Beware the Ides of March...

9:56 PM

Julius Caesar certainly didn't follow this advice, so I didn't either. Fortunately, my day was much better than his.

This morning, Libby posted about a special sort of triumvirate--a trifecta of birthdays. This got me thinking--not about birthdays, but about triumvirates and their various manifestations through time in various political systems.

The first Roman triumvirate contains our friend, Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Surprisingly, it had no official status whatsoever. This doesn't mean it wasn't powerful--however, its power all came from the influence of the individual triumviri. Once the group went public, however, there was little to stop them gaining whatever they wished. The triumvirate eventually broke apart as its members began to die, but showed signs of weakening even before 53 BC when Crassus left this world for the next. It was to be expected--as the Highlander later said, "There can be only one." Though the triumviri used each other to gain power and control, they were never really what we would call buddies.

The first triumvirate ended in civil war following the murder of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March. It was followed, after much bloodshed and battling, by the Second Triumvirate, composed of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Marcus Antonius. Unlike the earlier triumvirate, this one was sanctioned by Roman law--their power was official. Like the earlier triumvirate, however, this was a marriage of convenience and not one of love. Prior to its creation, the triumviri were busily trying to kill each other in what is now modern-day Bologna. Many of us know the end of this dictatorial group from our study of Shakespeare: Antony goes to Egypt, falls in love with Cleopatra, thus ignoring his wife (who happens to be Octavian's sister). Octavian proclaims Antony a traitor. The man, after all, is in Egypt, living with Egyptians--he has obviously lost track of all that is good and Roman. They go to war. Antony and Cleopatra die. And, since "there can be only one," Lepidus is marginalized and Octavian becomes Augustus--first Emperor of Rome.

Triumvirates are fun, but I prefer Troikas--the Russian take on the same general concept. That the Russians borrow from the Romans should surprise no one. They called their emperors "Czars," a word derived from "Caesar." Historically, when things go bad in Russia, a troika steps in and cleans up. They tend not to be warm and fuzzy. They became particularly popular after the Bolsheviks took power, as groups of three were very significant--they are the smallest democratic voting groups possible. Soon, troikas were used to help "bring order" and "control the masses." They became (in)famous during the purges in there role as instruments of extrajudicial punishment.

So, why are you getting this little refresher in political history? Well, because when I read the aforementioned birthday post this morning, I thought about triumvirates and troikas and how they relate to my life. You see, when I was an undergraduate, I had two very dear friends with whom I did most everything. We lived in the same dorm. We ate meals together. We went out together. We caused trouble together. And eventually, we earned a nickname--you guessed it--The Troika. I promise, we did not try to purge the University of Poles or Ukrainians (I would have had to go with them). But that was our name--for three years, we were known as The Troika.

Then, I went away for a semester. And while I was gone, a new member came to fill my place in The Troika. When I returned, we morphed into The Gang of Four. In China, you see, they didn't fall back on Troikas and Triumvirates. But they did have The Gang of Four, which was the group under the Communist Regime on which all the blame for the Cultural Revolution fell in 1976 or thereabouts. All in all, they probably were not too different from a Soviet Troika.

You know, I never asked why we had be christened with such a nickname. Were we frightening and intimidating like a Troika? Was it because I'm part Russian and had a Russian surname? Did it just sound cool? In retrospect, we probably should have been wary of the young men who gave us this dubious moniker. Instead, I and another member of the Troika ended up dating two of them. We, like Caesar, failed to heed the soothsayer's warning. But, unlike Caesar, we came out the other end alive and ready to try again.

And, for the record, I am in touch with all members of the Troika/Gang of Four. SJH is the intended recipient of the as-yet-unchosen shawl, HMF is studying to be a nurse out on the western reaches of the state, and ESB introduced me to The Beloved (and I still talk to her--it's either loyalty or insanity, I tell you). So, unlike the triumvirates and troikas and gangs of four that history has given us, I think we might be destined for a long and successful career as ours is based in friendship--a concept that goes against the theory that "there can be only one."

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