Julius Caesar Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What is the meaning of the following quote from Julius Caesar?: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on the fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This quotation is from a discussion about military strategy between Brutus and Cassius. In it, Brutus is speaking to advocate attacking Octavian at Philippi. He argues that this would be the ideal time to attack, before Octavian can augment his forces.

The central concept is one known in Greek rhetoric as "kairos," or the ideal time or moment. It is based on the notion that the right words or actions are not enough; they must also be done at the right time.

The notion of a tide is metaphor for such a time. A ship, trying to land, needs to work with a rising tide. Once the tide peaks, it then starts to recede. Brutus is suggesting that this moment is like that of high tide. Once the moment is passed, there will be no equally favorable situation in the future.

This quotation reflects the Stoic philosophy of Brutus which acknowledges the inevitability of laws of nature and sees human success as based on understanding and following those laws. Rather than fighting against the tide, in human or nautical matters, the wise man chooses to work with those forces of necessity.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The quote in the question occurs during a conversation between Brutus and Cassius about whether or not their troops should march to Philippi to confront the army of Antony and Octavius. Cassius says he thinks marching is a poor idea. It would be better, he argues, for their army to wait and rest and let the other army tire itself doing the work of marching to meet them. Brutus retorts that Antony's army will pick up fresh troops along the way and grow larger, as the people are on his side. He then says, right before the quote above, that

The enemy increaseth every day.
We, at the height, are ready to decline.
Brutus goes on to use the image of a cresting wave getting ready to crash, saying, "There is a tide in the affairs of men."
What he means is that they have to ride the wave of fortune—in other words, seize the...

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