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Calpurnia's Dream

Dreamed 14 March 44 BC, by Calpurnia, wife of Caesar

We are told there were strong signs and presages of the death of Caesar. Many report that a certain soothsayer forewarned him of a great danger which threatened him on the Ides of March; and that when the day was come, as he was going to the senate-house, he called to the soothsayer, and said, laughing, "The Ides of March are come." To which the seer answered, softly, "Yes; but they are not gone."

The evening before, he supped with Marcus Lepidus, and signed, according to custom, a number of letters as he sat at table. While he was so employed, there arose a question, "What kind of death was the best?" and Caesar, answering before them all, cried out, "A sudden one."

The same night, as he was in bed with his wife, Caesar dreamed he was soaring above the clouds and shaking hands with Jupiter. He was awakened when the doors and windows of the bedroom flew open. Disturbed, both with the noise and the light, he observed, by moonshine, Calpurnia in a deep sleep, uttering broken words and inarticulate groans. She dreamed that the pediment of their house collapsed, then that Caesar was stabbed, and she wept over him as she held him, murdered, in her arms.

Be that as it may, next morning she conjured Caesar not to go out that day, if he could possibly avoid it, but to adjourn the Senate, and, if he paid no regard to her dreams, to have recourse to some other species of divination, or to sacrifice, for information as to his fate. This gave him some suspicion and alarm: for he had never known before, in Calpurnia, anything of the weakness or superstition of her sex, though she was now so much affected.

He therefore offered a number of sacrifices; and as the diviners found no auspicious tokens in any of them, he sent Antony to dismiss the Senate.

In the meantime Decius Brutus, surnamed Albinus, came in. He was a person in whom Caesar placed such confidence that he had appointed him his second heir; yet he was engaged in the conspiracy with the other Brutus and Cassius. This man, fearing that if Caesar adjourned the Senate to another day, the affair might be discovered, laughed at the diviners, and told Caesar he would be highly to blame if, by such a slight, he gave the Senate an occasion of complaint against him.

"For they were met," he said, "at his summons, and came prepared with one voice to honour him with the title of king in the provinces, and to grant that he should wear the diadem, both by land and sea, everywhere out of Italy. But if anyone go and tell them, now that they have taken their places, they must go home again, and return when Calpurnia happens to have better dreams, what room will your enemies have to launch out against you! Or, who will hear your friends when they attempt to show that this is not an open servitude on the one hand, and tyranny on the other? If you are absolutely persuaded that this is an unlucky day, it is certainly better to go yourself, and tell them you have strong reasons for putting off business till another time."

So saying, he took Caesar by the hand, and led him out...

Plutarch, the Life of Julius Caesar as quoted in The Literature and Curiosities of Dreams (v.2; Frank Seafield, ed.; 1865); with additional details from Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars.

EDITOR'S NOTE

Caesar's own dream is ironic in hindsight--is he favored by the gods or is he dead? Such ambiguity is fitting. Julius was a populist and an aristocrat, a democratic reformer and a tyrant, an intellectual and a thug. He could endure these (and many other) epithets, but he could not be seen as ruled in any way by his wife. Rome was profoundly patriarchal. Brutus played him well.

The only study I've seen of people who've tried to act on clear, Calpurnia-like dream warnings (THE GIFT by Sally Rhine Feather) found over 100 modern cases; of these, about two-thirds succeeded in changing or avoiding the catastrophe they'd foreseen. So time is not fixed; fate can be changed.

If you have the power. Calpurnia spoke alone, one woman against a conspiracy of masterful liars--and her own husband's machismo.



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