“What a loser I am,” I exclaimed as I put down the book that I was reading. “Why do you say that?” asked a friend who was sitting nearby. “I am reading about Julius Caesar,” I explained. “When he died, at the age I am now, he had proven himself one of history’s greatest generals, published a book about his exploits in Gaul that thousands of years later is still widely read and considered one of the best written texts on the subject of generalship and leadership and ruled most of the known world. Compared to him, I have done nothing with my life.”
Like me, Caesar himself wasn’t satisfied with his accomplishments. The Roman historian, Suetonius Tranquillus, tells us in The Lives of the 12 Caesars that Caesar, at about the age of 40, entered a temple and came upon a statue of Alexander the Great, who died at the age of 32.
Caesar “heaved a sigh, and as if out of patience with his own incapacity in having as yet done nothing noteworthy at a time of life when Alexander the Great had already brought the world to his feet, he straightway asked for his discharge, to grasp the first opportunity for greater enterprises at Rome.”
Even as renowned as Alexander and Caesar are for their military prowess, many historians consider Hannibal Barca an even greater general. He is quoted a describing himself as the greatest general of his time.
At the age of 9, Hannibal’s general-father made him swear an oath never to be a friend of Rome (something I never made my son do). By the age of 26, Hannibal became a general and conquered much of the Iberian Peninsula. He then launched the Second Punic War by shocking the Romans and taking his army (elephants included) over the Alps and obliterating larger opposing armies. For over a decade, he roamed Italy with his army and singlehandedly terrorized the great military power that was Rome.
Peter J. McDonnell, MD
E: [email protected]; P: 443/287-1511
Dr. McDonnell is the director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times