Monday, March 10, 2003
Falling Masts, Rising Masters: The Ethnography of Virtue in Caesars Account of the Veneti by Brice Erickson
This paper examines the respective roles of technology and virtus in Caesars presentation of the Venetic defeat. The first section establishes that Caesar conceived of the sea battle fought against the Veneti as a contest about virtus. The next section argues that the technology of enemy boat design detailed in an ethnographic passage is represented by Caesar as a source of Venetic strength in place of true fighting spirit. This naval ethnography, dismissed by several commentators as an afterthought awkwardly inserted into the text, is, on the contrary, the cornerstone of a sophisticated exposition on the theme of native technological strength failing to compensate for a lack of virtus. Caesars presentation of the final defeat of the Veneti at sea, the subject of the third section, exposes native weakness in a remarkable scene wherein falling masts and sudden calm metaphorically cast enemy failure within a gendered opposition of hard and soft.