What effect does the word "traitors" have in "Julius Caesar" (Act 2, Scene 3)? Explain fully.

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sagesource eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If thou read this, O Caesar, thou mayst live;
If not, the Fates with traitors do contrive.

The use of such a strong word as "traitors" by a man like Artemidorus in Act III Scene 2, and the fact that he plans to give a detailed and up to date denunciation of the conspiracy to Caesar, bring forcefully home to us the fact that the plans of the conspirators will not necessarily meet with approval from the Roman public at large. Artemidorus is the teacher and the friend of some of the conspirators. If anything, he should be predisposed to give their case a favorable hearing. That he instead considers them guilty of treason, and is willling to denounce them (an action which would normally result in their deaths), speaks to a depth of revulsion that bodes ill for the success of the plot.

lit24 | Student

"The Fates" are the three goddesses in Greek mythology who control the fate and destiny of every individual human being. They are otherwise known as the Moirae. These timeless old hags weave the threads of destiny that control the  life span of every individual.

They are: Clotho who spins the Thread of  Life, Lachesis who allots the length of the yarn, and Atropos who cuts the spun yarn.

As the daughters of the primeval night deities Erebus and Nyx (though some claim that Zeus and Themis  should be held responsible), the Fates control the destinies of all. Even the Gods are subject to their decisions.

All the good and evil that befalls you is woven into your destiny and cannot be altered even one jot. You may find this a little unfair, but it's the stuff great Greek tragedies are made of.

In Act.II Sc.3, Artemidorus tries to warn Caesar of the impending assasination attempt by the conspirators.  He lists out all the names of the conspirators and warns Caesar of their evil intentions. He writes their names on a sheet of  paper and decides to hand it over to Caesar secretly in the guise of a petition.

All the conspirators at some time or the other had benefitted and prospered because of Caesar.  They owe their present position and wealth to Caesar, but now unfortunately they have turned against Caesar and have decided to kill him. Artemidorus acknowledges the role of the Fates in this reversal of fortunes in Caesar's life and hence just before he hands over the  sheet of paper to Caesar he  remarks,

"If thou read this O Caesar, thou mayst live.

If not the Fates with traitors do contrive."

Artemidorus, seems to say that the only explanation for the sudden and complete reversal in the behaviour of the conspirators who were once friends of Caesar is only because of the Fates who have turned the friends of Caesar into his enemies.


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Julius Caesar

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