46 B.C.”
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