There are stories that contain the essence of a person’s character. This one – about Julius Caesar, who conquered most of the then-known world – is from Plutarch’s Lives. It┬átakes place early in Caesar’s life, before anybody knows who he is. He is in exile from Rome. A minor player, at best.

At sea, he is captured by pirates, who demand a ransom:

To begin with, then, when the pirates demanded twenty talents for his ransom, he laughed at them for not knowing who their captive was, and of his own accord agreed to give them fifty.

Despite being absolutely in their power, he is completely reckless:

…he held them in such disdain that whenever he lay down to sleep he would send and order them to stop talking. For eight and thirty days, as if the men were not his watchers, but his royal body-guard, he shared in their sports and exercises with great unconcern. He also wrote poems and sundry speeches which he read aloud to them, and those who did not admire these he would call to their faces illiterate Barbarians, and often laughingly threatened to hang them all. The pirates were delighted at this, and attributed his boldness of speech to a certain simplicity and boyish mirth.

Eventually his ransom comes through and he is set free. A normal person, glad to be free, would probably get back to their normal life. Caesar, however, wants revenge:

But after his ransom had come from Miletus and he had paid it and was set free, he immediately manned vessels and put to sea from the harbour of Miletus against the robbers. He caught them, too, still lying at anchor off the island, and got most of them into his power. Their money he made his booty, but the men themselves he lodged in the prison at Pergamum, and then went in person to Junius, the governor of Asia, on the ground that it belonged to him, as praetor of the province, to punish the captives.

But the praetor – basically the mayor – isn’t in a rush to punish them. However, the pirates are captured and in prison, and you’d presume that Caesar, his job done, can go on to do other things. And yet:

But since the praetor cast longing eyes on their money, which was no small sum, and kept saying that he would consider the case of the captives at his leisure, Caesar left him to his own devices, went to Pergamum, took the robbers out of prison, and crucified them all, just as he had often warned them on the island that he would do, when they thought he was joking.

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