Not long ago I had the all-time greatest Great Idea: one, born of total ignorance, that nearly tanked a novel. As you may have guessed from my opening line, my subject is Julius Caesar. But you might not have guessed from the title that my Great Idea entailed his being reborn as a penis.
Don't laugh, please, I beg you. I saw no way around this, even though showing JC as a 'dick' might lead some to think that I've written a spoof. In fact, it's a serious thriller. Without giving the plot away, I can say this: I needed JC's ghost, today, remembering his nights with Cleopatra on her fabled golden barge.
There was the heart of my book--a ghost trying for 2000 years to relive that lost boogie with Liz. And I'd begun to run with this when my memory corrected me: Mark Anthony, not JC, was on the barge with Cleo. And this was after JC's death. What the hell was I to do, lacking the good sense to check memory's 'facts'--or even watch the movie? I needed JC on that barge to give his ghost its memories! And desperate men turn to desperate tricks.
So, what if...just what if...Caesar bungled his first attempt at rebirth--and came back as Mark Anthony's penis? Thank God I came to my senses. But I only came to my senses because--though I'd done extensive research in the past--I learned to blend my old style (plowing through stacks at the library) with a savvy online style. And to stop relying on my blinkin' memory.
As luck would have it, I resolved my dilemma in two strokes. One of the books on Caesar referred to JC's torrid tryst with Cleo on board the golden barge. And a very quick online search for Caesar and Cleopatra yielded the following:
Writing almost two centuries after the events he describes, Appian is the only other ancient authority to speak of the sojourn of Caesar and Cleopatra. "He made a voyage on the Nile to look at the country with a flotilla of 400 ships in the company of Cleopatra, and enjoyed himself with her in other ways as well" No more contemporary sources mention the cruise, however, and, given the relatively brief time Caesar remained in Alexandria, it is possible that the voyage did not occur or was only of short duration.
So--Yippie kayay!--I'd learned four things of note:
1) At least two sources backed my JC's remembrance of his boogie on the barge.
2) Thus, story logic didn't mandate JC's initial rebirth as a penis.
3) Online research can be sketchy and facts require cross-checking. (I'm deeply suspicious of one online claim that Cleopatra was actually a sexually innocent little thing who had only had two lovers--JC and Mark Anthony.)
4) Googling can be labyrinthine and misleading. A Google search of Caesar's Penis yielded 239,000 hits--including the shot of the statue that clearly isn't Julius. (Note the full head of hair. And consider: would any man bold enough to place his statue with those of the gods have shown such an average johnson?)
Still, many plot obstacles can be resolved through Google and Wiki: E.g.:
--Was JC left or right-handed? (An important scene depended on my knowing the answer to that one.)
--What gladiator-style weapons would he have been familiar with?
--Could he have known about the use of pressure points?
--Did Roman women have 'tampons'?
--Would JC have had a throne?
--Which of the poets I carry a torch for lived when JC ruled? Catullus? Propertius? Ovid? Horace?
-- Did the word 'dictator' even mean the same thing to the Romans that it means to us?
Balance is all at the end of the way. And Googling can't replace traditional hard-core research.
You can search online for weeks without learning Caesar's height or the size of his penis. Some facts are unavailable. But far more serious losses await researchers who won't go the distance. Was JC a megalomaniac? a power-maddened dictator? a brutal, muderous son of a bitch? Or was he cut from the same cloth as the Gracchi Brothers--also slandered and then slain by two-faced patrician goons?
The real breakthroughs in my perception of Caesar came from months of reading, carefully noting little things I hadn't expected to find.
That said, the passion for Googling isn't one that I'm likely to shake. I'll sign off now. Gotta go. I wonder if anything's out there about something I seem to recall having read: that Cleo was a consummate fellatrix.
Update: Just found this:
Coming this fall: Caesar's Ghost, the novel behind this post.