What does Brutus mean when he says Caesar has the "falling sickness"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act 1, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar, Brutus is questioning Casca about the crowd noises he and Cassius had been hearing offstage. Casca tells Brutus that Caesar "swooned and fell down." Cassius seems surprised. He asks Casca to explain and Casca elaborates:

He fell down in the marketplace, and foamed at mouth, and was speechless.

Brutus is not surprised to hear this. He comments:

'Tis very like: he hath the falling sickness.

The symptoms Casca describes are those of epilepsy. Obviously they did not have that term for it in ancient times. Caesar had a sickly childhood but an exceptionally strong will power. He determined that he would not allow his physical problems to prevent him from becoming a great soldier and a great man. He forced himself to endure all kinds of physical exertions and privations, as described by Plutarch in his "Life of Caesar." Cassius earlier in Act I, Scene 2 tells Brutus how Caesar once challenged him to dive into the Tiber River and swim across it during a storm while the water was turbulent. This is illustrative of the kinds of physical challenges Caesar imposed on himself. It would seem that Caesar's compensation for his infirmities was partly responsible for his great accomplishments as a general, which led to his ascendancy in Roman politics. 


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The "falling sickness" was a name for epilepsy. It means that he would sometimes have seizures, lose control of his body, and fall to the ground. Depending on the type of epilepsy, some bodily function might be lost (twitching, convulsions, etc.) It was associated with possession at some points in history, and so with communication with spirits.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Caesar was epileptic - prone to seizures. From there, however, Brutus and Cassius turn the falling sickness into a metaphor to stand for all Romans who are too weak to stand up to Ceasar's tyranny.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial