At first glance, he may seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to a known figure; only because he is Julius Caesar. Some call him the great Roman leader who inspired loyalty among his soldiers and was loved by the plebeian society of Rome. Rumor has it that he might have been a conniving and merciless military dictator who seized power from a democratically elected Senate and attempted to make himself a divine being.
The amazing thing about history is that every perspective holds some truth. What historians do is seek as many sources as possible and arrive at a common ground. Mind you, even historians can be biased. Hence, there is no ultimate truth in history, but only cycles of interpretation and reevaluation. We are all entitled to pick our mix of facts and perspectives.
Now what was Julius doing here? He shared with me (as I conversed with him in my self-taught Latin) that for years, his greatest wish was to see the future. He was consistent with his prayers to Jupiter and religiously prepared sacrifices of ox and lamb paired with his finest wine. Jupiter was indeed very pleased with such earnest devotions and being the god of the sky, he sent forth cosmic rays to zap Julius from 47 BC to 2015 CE. However, Julius was warned that before he could return home, he had to solve a riddle; one that only a modern man could.
Julius tasked me with this mission to help him.
Of course, how could one refuse an emperor? I agreed (on just the condition that he changed out of his toga, lest I be seen with, what most millennials might consider, a barbarian).
I thought, in order to make Julius think like a modern man, he has to know what it is like to live like one. So I introduced him to our present-day society.
I was told by Julius that Romans engineered impressive buildings. They had a massive arena, known as Circus Maximus, to house 250,000 spectators for chariot races or gladiator fights. In preparation for war, enemy-resistant forts were built all over the Empire to safeguard soldiers and their supplies. Spectacular arch bridges, called aqueducts, supplied the city with steady flow of water.
I at once knew Romans appreciated vastness. So I took Julius to the bottom of One Raffles Place Tower and watched him being blown away by the unimaginable scale of a 63-storey modern construction. “Does that reach the heavens?” he asked. “Almost. Do you believe I can take you there in a blink of an eye?” was my reply. We stepped into the elevators and within minutes, we reached the observatory deck; no effort compared to climbing a Roman theatre.
Romans believed warfare was man’s supremely meaningful activity and so they prided in their military. A legionary, which is an elite Roman soldier, is usually armed with a short iron sword, called the gladius, which served for stabbing. A legionary carries a long spear for throwing, called a pilum. When this spear is thrown and hits an enemy's shield, it is difficult to pull out. Since the spear would get in the way, it is likely that the enemy soldier would abandon his shield, rendering him an easy target. Roman armies innovated intelligent tactics and were very much formidable.
To summarize our modern day military to Julius would be a challenge (given that terms like "battle tank" and "grenade" would not make any sense to him). Instead, I presented him a high-powered pistol. I demonstrated its function (by placing a watermelon in an open field and exploded it 100 metres away). I promised him with confidence, “a few well-trained gun men can easily take on a hundred of your best men, or perhaps even a thousand”. The gun was a real eye catcher to him.
Roman doctors carried out treatment based on their own science of common sense, trust in gods and magic. One of the medical practices Julius told me about was the reading of livers. To predict an omen, an animal is sacrificed and its liver would be examined by a priest. He is capable of communicating with the gods for answers to illnesses. Interestingly, some of their medical practices are passed on till today. For instance, they boiled their medical instruments before use and reboiled before reusing. However, they did so even without any awareness of germs.
So I attempted to explain germ theory to Julius, who was left dumbfounded yet still clueless about “these super tiny body invaders”. At Khoo Teck Puat hospital, he witnessed a heart attack patient brought back from the brink of death with defibrillation. I hope he goes back to write a book (or rather a scroll) about "debunking the idea of omens".
To conclude our day, I invited Julius over to my place for a movie with my family. He could not stop questioning our state of the art home theatre system. He was pretty amused when I told him how we made endless movies and documentaries of his culture and time.
The next morning, he was gone.
It was a pity. Did he not want to hear one of my "how did Rome decline" stories?