Extract from the Life of Caesar, by Plutarch

Written in A.D. 75    Translated by John Dryden

The following is the basis for Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, together with Plutarch's lives of Brutus and Antony.

    He gave a fresh occasion of resentment by his affront to the tribunes. The Lupercalia were
    then celebrated, a feast at the first institution belonging, as some writers say, to the shepherds,
    and having some connection with the Arcadian Lycae. Many young noblemen and magistrates
    run up and down the city with their upper garments off, striking all they meet with thongs of
    hide, by way of sport; and many women, even of the highest rank, place themselves in the
    way, and hold out their hands to the lash, as boys in a school do to the master, out of a belief
    that it procures an easy labour to those who are with child, and makes those conceive who are
    barren. Caesar, dressed in a triumphal robe, seated himself in a golden chair at the rostra to
    view this ceremony. Antony, as consul, was one of those who ran this course, and when he
    came into the forum, and the people made way for him, he went up and reached to Caesar a
    diadem wreathed with laurel. Upon this there was a shout, but only a slight one, made by the
    few who were planted there for that purpose; but when Caesar refused it, there was universal
    applause. Upon the second offer, very few, and upon the second refusal, all again applauded.
    Caesar finding it would not take, rose up, and ordered the crown to be carried into the capitol.
    Caesar's statues were afterwards found with royal diadems on their heads. Flavius and
    Marullus, two tribunes of the people, went presently and pulled them off, and having
    apprehended those who first saluted Caesar as king committed them to prison. The people
    followed them with acclamations, and called them by the name of Brutus, because Brutus was
    the first who ended the succession of kings, and transferred the power which before was
    lodged in one man into the hands of the senate and people. Caesar so far resented this, that he
    displaced Marullus and Flavius; and in urging his charges against them, at the same time
    ridiculed the people, by himself giving the men more than once the names of Bruti and

    This made the multitude turn their thoughts to Marcus Brutus, who, by his father's side, was
    thought to be descended from that first Brutus, and by his mother's side from the Servilii,
    another noble family, being besides nephew and son-in-law to Cato. But the honours and
    favours he had received from Caesar took off the edge from the desires he might himself have
    felt for overthrowing the new monarchy. For he had not only been pardoned himself after
    Pompey's defeat at Pharsalia, and had procured the same grace for many of his friends, but
    was one in whom Caesar had a particular confidence. He had at that time the most honourable
    praetorship for the year, and was named for the consulship four years after, being preferred
    before Cassius, his competitor. Upon the question as to the choice, Caesar, it is related, said
    that Cassius had the fairer pretensions, but that he could not pass by Brutus. Nor would he
    afterwards listen to some who spoke against Brutus, when the conspiracy against him was
    already afoot, but laying his hand on his body, said to the informers, "Brutus will wait for this
    skin of mine," intimating that he was worthy to bear rule on account of his virtue, but would
    not be base and ungrateful to gain it. Those who desired a change, and looked on him as the
    only, or at least the most proper, person to effect it, did not venture to speak with him; but in
    the night-time laid papers about his chair of state, where he used to sit and determine causes,
    with such sentences in them as, "You are asleep, Brutus," "You are no longer Brutus."
    Cassius, when he perceived his ambition a little raised upon this, was more instant than before
    to work him yet further, having himself a private grudge against Caesar for some reasons that
    we have mentioned in the Life of Brutus. Nor was Caesar without suspicions of him, and said
    once to his friends, "What do you think Cassius is aiming at? I don't like him, he looks so
    pale." And when it was told him that Antony and Dolabella were in a plot against him, he said
    he did not fear such fat, luxurious men, but rather the pale, lean fellows, meaning Cassius and

