Shakespeare Quotes

A dish fit for the gods

Brutus:
Let's be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
. . . And, gentle friends,
Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;
Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds;
And let our hearts, as subtle masters do,
Stir up their servants to an act of rage,
And after seem to chide 'em.

Julius Caesar Act 2, scene 1, 166, 171–177

Like "sweets to the sweet," this phrase has been wrenched well out of its morbid and somewhat sickening context. To us, a "dish fit for the gods" is delectable or sumptuous. Brutus notes the excellence of the dish, but pursues the gruesome consequences of the metaphor: the dish will have to be cooked—and Julius Caesar is the only ingredient.

Having decided that Caesar's ambitions necessitate his assassination [see THE SERPENT'S EGG], Brutus nonetheless cautions his co-conspirators—especially Caius Cassius—against a bloodbath. To hack down Marc Antony as well as Caesar will make the assassins look like "butchers." They ought rather, says Brutus, present themselves as "sacrificers," reluctantly but devoutly offering up Caesar in order to save the Roman Republic. The assassins must appear hesitant (though not unable) to "stir up" the necessary passions (the "servants" of the heart), afterward "chiding" those passions with seeming regret. Unfortunately for Brutus and Cassius, sparing Antony leaves alive the one man whose sense of public relations is even more sophisticated than Brutus's.

"A dish fit for the gods" vaguely recalls the legend of Tantalus, who offered up to the gods an unusual meal—his son Pelops. The gods, however, were not exactly pleased; Tantalus was condemned to suffer eternal hunger and thirst, and his house was cursed. Brutus neglects to pursue the lesson of this famous tale—the stuff of contemporary Roman tragedy—and does so at his peril.

Themes: murder and assassination

Speakers: Brutus