Crossing The Rubicon

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K. Rich. A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!
Cate. Withdraw, my lord; I’ll help you to a horse.
K. Rich. Slave, I have set my life upon a cast
And I will stand the hazard of the die:
I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Five have I slain today instead of him.
A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

~from Shakespeare: Richard III., v. 4


When Julius Caesar lead his army across the Rubicon river on this day (January 10) in 49 BC, he violated the law (the Lex Cornelia Majestatis) that forbade a general to lead an army out of the province to which he was assigned. His act thus amounted to a declaration of war against the Roman Senate and resulted in the three-year civil war that left Caesar ruler of the Roman world. As he crossed he proclaimed “the die is now cast” meaning he was breaching a point of no return.

“Crossing the Rubicon” became a popular phrase describing a step that commits a person to a course of action. It applies well when a new believer repents of his old life and commits everything to Jesus Christ.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon had a wonderful sermon about this saying “If Caesar crossed the Rubicon, there would never be peace between him and the senate again. He draws his sword, and he throws away his scabbard. Such is the act of baptism to the believer. It is the crossing of the Rubicon. It is as much as to say, ‘I cannot come back again to you. I am dead to you. And to prove I am, I am absolutely buried to you. I have nothing more to do with the world. I am Christ’s and Christ’s forever.”

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Romans 10:10

For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Dig Deeper

Art:  Julius Caesar and the Crossing of the Rubicon by Granacci, Francesco (1469 – 1543)

Francesco Granacci trained in Florence, with Michelangelo, in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, and the two then studied sculpture in the Medici garden at S Marco under the supervision of Bertoldo di Giovanni. Granacci was an important member of the Ghirlandaio’s workshop during the 1490s before going to Rome in order to assist Michelangelo in painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. According to Vasari, Granacci was often employed by the Medici to design scenery and festive decorations.

This panel shows an episode from the life of Julius Caesar, narrated in Suetonius’ Lives of the twelve Caesars , retelling the crossing of the Rubicon by Cesar and his troupes. While the story took place in the 1st century B.C., the figures and the setting are presented in a Renaissance fashion, which drew upon the Antiquity especially in the representation of armours. This panel was most likely made to celebrate a patrician wedding and illustrates therefore a heroic virtue such as political leadership that was much sought after by the Renaissance elite. The present painting forms a pendant with E.373-2006 as they represent the lives of two heroes respectively Greek and Roman, the two civilisations that dominated the Antique Western World.

Literature:  C. Suetonius Tranquillus, Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, he halted for a while, and, revolving in his mind the importance of the step he was on the point of taking, he turned to those about him, and said: “We may still retreat: but if we pass this little bridge, nothing is left for us but to fight it out in arms.”

While he was thus hesitating, the following incident occurred. A person remarkable for his noble mien and graceful aspect, appeared close at hand, sitting and playing upon a pipe. When, not only the shepherds, but a number of soldiers also flocked from their posts to listen to him, and some trumpeters among them, he snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran to the river with it, and sounding the advance with a piercing blast, crossed to the other side. Upon this, Caesar exclaimed, ” Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us. The die is now cast.”

Bibliograpy

Victoria and Albert Museum

C. Suetonius Tranquillus, Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; An English Translation, Augmented with the Biographies of Contemporary Statesmen, Orators, Poets, and Other Associates, ed. Alexander Thomson (Medford, MA: Gebbie & Co., 1889).

James Montgomery Boice, Romans: God and History, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991–), 1210.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Confession with the Mouth” in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 9 (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1969), p. 400.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

William Shakespeare, The Plays and Sonnets, ed. Mortimer J. Adler et al., Second Edition., vol. 24, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago; Auckland; Geneva; London; Madrid; Manila; Paris; Rome; Seoul; Sydney; Tokyo; Toronto: Robert P. Gwinn; Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 147.

E. Cobham Brewer, ed., Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (London; Paris; Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1895), 353.

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