    Fate, however, is to all appearance more unavoidable than unexpected. For many strange
    prodigies and apparitions are said to have been observed shortly before this event. As to the
    lights in the heavens, the noises heard in the night, and the wild birds which perched in the
    forum, these are not perhaps worth taking notice of in so great a case as this. Strabo, the
    philosopher, tells us that a number of men were seen, looking as if they were heated through
    with fire, contending with each other; that a quantity of flame issued from the hand of a
    soldier's servant, so that they who saw it thought he must be burnt, but that after all he had no
    hurt. As Caesar was sacrificing, the victim's heart was missing, a very bad omen, because no
    living creature can subsist without a heart. One finds it also related by many that a soothsayer
    bade him prepare for some great danger on the Ides of March. When this day was come,
    Caesar, as he went to the senate, met this soothsayer, and said to him by way of raillery, "The
    Ides of March are come," who answered him calmly, "Yes, they are come, but they are not
    past." The day before his assassination he supped with Marcus Lepidus; and as he was signing
    some letters according to his custom, as he reclined at table, there arose a question what sort
    of death was the best. At which he immediately, before any one could speak, said, "A sudden

    After this, as he was in bed with his wife, all the doors and windows of the house flew open
    together he was startled at the noise, and the light which broke into the room, and sat up in his
    bed, where by the moonshine he perceived Calpurnia fast asleep, but heard her utter in her
    dream some indistinct words and inarticulate groans. She fancied at that time she was weeping
    over Caesar, and holding him butchered in her arms. Others say this was not her dream, but
    that she dreamed that a pinnacle, which the senate, as Livy relates, had ordered to be raised on
    Caesar's house by way of ornament and grandeur, was tumbling down, which was the
    occasion of her tears and ejaculations. When it was day, she begged of Caesar, if it were
    possible, not to stir out, but to adjourn the senate to another time; and if he slighted her
    dreams, that she would be pleased to consult his fate by sacrifices and other kinds of
    divination. Nor was he himself without some suspicion and fears; for he never before
    discovered any womanish superstition in Calpurnia, whom he now saw in such great alarm.
    Upon the report which the priests made to him, that they had killed several sacrifices, and still
    found them inauspicious, he resolved to send Antony to dismiss the senate.

    In this juncture, Decimus Brutus, surnamed Albinus, one whom Caesar had such confidence in
    that he made him his second heir, who nevertheless was engaged in the conspiracy with the
    other Brutus and Cassius, fearing lest if Caesar should put off the senate to another day, the
    business might get wind, spoke scoffingly and in mockery of the diviners, and blamed Caesar
    for giving the senate so fair an occasion of saying he had put a slight upon them, for that they
    were met upon his summons, and were ready to vote unanimously that he should be declared
    king of all the provinces out of Italy, and might wear a diadem in any other place but Italy, by
    sea or land. If any one should be sent to tell them they might break up for the present, and
    meet again when Calpurnia should chance to have better dreams, what would his enemies say?
    Or who would with any patience hear his friends, if they should presume to defend his
    government as not arbitrary and tyrannical? But if he was possessed so far as to think this day
    unfortunate, yet it were more decent to go himself to the senate, and to adjourn it in his own
    person. Brutus, as he spoke these words, took Caesar by the hand, and conducted him forth.
    He was not gone far from the door, when a servant of some other person's made towards him,
    but not being able to come up to him, on account of the crowd of those who pressed about
    him, he made his way into the house, and committed himself to Calpurnia, begging of her to
    secure him till Caesar returned, because he had matters of great importance to communicate to

    Artemidorus, a Cnidian, a teacher of Greek logic, and by that means so far acquainted with
    Brutus and his friends as to have got into the secret, brought Caesar in a small written
    memorial the heads of what he had to depose. He had observed that Caesar, as he received
    any papers, presently gave them to the servants who attended on him; and therefore came as
    near to him as he could, and said, "Read this, Caesar, alone, and quickly, for it contains matter
    of great importance which nearly concerns you." Caesar received it, and tried several times to
    read it, but was still hindered by the crowd of those who came to speak to him. However, he
    kept it in his hand by itself till he came into the senate. Some say it was another who gave
    Caesar this note, and that Artemidorus could not get to him, being all along kept off by the

