How Julio César put an end to the pirates who kidnapped him when he was going to study with Apolonio Molón in Rhodes

Apolonio Molón, also known as Molón de Rodas, certainly cool. In the first decades of the first century BC there was no more famous orator in the entire Mediterranean. He was born in Alabanda, a Greek city in Caria (now present-day Doganyurt on the southwestern coast of Turkey). He studied under Menekles, whom he soon surpassed, and settled on the island of Rhodes, where he founded a school of rhetoric that became so famous that students came from all over the ancient world.

In addition, Apollonius carried out diplomatic functions for the Rhodians, and as their ambassador he visited Rome on two occasions. We know this from the testimony of Cicero, who claims to have received his teachings in Rome in the year 88 BC and again in 81 BC, when Sulla was already dictator.

His reputation in Rome was held in such high esteem that he was even allowed to address the Senate in the Greek language, an unusual honor bestowed on a foreign ambassador. The ancient sources affirm that he was also a great writer, dealing mainly with rhetorical subjects and studies on the Homeric poems. Unfortunately none of his works have been preserved.

Bust of Julius Caesar/Image: Andrea di Pietro di Marco Ferrucci on Wikimedia Commons

In 77 BC Cicero stopped for a while in Rhodes on his return from Athens, where he had studied with Antiochus of Ascalon and Posidonius of Apamea, to continue his training with Apollonius, whom he was able to see in action as a lawyer in court, and as teacher at his school.

A year earlier, in 78 BC, Julius Caesar began his career as a lawyer in the Roman Forum, where he soon stood out for the quality of his oratory. Successes and failures followed one another and he understood that he needed to improve, study rhetoric and philosophy. So he decided to get down to work, and what better teacher than the famous Apolonio Molón.

Thus, in the year 74 BC according to Suetonius (although Plutarch’s version places the event earlier, upon his return from his stay in Bithynia with Nicomedes IV) Caesar was heading to Rhodes with his entourage when his galley was intercepted by pirates at the height from the island of Farmacusa, present-day Farmakonisi halfway between the Dodecanese and the west coast of Turkey. According to Plutarch:

The first thing that was remarkable about this incident was that when the pirates asked him for twenty talents for ransom, he laughed, as they did not know who the captive was, and voluntarily forced himself to give them fifty. Afterwards, having sent all the rest of his retinue, some to one side and others to the other, to collect the money, he came to stay among some perfidious Cilician pirates with only one friend and two servants, and yet he treated them with such disdain that when he went to pick him up he sent them to tell them not to make noise (Plutarch, *Parallel Lives: Julius Caesar, II)

Situation of Farmacusa (current Farmakonisi) / photo Imia on Wikimedia Commons

For 38 days he remained captive along with two assistants and one of his doctors, during which he dedicated himself to composing speeches and reading them to the pirates, whom he used to call ignorant and barbaric when they did not applaud him, confident that the prospect of benefit would prevented him from doing any harm. At the same time he politely advised them that, once released, he would crucify or hang them, which they used to take as a joke, unaware of who they were dealing with.

At the end of that time, the ransom money arrived, contributed by the allied cities of the Asian province, and Caesar and his followers were released. Then they went to Miletus, where they assembled a squadron and returned to the island, to find with surprise that the innocent pirates were still there:

After the ransom was brought to him from Miletus and he was released for his surrender, he immediately equipped some vessels in the port of the Milesians, went against the pirates, surprised them still anchored on the island, and seized the greater part of the island. them (Plutarch, *Parallel Lives: Julius Caesar, II)

Another 1962 movie poster / photo FilmAffinity

Taken to Pergamum before Junius, the ruler of Asia, he chose to leave the decision on the punishment to be applied to them to Caesar. As he had warned them, he ordered them to be crucified, yes, ordering that their throats be slit first. out of compassionand in view of how well he had been treated in his captivity.

Neither Plutarch nor Suetonius nor other sources tell us what happened next, whether Caesar finally came to visit Apollonius in Rhodes and study with him or not. Plutarch gives us a clue, and that each one interprets it to his liking:

It is said that Caesar had the best disposition for civil eloquence and that he did not lack the corresponding application; so that in this study he had the second place without dispute, leaving others in him the primacy, for the desire to have it in authority and arms; So, giving himself with more ardor to the militia and the arts of government, by which he finally reached the empire, for this reason alone he did not reach the perfection to which his ingenuity could aspire in the faculty of good speech, and he Later on, he asked in his contradictory response to Cicero’s Cato that no comparison be made in terms of elegance between the speech of a soldier and that of an excellent orator, who wrote with the greatest diligence and care (Plutarch, *Lives parallels: Julius Caesar, III).


Parallel Lives: Julius Caesar (Plutarch) / A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (William Smith, Ed.) / Life of the twelve Caesars (Suetonius) / Wikipedia.