Have you ever betrayed someone who trusted you; alternatively, have you ever been betrayed by someone in whom you had placed your confidence? Brutus, Judas, Benedict Arnold–these names have come down to us and are remembered not for good things they did, and surely they did do good things, but instead because of their acts of betrayal. Disloyalty on the part of a friend can usher in some of life’s darkest days.
Marcus Junius Brutus (85-42 BCE) was a key conspirator in the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar. He was an active participant in Caesar’s murder at a meeting of the Roman Senate on March 15, 44 BCE. The role of Brutus in the death of Caesar is considered especially egregious by many. Earlier, Brutus had supported Pompey in the war against Caesar. Following Pompey’s defeat, Caesar pardoned Brutus. Brutus was able to participate in Caesar’s murder precisely because Caesar had spared his life.
In his book Caesar: The Life of a Colossus, Adrian Goldsworthy describes Caesar’s fight against his killers and the final moments of his life.
The dictator struggled with them to the end, trying to fight or force his way out. Marcus Brutus stabbed him once in the groin, and some claimed that when he saw Servilia’s son he stopped struggling and spoke one last time, saying ‘You too, my son’ – sadly there is no direct evidence for Shakespeare’s version of et tu Brute. Then the dictator covered his head with his toga and collapsed, falling next to the pedestal of Pompey’s statue. There were twenty-three wounds on his body.Goldsworthy, Adrian. Caesar: The Life Of A Colossus (p. 619). Orion. Kindle Edition.
Like many an ideologue before and after him, Brutus justified his behavior by wrapping it within an ethical cloak. He would argue that he killed Caesar to save the Roman Republic from a man who would be King, a dictator. Following the military defeat of Brutus and the republican cause in 42 BCE, Brutus committed suicide. The republican cause was lost.
When we speak of someone’s intentions, we are on slippery ground. Even when a person tells us their purpose in doing or not doing something, we can never be sure. Perhaps, they are deceiving us, or what’s worse themselves. In the final analysis, all we can do is see what they have done, their actions. Whatever his reasons were, Brutus helped stab Caesar to death. As a result, the name of Brutus, according to Wikipedia’s entry for him: “…has since become synonymous with acts of intimate public betrayal or treason, and is perhaps only rivaled in this regard by the name of Judas.”
To be betrayed is to experience one of life’s most difficult challenges. When the betrayal comes at the hand of someone trusted, a parent, a spouse, a child, or a friend, it is especially painful. When someone close proves untrue, the result can be devastating.
Israel’s second king, King David, experienced betrayal even at the hands of his own sons. He was also played false by men that he had believed were good friends. In Psalm 55, he writes about one such “friend.”
For it was not an enemy that taunted me,
Then I could have borne it;
Neither was it mine adversary that did magnify himself against me,
Then I would have hid myself from him.
But it was thou, a man mine equal,Psalm 55:13-14, JPS 1917
My companion, and my familiar friend;
We took sweet counsel together,
In the house of God we walked with the throng.
To experience such treachery is agonizing. It is not surprising that it engenders an almost overwhelming desire to run away, to escape, to find peace. Even kings can feel this. David writes:
And I said: ‘Oh that I had wings like a dove!
Then would I fly away, and be at rest.
Lo, then would I wander far off,
I would lodge in the wilderness. Selah
I would haste me to a shelterPsalm 55:7-9, JPS 1917
From the stormy wind and tempest.’
Ultimately, David finds relief from the anguish of betrayal in his relationship with what he considers to be the one rock in his life, God. The German musician Felix Mendelssohn beautifully set David’s psalm to music.
All the best