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Vercingetorix’ Last Stand

“…and the last, great act of this once, invincible warrior, was to send away his horses, to save them from death in this, his final battle.”
Falconi, on Veringetorix

Vercingetorix is one of my all-time favorite characters from my (limited) knowledge of history.  Those of you who have been reading my vitriol since inception will recall my mention of him in the past.

It is remarkable to me how great men can rise, and then out of some sort of whacked-out wiring in their brains or hearts, “screw the pooch” at the last second.

Verscingetorix (“Verci.”) was a tactical and military genius.  He was, perhaps, the best ever.  I’m not kidding.  To look at what he accomplished during his life (as a warrior) rivals anything, anywhere and anytime, and by any one (this includes both you, Phillipe de Macedonia, et vous, Constantine).

He got “long-in-the-tooth” or something.  He didn’t really fall on his sword, ala some Samurai or American Civil War General via “suicide by battle” — but rather, he seems to have simply gotten sloppy.

I have no other explanation.

It has happened to other great military thinkers and political leaders (Ghingus Khan, Atilla and Czar Nicholas all come to mind, as well as Jimmy Carter) – but what is the cause?

I’ll tell you what I think (was there any doubt) – I think “great” men have a tendency to rest on their laurels or become far too comfortable with their reputations, agendas, creeds, or astounding self-assurance in their own self-righteousness (guess I might have to get accustomed to using the phrase “street cred” here).  They have a tendency to get so over-confident in their shrewd, mental and physical capacity that they lose sight of why they ever started down the path of warfare/leadership in the first place.

Some say, it is for a bigger piece of the pie, others for philosophical reasons; still others attribute it solely to the human psyche and that fatal mental flaw, ego.

I’m pretty simplistic in my approach to fighting and leading…it is a part of life.

Sperm fight to get to the egg.  The strongest “lead” the others there, but it is he alone with the tenacity to deflower the old gal and start his life anew (God help the poor sap).  There is but one victor in this battle.  Only one lives; only one survives.

And thus it starts.

We begin life by fighting like hell for a goal (one where only the strongest survive) and we continue that path throughout the rest of our measly and pathetic existence.

Such is life.

But, back to Versi.

Some of you may know his story.  That final battle — where he turned his horses lose out of respect for what the beasts meant to him in battle — it was that final battle that sealed Verci’s fate for all perpetuity, and secured the fate of another in the anals of histoi.

And thus it goes.

One man wins, one civilization loses (big time).

No one, I’d bet (save for the most intrepid historians) can tell tell you even who Verci’s people were.  Most people (including a LOT of “historians”, can not even tell you who Verci was).

This is the way of politics and fighting (not to mention the constant and incessant “re-writes” of history).

Whole civilizations are won and lost in singular battles.

Of course, Verci’s story ends, and ends in a tragedy of Aristophanean proportion.

Here was a man poised to completely shape all the rest of time to come.  Here was a man who dominated ALL of civilization in his day.

Here was a man, who in his arrogance, was “choked out” by the oldest trick in the book, an act committed by a snot-nosed, young-puke, field officer with hardly any battlefield experience.

This brash, young leader committed the ultimate in “bone-headed” mistakes (fighting the Russians in Winter, over-running your supply line, underestimating your enemy) — by splitting his force into thirds against a position held by a superior force, and in a physical location that was tactically superior to his own (everyone knows it is much easier to shoot down the hill, than “up”).

Verci had (to coin a phrase from American Westerns) “holed in” high atop a ridge.

Tactically, it was exactly what one would want to do…advance (or retreat) to a superior position (you see how it helped the fine, fine folks at Meggido)…he actually thought that his reputation was such that no one would DARE attack him there.  And he was absolutely correct.

No one did.

A young, new field officer made the tactical “mistake” of a lifetime.  In fact, one that would shape the rest of his life (such that it was***).  In any other battle, against any other adversary, it would have spelled for him sure death, absolute defeat.

But against an arrogant, self-righteous (and completely self-actualized) Vercingetorix, he made a name for himself that would go down in history as one of histories true “greats” – an immortal among mere mortals, and so much ink on a page.

That young officer split his forces.  He divided them in thirds.  He surrounded Verci’s “high horses” (and even higher (read arrogant) position).

He starved out Verci’s forces by cutting off the supply lines to the high vantage Verci and his troops established and held; and Verci lost his final battle with no horses to ride…hand-to-hand combat by a force of starved soldiers essentially tumbling down their precipice to that ultimate doom that awaited them in the fiery depths of battle, way down below.

I wonder what he might have thought as he stumbled down that ridge to face this contingent of green (and fat) Roman troops in that, his final hoorah?  I probably would have thought “well, it was a good ride, for what it was worth – may my death come quick, and in battle”.

But, alas, poor, poor Verci was spared a death in battle only to be captured by the young Roman, and later, in humiliation, strangled before his enemy.

And what of that young, brash solider?

Well, we all know what happened to him, (eh, Brute?).  (If unsure, be certain to scroll on down for the “beginning of his end”, at the end of this piece, and perhaps, this column, thank God).

So here’s to you Verci.  Here’s to you, “brash, young field puke”***, and to you, Shakespeare*** and to you, Falconi (and even to you, whoever you may be, “winner of the election on Tuesday”).

It’s damned sure “been a good ride”.

Hold on to your horses, ladies and gents, I think we will assuredly need them, and quite soon (just don’t retreat to a high point of arrogance, if you please).

And make damned sure you have angel’s wings before you start “flying” down that precipice face.

(!!!!!!!!!!! scroll down for more from this “captivating” saga !!!!!!!!!!)

-precipii

***

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Mar. Wherefore rejoice ? What conquest brings he home ? What tributaries follow him to Rome, To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels ? You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things !

O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome, Knew you not Pompey ? Many a time and oft Have you climb’d up to walls and battlements, To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops, Your infants in your arms, and there have sat The live-long day, with patient expectation, To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome : And when you saw his chariot but appear, Have you not made an universal shout, That Tiber trembled underneath her banks, To hear the replication of your sounds Made in her concave shores ? And do you now put on your best attire ? And do you now cull out a holiday ? And do you now strew flowers in his way That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood ? Be gone ! Run to your houses, fall upon your knees, Pray to the gods to intermit the plague That needs must light on this ingratitude.

Flav. Go, go, good countrymen, and, for this fault, Assemble all the poor men of your sort ; Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears Into the channel, till the lowest stream Do kiss the most exalted shores of all.

[Exeunt all the Commoners See whether their basest metal be not moved ; They vanish tongue-tied in their guiltiness. Go you down that way towards the Capitol ; This way will I : disrobe the images, If you do find them deck’d with ceremonies.

Mar. May we do so ? You know it is the feast of Lupercal.

Flav. It is no matter ; let no images Be hung with Cæsar’s trophies. I’ll about, And drive away the vulgar from the streets : So do you too, where you perceived them thick. These growing feathers pluck’d from Cæsar’s wing Will make him fly an ordinary pitch, Who else would soar above the view of men And keep us all in servile fearfulness. [Exeunt

Act I, Scene I. Rome. A street.
Flavius, Marullus, and certain Commoners

At the very onset of the play, “Julius Cæsar“, by William Shakespeare, ~1601.

from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Arranged in their chronological order: with an introduction to each play, adapted from the Shakespearean primer of Professor Dowden Vol Two; ed. W.G. Clark and W. Aldis Wright, Nelson Doubleday, Inc., Garden City, New York (no date for this edition within its printed page).

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