    All these things might happen by chance. But the place which was destined for the scene of
    this murder, in which the senate met that day, was the same in which Pompey's statue stood,
    and was one of the edifices which Pompey had raised and dedicated with his theatre to the use
    of the public, plainly showing that there was something of a supernatural influence which
    guided the action and ordered it to that particular place. Cassius, just before the act, is said to
    have looked towards Pompey's statue, and silently implored his assistance, though he had been
    inclined to the doctrines of Epicurus. But this occasion, and the instant danger, carried him
    away out of all his reasonings, and filled him for the time with a sort of inspiration. As for
    Antony, who was firm to Caesar and a strong man, Brutus Albinus kept him outside the house,
    and delayed him with a long conversation contrived on purpose. When Caesar entered, the
    senate stood up to show their respect to him, and of Brutus's confederates, some came about
    his chair and stood behind it, others met him, pretending to add their petitions to those of
    Tillius Cimber, in behalf of his brother, who was in exile; and they followed him with their
    joint applications till he came to his seat. When he was sat down, he refused to comply with
    their requests, and upon their urging him, further began to reproach them severely for their
    importunities, when Tillius, laying hold of his robe with both his hands, pulled it down from his
    neck, which was the signal for the assault. Casca gave him the first cut in the neck, which was
    not mortal nor dangerous, as coming from one who at the beginning of such a bold action was
    probably very much disturbed; Caesar immediately turned about, and laid his hand upon the
    dagger and kept hold of it. And both of them at the same time cried out, he that received the
    blow, in Latin, "Vile Casca, what does this mean?" and he that gave it, in Greek to his brother,
    "Brother, help!" Upon this first onset, those who were not privy to the design were astonished,
    and their horror and amazement at what they saw were so great that they durst not fly nor
    assist Caesar, nor so much as speak a word. But those who came prepared for the business
    enclosed him on every side, with their naked daggers in their hands. Which way soever he
    turned he met with blows, and saw their swords levelled at his face and eyes, and was
    encompassed like a wild beast in the toils on every side. For it had been agreed they should
    each of them make a thrust at him, and flesh themselves with his blood; for which reason
    Brutus also gave him one stab in the groin. Some say that he fought and resisted all the rest,
    shifting his body to avoid the blows, and calling out for help, but that when he saw Brutus's
    sword drawn, he covered his face with his robe and submitted, letting himself fall, whether it
    were by chance or that he was pushed in that direction by his murderers, at the foot of the
    pedestal on which Pompey's statue stood, and which was thus wetted with his blood. So that
    Pompey himself seemed to have presided, as it were, over the revenge done upon his
    adversary, who lay here at his feet, and breathed out his soul through his multitude of wounds,
    for they say he received three-and-twenty. And the conspirators themselves were many of
    them wounded by each other, whilst they all levelled their blows at the same person.

    When Caesar was despatched, Brutus stood forth to give a reason for what they had done, but
    the senate would not hear him, but flew out of doors in all haste, and filled the people with so
    much alarm and distraction, that some shut up their houses, others left their counters and
    shops. All ran one way or the other, some to the place to see the sad spectacle, others back
    again after they had seen it. Antony and Lepidus, Caesar's most faithful friends, got off
    privately, and hid themselves in some friends' houses. Brutus and his followers, being yet hot
    from the deed, marched in a body from the senate-house to the capitol with their drawn
    swords, not like persons who thought of escaping, but with an air of confidence and assurance,
    and as they went along, called to the people to resume their liberty, and invited the company of
    any more distinguished people whom they met. And some of these joined the procession and
    went up along with them, as if they also had been of the conspiracy, and could claim a share in
    the honour of what had been done. As, for example, Caius Octavius and Lentulus Spinther,
    who suffered afterwards for vanity, being taken off by Antony and the young Caesar, and lost
    the honour they desired, as well as their lives, which it cost them, since no one believed they
    had any share in the action. For neither did those who punished them profess to revenge the
    fact, but the ill-will. The day after, Brutus with the rest came down from the capitol and made
    a speech to the people, who listened without expressing either any pleasure or resentment, but
    showed by their silence that they pitied Caesar and respected Brutus. The senate passed acts
    of oblivion for what was past, and took measures to reconcile all parties. They ordered that
    Caesar should be worshipped as a divinity, and nothing, even of the slightest consequence,
    should be revoked which he had enacted during his government. At the same time they gave
    Brutus and his followers the command of provinces, and other considerable posts. So that all
    the people now thought things were well settled, and brought to the happiest adjustment.

