Hero or Tyrant: Images of Julius Caesar in Selected Works from Vergil to Bruni

Hero or Tyrant: Images of Julius Caesar in Selected Works from Vergil to Bruni

By Sarah M. Loose

Master’s Thesis, Brigham Young University, 2007

Abstract: Gaius Julius Caesar is not only the most well-known figure in Roman history, but he is also one of the most difficult to understand. Since his assassination, Caesar has played an important role in discussions of political power, imperial government, tyranny, and tyrannicide. While there have been literary treatments of Caesar from William Shakespeare to the present, little has been done to trace the image of Caesar through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. The present work attempts to fill that hole by examining portrayals of Caesar in medieval and early Renaissance texts. An examination of specific authors such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, John of Salisbury, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Petrarch, Salutati, and Bruni, clearly demonstrates that Caesar was consistently portrayed as the first emperor and used to represent the Roman Empire. As the first emperor, representations of Caesar figured significantly in debates about the power of the Church and the Empire, the benefits and downfalls of imperial government, and tyrannicide. Authors were influenced in their portrayals of Caesar by the classical portrayals found in the works of Vergil, Lucan, and Suetonius. Each author’s interpretation of Caesar was also impacted by the political and intellectual milieu in which he flourished. Analysis of Caesar’s image over this time period serves not only as a part of Caesar historiography, but also provides insight into the ways that scholars write history to understand the world around them.

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