I came, I saw and I conquered” is an old statement credited to an ancient Roman ruler, Caius Julius Caeser, who invaded Britain when his conquering troops landed on the soil of that country. Historical record gave the time as 55 B.C., but the significant import of that statement is rarely appreciated by many of those who make reference to it. History has it that Cassibelan agreed to pay a yearly tribute of 3,000 pounds to Rome, until King Cymbeline refused to continue to pay such tribute.
In Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, we can pick out what coming, seeing and conquering mean for every individual human being. Beginning with life on earth as a journey, we find this statement: “O! this life is nobler than attending for checks, richer than doing nothing for a bribe, prouder than rustling in unpaid for silk”. With regards to the role of money or a materialistic frame of mind, we are told that “All gold and silver turn to dirt! As it is no better reckoned but of those who worship dirty gods”. There are many such on earth!
Coming to the earth as the journey of life demands, exposes every individual to various temptations and conditions that would put everyone to some tests. While “winning will put any man into courage”, it is also true that “some falls are means the happier to rise”. At one time or another we find that “fortune brings in some boat that are not steer’d”, we are also compelled to learn that “the sweat of industry would dry and die but for the end it works to”. Truly, “a man’s life is a tedious one”.
Many people have wondered why life is full of toils, turnmoil and unrest; but there is no way that anyone can come into a training field without seeing what such environment entails. Coming entails seeing through personal experiencing and also being able to distinguish the needful from the frivolous, the true from the false, what is of lasting value and what can perish soon. That is the import of the message from Imogen, the Princess of King Cymbeline: “Thus may poor fools believe false teachers; though those that are betrayed do feel the treason sharply, yet the traitor stands in worse case of woe”. Don’t we have false teachers, gangsters, etc?
The riddles and idioms of life are quite many, thereby making it imperative that only the wise ones can celebrate the victory of conquest. But even then, the concept of conquest is also a riddle, because, conquest really means self conquest. A real hero is not the conqueror and possessor of a great city, but he that is able to conquer personal deficiencies and turn them into personal assets. Such transformation of an individual is illustrated in the philosophical search for the elixir of life and The Golden Ass of Apuleius.
Personal deficiencies which demand to be conquered range from vanity to vaulting ambitions, all of which are directed towards material goals. Humans have acquired the propensity of always reaching beyond themselves, but forgetting to identify and develop what is within them. One of the numerous deficiencies that humans need to conquer is fear, which has become an instrument for the continued dehumanization and oppression of man. Therefore, when Caius Julius Caeser said “I came, I saw and I conquered”, the conquest which he meant was the conquest of the fear of the unknown; not the conquest of Britain! Conquerors don’t live in fear!
So long as humans place emphasis on mundane and material pursuits and goals, for that long would the clouding and narcotisation of human consciousness last. The conquest meant by Caeser refers to the conquest of those things that humans fear, which include fear of the unknown. When ancient Roman troops set out to explore new territories there was always fear of the unknown, especially with horrifying tales about cannibals, centaurs and monsters in foreign lands.
Fear of the unknown for the modern man includes the fear of death, bereavement, ill health, losses, terrorism, displacement, injustices, betrayals, loneliness, rejection, etc. behind such fears there is usually the darkness of ignorance, fuelled by human indolence to dig deeper for the truth. “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt”. To explore is not to exploit!
The morbid habit of always reaching out beyond ourselves is a part of the indolence of failing to explore what is immediately within ourselves. We often think that the grass is greener in our neighbour’s garden and then lust and long for what is far off, rather than appreciate the value of what is closest to us.
In the quest for development, there is no way that progress can come about if we do not apply the principles of the local content policy. The philosophy of that policy lies in the fact that the road to what is distant is the knowledge of what lies within. This principle or philosophy is an ancient one, known to the Romans, but known by the Jews as Hermetic axiom. It goes as follows: “That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below …” A successful outing must begin at home.
Those pilgrims to the earth who fail to see the signposts and roadmaps of life would not be able to conquer in the battle that life entails. In the case of King Cymbeline of Britain which served as an illustration of Caesers’ statement, there is much to learn. It took a King Cymbeline to break the yoke of continuing to pay annual tribute of 3,000 pounds to Rome. For such national tasks there is usually a Posthumus Leonatus to do a rescue operation when the need is greatest. Nigeria must search for the balm of Giliad. It takes commitment and conviction!
Many who study great works of art rarely dig deep enough to grasp and absorb the vital messages conveyed. To be born is to come; to see is to grasp and absorb the vital messages of life through experience, and to conquer is to turn personal liabilities and deficiencies into assets, for the ennoblement of life generally. To come but not see and conquer, is a great failure, even though one may conquer and own the earth. The reader is urged to read Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, and use its message as peg for an exploratory journey.
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
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