    But when Caesar's will was opened, and it was found that he had left a considerable legacy to
    each one of the Roman citizens, and when his body was seen carried through the market-place
    all mangled with wounds, the multitude could no longer contain themselves within the bounds
    of tranquillity and order, but heaped together a pile of benches, bars, and tables, which they
    placed the corpse on, and setting fire to it, burnt it on them. Then they took brands from the
    pile and ran some to fire the houses of the conspirators, others up and down the city, to find
    out the men and tear them to pieces, but met, however, with none of them, they having taken
    effectual care to secure themselves.

    One Cinna, a friend of Caesar's, chanced the night before to have an odd dream. He fancied
    that Caesar invited him to supper, and that upon his refusal to go with him, Caesar took him
    by the hand and forced him, though he hung back. Upon hearing the report that Caesar's body
    was burning in the market-place, he got up and went thither, out of respect to his memory,
    though his dream gave him some ill apprehensions, and though he was suffering from a fever.
    One of the crowd who saw him there asked another who that was, and having learned his
    name, told it to his neighbour. It presently passed for a certainty that he was one of Caesar's
    murderers, as, indeed, there was another Cinna, a conspirator, and they, taking this to be the
    man, immediately seized him and tore him limb from limb upon the spot.

    Brutus and Cassius, frightened at this, within a few days retired out of the city. What they
    afterwards did and suffered, and how they died, is written in the Life of Brutus. Caesar died in
    his fifty-sixth year, not having survived Pompey above four years. That empire and power
    which he had pursued through the whole course of his life with so much hazard, he did at last
    with much difficulty compass, but reaped no other fruits from it than the empty name and
    invidious glory. But the great genius which attended him through his lifetime even after his
    death remained as the avenger of his murder, pursuing through every sea and land all those
    who were concerned in it, and suffering none to escape, but reaching all who in any sort or
    kind were either actually engaged in the fact, or by their counsels any way promoted it.

    The most remarkable of mere human coincidences was that which befell Cassius, who, when
    he was defeated at Philippi, killed himself with the same dagger which he had made use of
    against Caesar. The most signal preternatural appearances were the great comet, which shone
    very bright for seven nights after Caesar's death, and then disappeared, and the dimness of the
    sun, whose orb continued pale and dull for the whole of that year, never showing its ordinary
    radiance at its rising, and giving but a weak and feeble heat. The air consequently was damp
    and gross for want of stronger rays to open and rarefy it. The fruits, for that reason, never
    properly ripened, and began to wither and fall off for want of heat before they were fully
    formed. But above all, the phantom which appeared to Brutus showed the murder was not
    pleasing to the gods. The story of it is this.

    Brutus, being to pass his army from Abydos to the continent on the other side, laid himself
    down one night, as he used to do, in his tent, and was not asleep, but thinking of his affairs,
    and what events he might expect. For he is related to have been the least inclined to sleep of all
    men who have commanded armies, and to have had the greatest natural capacity for
    continuing awake, and employing himself without need of rest. He thought he heard a noise at
    the door of his tent, and looking that way, by the light of his lamp, which was almost out, saw
    a terrible figure, like that of a man, but of unusual stature and severe countenance. He was
    somewhat frightened at first, but seeing it neither did nor spoke anything to him, only stood
    silently by his bedside, he asked who it was. The spectre answered him, "Thy evil genius,
    Brutus, thou shalt see me at Philippi." Brutus answered courageously, "Well, I shall see you,"
    and immediately the appearance vanished. When the time was come, he drew up his army
    near Philippi against Antony and Caesar, and in the first battle won the day, routed the enemy,
    and plundered Caesar's camp. The night before the second battle, the same phantom appeared
    to him again, but spoke not a word. He presently understood his destiny was at hand, and
    exposed himself to all the danger of the battle. Yet he did not die in the fight, but seeing his
    men defeated, got up to the top of a rock, and there presenting his sword to his naked breast,
    and assisted, as they say, by a friend, who helped him to give the thrust, met his death.