Doggin’ it with Caesar in Vienna, Austria

OK, so I have to set up the joke with a cultural allusion.

You’ll be thinking to yourself:

   (A) I totally know this allusion and I’m a bit offended you felt like you had to explain it to me

   (B) I’ve heard that phrase but I never knew where it came from – thanks!

   (C) Say what?

My guess, “B” (but quite possibly “A”; only conceivably “C”). Anyhow…

According to traditional historical accounts, during the late Roman Republic, Roman generals were prohibited from bringing their armies back across the Rubicon river into Italy, lest they use those forces to overthrow the legitimate government. So, in 59 B.C.E., when Julius Caesar returned from conquering the Germanic and Celtic tribes in Gaul (now France), he had a colossal decision to make. That choice would transform his life and the lives of all his countrymen. Crossing the Rubicon would mean civil war. Should he?

Supposedly, he thought about it for a few moments, said “Alea iacta est” (“The die is cast”), and crossed. And the rest is… well, you know.* (The Republic ultimately collapsed, leading to Augustus and the Roman Empire.)

So, ever since, “crossing the Rubicon” has been the phrase for making a decision with enormous consequence: one that is fateful and irreversible.

And now we come to the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, home to an extraordinary collection of great, and serious, art. And this, Caesar at the Rubicon, by Wilhelm Trübner:


Caesar at the Rubicon (a.k.a. Dogge mit Wurstschüssel)

Photography was prohibited at the Belvedere, as at many museums. But Mom saw all the Asian tourists snapping away, and saw how fascinated I was by this painting. “Go ahead, take a picture,” she told me, and I did. And, within 30 seconds the authorities were there, insisting I put my tablet away. Oh, well.

Here’s a little clearer look at it. You’ve got to admit that image is pretty unexpected – and pretty funny.

trubner caesar official

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I’d never heard of Trübner – a contemporary of the famous Gustav Klimt and others from the fin de siècle era before World War I in middle Europe. And I haven’t yet been able to track down the backstory of this painting. But he evidently had a thing for dogs and sausages!

trubner dog2

Dogge mitt Würsten (Dog with Sausages); a.k.a. “Ave Caesar morturi te salutant” (Hail Caesar! We Who Are about to Die Salute You!)


*The rest is “history”? Our primary accounts of this event may well be embellished, and we’re not even sure exactly which river was the Rubicon.


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