Why is Caesar more powerful dead than alive?

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This is a great question and an interesting way to look at things. The most obvious answer is that through the death of Julius Caesar, his adopted son, Octavian was able to come to power. It was Octavian that not only defeated Antony and Cleopatra to usher in the Pax...

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This is a great question and an interesting way to look at things. The most obvious answer is that through the death of Julius Caesar, his adopted son, Octavian was able to come to power. It was Octavian that not only defeated Antony and Cleopatra to usher in the Pax Romana, but also changed the course of Roman politics. From the time of Octavian on, the Republic as a form of government was of the past; the empire was a now a reality.

Now the question is this: Could Octavian have accomplished what he did apart from the death of Caesar? No one will ever know for sure, but it is interesting to think about. In my opinion, Octavian learned from Caesar's mistakes. He did not rush things like Caesar. For example, he kept all the republican forms and gave no hint that he was establishing an empire, but that was exactly what we did. A reading of the Res Gestae demonstrates Octavians's political skill. In the light of this, one can say that the death of Caesar lead to Octavian.

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Caesar dead is more powerful than Caesar alive because Caesar alive is a complex human being, an ever-changing reality whom different characters respond to in different ways. Caesar dead, on the other hand, is a political symbol, a weapon, in the service of whoever manages to define him.

Is Caesar a benefactor to Rome or a tyrant in waiting? The whole justification for his assassination is that he is the latter, but Brutus makes the fatal mistake at Caesar's funeral of allowing Antony to sell Caesar to the Roman masses as the former, a symbol of Rome's greatness, and so to bring about Brutus' destruction. Thus, whatever one thinks of the reality of ghosts, there is justice in Brutus' lament that "O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet! / Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords / In our own proper entrails." (V/3/94-96).

In the end, symbolic personalities are more powerful political actors than the human beings they derive from. Brutus recognizes this early in the play, when he wishes that "...we could come by Caesar's spirit / And not dismember Caesar" (II/1/164). When Caesar is killed, he enters the realm of the abstract sign, and thus becomes more potent in the service of his definers than he ever could have been when alive.

(See also M. W. MacCallum, Shakespeare's Roman Plays and their Background, "Julius Caesar" chapter 3, "The Titular Hero of the Play," available online but with too complex an URL to enter below.)

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People tend to romanticize others after they have died.  With Caesar, Antony and his crew exemplefied his positive qualities to each other and the crowds--they forgot anything that could be considered negative about his character.  Therefore, the greater population of Rome remembers Caesar as a great leader who remembered the common people in his will--left them money and access to his private gardens.

Brutus and Cassius dwell on the negative traits of Caesar after his death but it comes across as simple justification for their bloody deeds and does not ring true. 

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