Why is Caesar more powerful dead than alive?

Quick answer:

Caesar is more powerful dead than alive because his death allowed his adopted son, Octavian, to rise to power and reshape Roman politics, ending the Republic and establishing the Empire. Additionally, Caesar dead becomes a potent political symbol used by others, such as Antony, to manipulate public opinion and gain power, making his legacy more influential than his living presence.

Expert Answers

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

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.

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

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.)

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

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. 

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

Was Julius Caesar more powerful dead or alive in Julius Caesar?

Julius Caesar was dead, so in that sense he had no literal power.  However, his memory held tremendous power.  Mark Antony used that power to gain control of Rome.

Brutus and his minions killed Caesar because they feared that he would become a tyrant.  If you look closely, you will see that he was not actually doing anything wrong.  He was just too loved by the people.  They killed him because of not what he was doing, but what they feared he would do.  Brutus puts it best.

I know no personal cause to spurn at him,

But for the general. He would be crowned:

How that might change his nature, there’s the

question. (Act 2, Scene 1)

In other words, Caesar has to die because it’s in his nature to be king.  Brutus is afraid he is going to become King of Rome. 

Caesar has become more of an idea than a person.  It is for what he represents that they are killing him.  This is part of the reason he was so powerful after he died, as an idea.  He was larger than life as a person, so it was easy to use that deification (which was literally true), after he died.

Mark Antony was counting on it.  Brutus and company actually played into his hands in a way.  As long as Caesar was alive, Antony would always play second string to him.  With Caesar dead, Antony had a chance to soar.  He used his skills as an orator to show his connection with Caesar to use the people’s love for Caesar in order to gain power.  He makes a point to show how emotional he is, for example.

O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason!—Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me. (Act 3, Scene 2)

Antony gives an impassioned speech, and turns the people against Brutus and Cassius and the other conspirators by using their love of Caesar, even using his will and body as a prop.  By the end of this “eulogy” he has gone from thanking the “honorable” men for letting him talk to setting the angry crowd to torch their houses!

Antony forms a triumvirate with Octavius, the next generation of Caesar.  He is Caesar’s grand-nephew (his grandmother was Julius Caesar’s sister), and Caesar’s adopted son.  This is political gold.  By forming a political alliance with this young man, Antony was taking advantage of his connection with Caesar. He assumed that a seventeen year old would be easy to control.  He assumed wrong.

Octavius (usually referred to as Octavian) also used Caesar’s clout to his advantage.  He was not as easily manipulated and naïve as Antony expected.  Instead he was cunning, calculating, and had political ambitions of his own.  They argued almost immediately, and Antony found that ruling with three did not mean that he was going to be in charge with Lepidus and Octavian doing what he said.  As you can see in this example, even on the battlefield Octavius did not bow to Antony’s experience or guidance.


Octavius, lead your battle softly on

Upon the left hand of the even field.


Upon the right hand, I; keep thou the left.

Why do you cross me in this exigent?

I do not cross you, but I will do so. (Act 5, Scene 1)

Antony’s plea is telling.  He is essentially asking Octavius why he won’t even listen when it is an emergency, on the battlefield.  Earlier he reminded Octavius that he has more experience.  Octavius admits it, but it’s not enough to make up for Antony’s reputation.  Antony has experience, but Octavius knows he can make up for that by surrounding himself with good men.

Students of history (or Antony and Cleopatra) will know that the conflict between Antony and Octavius is only going to get worse.  Soon enough he will start calling himself Caesar.  He has that right, since he was adopted and given the name in Caesar’s will.  The fact that he is so determined to hitch himself to (Julius) Caesar’s star shows the power of that Caesar’s legacy.

Julius Caesar did indeed leave a hard act to follow.  In fact, it’s hard to imagine that he of many names, Octavius/Caesar/Augustus, would have accomplished so much without having such high shoulders to stand on.  He was indeed a Colossus.  Many of his ideas impact us still, and while his death left years of civil war, Augustus eventually brought an empire that created years of peace and influenced the world we live in today.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Julius Caesar more powerful dead or alive?

