What does Cassius’s “this is my birthday” speech foreshadow in Julius Caesar?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cassius describes omens of their doom at Philippi, including fallen eagles.

Cassius gets superstitious on his birthday.  He has always claimed that there is no such thing as omens.  Now, facing a battle that he does not feel he can win against what he thinks is a stronger foe, Cassius decides that the omens are against them.

And partly credit things that do presage.
Coming from Sardis, on our former ensign
Two mighty eagles fell, and there they perch'd,
Gorging and feeding from our soldiers' hands;
Who to Philippi here consorted us … (Act 5, Scene 1)

For Cassius, the thought of being born and dying on the same day is too much for him.  It makes him depressed to the point of losing hope.  Cassius loses his fighting spirit.  He believes in bad omens, and he thinks he is doomed.

There is also a strange irony here that Shakespeare wants to make sure that the audience does not miss.  A birthday is supposed to be a celebration of life, not a harbinger of death.  Yet people also look at their lives on their birthdays.  For Cassius, it is a chance to take stock and realize that he failed to accomplish everything he set out to do, and now he may die on his birthday.  Cassius's lack of faith in himself stems from the fact that it is his birthday.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

When Messala tells him not to believe it, Cassius says he believes it “partly.”  He tells Brutus that they are about to face the unknown.

Now, most noble Brutus,
The gods to-day stand friendly, that we may,
Lovers in peace, lead on our days to age!
But since the affairs of men rest still incertain,
Let's reason with the worst that may befall. (Act 5, Scene 1)

Brutus and Cassius agree that they will not be taken.  They do not want to let Antony and Octavius march them through the streets of Rome in triumph.  They decide the only way to avoid such indignity is to kill themselves.  This is how Cassius ends up committing suicide on his birthday.

With Cassius gone, the omens prove true.  There is no way Brutus can carry on without him.  Cassius was too ready to commit suicide.  He was so depressed and spooked that he mistook a victory celebration for a capture.  Brutus is hardly better off.  He decides a noble death is easier than fighting.

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Julius Caesar

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