Considering Caesar

To consider is, according to a likely etymology, “to observe the stars.”  Today is the Ides of March, and tonight Comet PANSTARRS can be seen in the sky.  It’s a good time to consider Caesar, I guess.

Photo of Comet PanSTARRS taken by Ken Christison from North Carolina after sunset on March 14, 2013.

Photo of Comet PanSTARRS taken by Ken Christison from North Carolina after sunset on March 14, 2013.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings, Cassius famously declares early on in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Astral symbolism runs throughout the play, of course. But I am as constant as the Northern star, Caesar tells his wife in Act 3, Of whose true fixed and resting quality / There is no fellow in the firmament.  For her part, she tells him the night before his assassination, When beggars die there are no comets seen. / The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.  

The reference to stars are literary devices on Shakespeare’s part, but the comet that marked Caesar’s actual death is historically attested.  “He died in the fifty-sixth year of his age,” writes the historian Suetonius in his Life of Julius Caesar (chap. 88), “and was ranked amongst the Gods, not only by a formal decree, but in the belief of the vulgar. For during the first games which Augustus, his heir, consecrated to his memory, a comet blazed for seven days together, rising always about eleven o’clock; and it was supposed to be the soul of Caesar, now received into heaven.”  Augustus issued coins with his own face on one side and Caesar’s comet on the other, as can be seen below, as a way of commemorating his own meteoric rise to power.


About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Astronomical, Classics, Emblems, Language & Etymology, Numismatics, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Considering Caesar

  1. flatland57 says:

    All these years since 197? I believed that Joni Mitchell wrote “I am as constant as a Northern star.” It serves me right for not having read Julius Caesar. I will, however, be looking at the comet Panstarrs, constantly in the darkness.

    • I love that Joni’s response to her boyfriend’s pretentious citation of Shakespeare is to say, “I’ll be at the bar.” When she looks in the sky, she sees clouds.

      • flatland57 says:

        Well said, Joni. Jaded from an early age. But still, she says, “If you want me . . . I’ll be in the bar.” The door’s still open. Thank you for this post. Glad we’ve all, for the most part, survived the Ides.

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