As lynn30k identifies, once you are dead you have no say as to how your power is used or abused, therefore you need to be careful with your answer to this question. Whilst he was certainly powerful alive, his "power" is variously claimed or acquired by other characters to support their own needs. Arguably, depending on how you read the character of Marc Antony, you could say that he very cynically takes the power of Caesar and uses it to establish his own power for his own ambition. Caesar´s power definitely lives on, but you need to think through how it is manipulated and/or used by other characters.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Julius Caesar more powerful dead or alive?

Yes, I believe that he was more powerful dead--not just in the play but also in real life. There are some theories that Caesar actually knew about the assassination plot and allowed it to progress, not only because of his arrogance and a sense of immortality, but also because he had been publicly embarrassed on several occasions by his epileptic episodes. By dying such a public, violent death, Caesar demonstrates power even after death because characters (in the play) and historians alike still discuss or study why he was assassinated.

In the play, it is not simply that eventually Antony avenges Caesar's death; one must remember that everything that Caesar longed for comes to fruition.  Eventually, his hier, Octavius, becomes the ultimate ruler of the empire--Caesar appointed him to do so, and so his wish is fulfilled. Likewise, Caesar's clever twist in his will to leave Roman citizens money and grounds influences many to view him in an even more positive light. Finally, Caesar truly desired to be king and had been declared "dictator for life" which is originally what drove Brutus to become involved in the conspiracy. I believe many would argue that Caesar's death eventually caused all emperors to be called "caesar," led to the title "czar" which denotes ultimate power, and paved the way for the decline of the Roman Republic and rise of the emperor.

I don't believe that a person's power ends upon his/her death.  One doesn't have to be alive or know about his influence to be powerful, especially if we consider that inanimate objects (words) or symbols possess great power.  Just look at North Korea--Kim Il Sun rules from the grave through his maniacal son Kim Jung Il.  Their leader doesn't even have to utter words to control his people--they simply follow him because his deceased father was a godlike figure to them.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Julius Caesar more powerful dead or alive?

Caesar's power ended with his death. In the political vacuum that existed after the assassination, Antony grabbed power for himself by exercising his shrewd understanding of human nature. It was his ability to understand and manipulate others that accounted for his being allowed to speak at Caesar's funeral, turn the crowd, and plunge Rome into civil war. It wasn't Caesar-in-death who influenced the crowd. After all, moments before Antony's speech, Caesar had still been dead and the crowd had embraced Brutus.

It might be argued that Caesar exercised power after death because Antony sought to avenge his murder, but if so, it was short-lived. Antony's private speech over Caesar's body, mourning him and vowing revenge, seemed heartfelt, but as soon as Antony seized power and made his alliance with Octavius and Lepidus, his mourning and high-minded motives came to a screeching halt as he consolidated power and the spoils of war for himself. He purges the Roman Senate of those he perceives as enemies, he alters Caesar's will, and he cuts Lepidus out of the financial equation. It isn't Caesar or any reverence for his memory at work here.

The appearance of Caesar's ghost is a nice touch, but it isn't Caesar or his apparition that loses the war for Brutus and Cassius. The war is lost because Brutus is a terrible military strategist, Cassius is too weak to argue with him, and Pindarus didn't have a pair of binoculars on the battlefield.

Caesar's power ended on the Ides of March with his death. After that, the scramble for power became a jump shot, and Antony grabbed the ball and kept it.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Julius Caesar more powerful dead or alive?

Dead.  People act on what they THINK was going on rather than finding out the truth.  Also, Brutus is effected immensely by the appearance of Caesar's ghost on two different occasions.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Julius Caesar more powerful dead or alive?

