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15 Back-Stabbing Facts About Brutus

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Getty Images

On this date in 44 BCE, Marcus Junius Brutus and as many as 59 accomplices orchestrated the most famous assassination of all time. While we observe the anniversary of Caesar's untimely demise, let’s take a closer look at the assassination's divisive figure and draw our own conclusions.

1. Brutus's Mother was Caesar’s Longtime Mistress.

Brutus's mom, Servilia Caepionis, and the future dictator first became intimate when they were in their thirties. Their affair ended up spanning decades and became one of ancient Rome’s worst-kept secrets.

2. During Caesar’s Civil War, Brutus Picked the Losing Side.

Even though Caesar's rival, Pompey, had killed Brutus’s father, Brutus sided with Pompey when the statesman went to war with Caesar in 49 BCE. En route to defeating his rival, Caesar defeated Brutus’s forces before pardoning Servilia’s son. 

3. He Became Governor of Gaul in 46 BCE ...

After the pardon, Brutus's career took off. According to the great historian Plutarch, Brutus treated Gaul well, and her cities flourished under his leadership.

4. … And a Praetor in 44.

A praetor was a high-ranking political official who was responsible for carrying out Roman justice. Brutus’s appointment irked Gaius Cassius Longinus, who had wanted the job and considered himself better qualified. (Make note of this guy—you’ll be seeing a lot of him.)

5. Cicero Dedicated a Masterful Text to Him.

An admirer of Brutus’s soaring speeches, this esteemed philosopher penned a popular compendium about public speaking in 46 BCE, which he titled Brutus, a History of Famous Orators

6. Brutus Divorced His First Wife So He Could Marry His Cousin.

While still wed to a well-regarded socialite named Claudia Pulchra, Brutus fell for Porcia Catonis, an articulate, well-educated relative.

7. His Name Appears in Ancient Graffiti.

Ancient Roman graffiti artists had a field day with Brutus, marking up a statue of the praetor with such zingers as “Brutus, you are sleeping,” “Would that you were living!” and “You are not Brutus.” Clearly, his approval ratings left a bit to be desired.  

8. In His Spare Time, Brutus Took Up Poetry.

He presented many original verses at libraries, though none survive today.

9. Porcia Once Proved her Loyalty to Him Via Self-Mutilation.

When you marry your cousin, things are bound to get a little weird. As Plutarch reveals, Brutus’ second wife literally took great pains to learn his secrets. One day, she grabbed a butcher’s knife and quietly stabbed herself in the thigh until “there was a copious flow of blood”.  “Brutus”, she said, “… how can I show thee any grateful service if I am to share neither thy secret suffering nor the anxiety which craves a loyal confidant?” As Brutus looked on in astonishment, Porcia argued that if she could bear such agony without complaint, she could also be trusted with his schemes.

10. He Tried Raising Money for Caesar’s Assassins with Food.  

Appalled by Julius Caesar’s ascent to absolute power and a new title that translated into "dictator in perpetuity," Brutus joined the conspiracy that helped organize the leader's murder. Great conspiracies don't come cheap, so Brutus fell back on that favorite moneymaking operation of modern politicians, the fundraising dinner. In the early days of the conspiracy, he treated a wealthy activist by the name of Titus Pomponius Atticus to an excellent meal. But this gesture was in vain—Atticus found the plan far too risky.

11. Caesar’s Last Words Probably Weren’t “Et tu, Brute?”

Sorry, Shakespeare: Nobody’s quite sure what Caesar said just before he died. One historian reported that witnesses saw him take a good look at Brutus and utter “Kai su, teknon?” which, in Greek, means “You too, child?”

12. Coins Complete With Daggers Were Once Issued in His Honor.

After slaying Caesar, Brutus’s team (which called itself “the freedom party”) fled to Macedonia, where local coins featuring his profile on one side and two down-turned knives on the other were produced.

13. Mark Antony Ensured That Brutus Received a Proper Burial.

The forces assembled by the exiled Brutus proved no match for the combined might of those of Antony and Octavian (Caesar’s nephew). Rather than be captured, he famously took his own life in 42 BCE. With reverence, Antony then used his most expensive cape to cloak Brutus’s body—though this garment was swiftly stolen.

14. Brutus Hangs Out with Cassius and Judas in Dante’s Inferno.

The treacherous trio receives unspeakable tortures in Hell’s ninth circle. 

15. A Quote Attributed to Him Appears on Virginia’s State Seal.

Does sic semper tyrannus ring any bells? Many claim it’s what Brutus shouted while killing Caesar. But our old friend Plutarch reported otherwise, writing that the Brutus and his fellow assassins simply fled without comment. Nonetheless, Virginia adopted an official seal complete with these words in 1776, 89 years before John Wilkes Booth shouted them at Ford’s Theatre after wounding Abraham Lincoln. 

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

NASA // Public Domain
On This Day in 1983, Sally Ride Made History
NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

Thirty-five years ago today, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She flew on the space shuttle Challenger on a six-day mission. She had previously helped build the shuttle's robot arm, and now she operated it in space. Not only was she the first American woman to go to space, she was the youngest astronaut in space, at age 32.

(As with many space-related firsts, that "American" qualifier is important. The Soviet space program had sent two women cosmonauts into space well in advance of Ride. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova flew all the way back in 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. They also sent various younger people to space, including Tereshkova.)

Ride represented a change in the previously completely male astronaut program. Although NASA had unofficially tested women in the late 1950s as part of the Mercury program, the idea of sending women into space was quickly discarded. NASA policy for decades was that only men would be considered as astronauts. It took until 1978 for NASA to change the policy—that year, six women became astronauts: Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon, and Shannon Lucid.

Ride and her colleagues were subject to an endless barrage of sexist media questions, curious how women might fare in space. They also encountered institutional sexism at NASA itself. Ride recalled:

"The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. ... You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit."

Ride held a Ph.D. in astrophysics, two bachelor's degrees (English and physics), and had served as CapCom (Capsule Communicator) for the second and third shuttle flights, STS-2 and -3. She was an accomplished pilot and athlete, as well as a Presbyterian elder. She was closely connected to Challenger, performing two missions on it and losing four fellow members of her 1978 class when it exploded.

After her astronaut career concluded, Ride served on both the Challenger and Columbia disaster review panels. During the former, she leaked vital information about the Challenger disaster (o-ring engineering reports), though this wasn't broadly known until after her death. She wrote educational books and founded Sally Ride Science. She was asked to head up NASA by the Clinton administration, but declined.

Ride died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. Her obituary made news for quietly mentioning that she was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy. Although Ride had come out to her family and close friends, the obituary was the first public statement that she was gay. It was also the first time most people found out she'd suffered from pancreatic cancer at all; she asked that donations in her memory be made to a fund devoted to studying that form of cancer.


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