Julius Caesar Appearance

What was the physical appearance of Julius Caesar - historically and in Shakespeare's play?

Asked on by kk12

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jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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A bust that experts believe is of Caesar that was found in the Rhone River near Arles, France, in 2007 shows a realistic man with close-set eyes, a large nose, and a strong face. This bust is thought to have been carved two years before Caesar's assassination, while all other portraits were created after his death. Coins with Caesar's portrait that were minted during his lifetime show him with a skinny face, furrowed neck, protruding nose, and prominent chin. Suetonius wrote that Caesar was so embarrassed by his baldness that he used to comb his thinning hair forward from the back and delight in wearing a wreath to cover his bald spots. In his Life of Caesar, Suetonius also wrote that Caesar had a fair complexion and a full face with dark eyes. Some historians believe that Caesar suffered from epilepsy. 

In Shakespeare's play, Caesar is described as a broken-down man. He says to Anthony in Act I, scene II, "Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf." In the same scene, Casca says of Caesar, "He fell down in the market-place, and foamed at mouth, and was speechless." This implies that Caesar has some sort of disease that sounds like epilepsy. Caesar is portrayed as a weak and ailing man in Shakespeare's play. 

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robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Good question! The Roman historian Suetonius writes of Caesar that he

...is said to have been tall of stature with a fair complexion, shapely limbs, a somewhat full face, and keen black eyes; [...] He was somewhat overnice in the care of his person, being not only carefully trimmed and shaved, but even having superfluous hair plucked out, as some have charged; while his baldness was a disfigurement would troubled him greatly, since he found that it was often the subject of the gibes of his detractors...

They say, too, that he was remarkable in his dress; that he wore a senator's tunic with fringed sleeves reaching to the wrist, and always had a girdle over it, though rather a loose one; and this, they say, was the occasion of Sulla's mot, when he often warned the nobles to keep an eye on the ill-girt boy.

There are also (search in Google Images) lots of busts and statues which give us an idea of what the real Caesar looked like.

Shakespeare's Caesar is an old man, deaf in one ear and with some eyesight problems. He also "has the falling sickness" - suffers from epilepsy: a trait that some historians think he might have in common with the historical period. But Shakespeare, as ever, doesn't tell us a huge amount about his appearance!

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