Good question, good answer in post 2! Also, just in general, the power one has changes with death. The person is no longer around to say what they REALLY meant by their actions and words while alive, and both those things can be used and abused by others. Sometimes a person's power ends with their death, but in other cases there is a heightened interest in what the person's life meant. Their name can be used by others to their own ends.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Julius Caesar more powerful dead or alive?

In his funeral oration, Marc Antony tells the Romans

the evil that men do lives after them,/The good is oft interred with their bones;/So let it be with Caesar. (III,ii,76-77)

However, such is not the case with the conscience of Brutus.  For, the good of Caesar exerts a tremendous power upon the soul and psyche of Brutus.  Ridden with rue over having been "seduced" into the assassination of Caesar by his friend Cassius, Brutus engages in quarrels with Cassius throughout the remainder of the play.  His  inconsistency of behavior seems attributable to a guilty conscience--"the evil that men do"--as he sees Caesar's ghost shortly before his battle at Philipp, a ghost that ironically identifies itself as "thy evil spirit," promising to see Brutus soon.  The battle at Phillipi is a disaster for Brutus. He commits both political suicide when he sends in his troops precipitately and physical suicide as he dies in the battlefield. 

For Brutus, at least, Caesar's death is more powerful that his life:  It has caused Brutus to be tortured by his "general honest thought" [Marc Antony's words in Act V] and to be destroyed by his guilt.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why is the dead Caesar more powerful than the living one?

A good question. A dead Caesar can be more powerful than a living one for two reasons. First,  within a Roman ideology, he could now be safely considered a god, and/or having gone to join the gods. This combines with the Roman practice of venerating the ancestors, giving a dead Caesar a lot of spiritual weight. The second reason is a bit more cynical. A living Caesar can always make mistakes, and can irritate people or make enemies through his current actions. A dead Caesar is a symbol, and can be seen as perfect.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why is Julius Caesar mightier after his death than when alive?

The problem in assassinating a political leader when there is no well-established plan for succession is that the power vacuum that is created proves difficult, and sometimes bloody, to fill.  The machinations and infighting that emerge within the palace once the emporer is dead can lead to the disintegration of the organization or, in this case, the republic, unless or until a firm, steady hand is able to emerge on top.  Such is the case in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

The final Act of Julius Caesar depicts the ramifications of Caesar's assassination for those who plotted against him, and now manuever for advantage.  Once a group has conspired to kill one of their own, they can never trust one another again.  Treachery becomes the defining characteristic of those who remain.  As the following exchange between Antony, Brutus and Cassius demonstrates, trust is now a thing of the past:

Antony: In your bad strokes, Brutus, you give good words: Witness the hole you made in Caesar's heart, Crying 'Long live! hail, Caesar!

Cassius: Antony, The posture of your blows are yet unknown; But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees, And leave them honeyless.

Antony: Not stingless too.

Brutus: O, yes, and soundless too; For you have stol'n their buzzing, Antony, And very wisely threat before you sting.

Antony: Villains, you did not so, when your vile daggers hack'd one another in the sides of Caesar: You show'd your teeth like apes, and fawn'd like hounds, And bow'd like bondmen, kissing Caesar's feet; Whilst damned Casca, like a cur, behind Struck Caesar on the neck. O you flatterers!

And then, as Pindarus, who has entered the fray, stabs Cassius, at the latter's request, he says, "Caesar, thou art revenged, Even with the sword that kill'd thee."

And, finally, as the conspirators continue to struggle with the consequences of their actions, Brutus utters, "O Julius Caesar, thou art might yet!  They spirit walks abroad and turns our swords In our proper entrails."

Julius Caesar, in death, became a potent symbol of treachery and deceit.  His murder, at the hands of his colleagues and friends, was an act of betrayal that he avenged from the grave.  The conspirators were unable to live with their actions, and could not trust in colleagues who had already conspired against one of their own.  In that, Caesar became stronger in death than in life.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on