Bachelor of Arts
Caesar, Faits des Romains, French
The Julius Caesar of Shakespeare's day was a figure who believed that fame transcended mortality. Long after Caesar the man was dead, Caesar the legend lived on. It was a legend which in many ways was an analogue of the man. The legend maintained all of Caesar's stubborn persistence, and to some extent his power, his influence, and his ability to provoke controversy. This legend was borne across the Middle Ages by a mere handful of literary manuscripts. Just as the historical Caesar had survived the many pitfalls of his career, these manuscripts somehow escaped the numerous fates that could have retarded or prevented their transmission in medieval Europe. What was a handful of manuscripts in the ninth century grew both in numbers and in varieties of expression until by the thirteenth century the legend of Caesar experienced something of a metamorphosis, a fundamental change which assured Caesar's popularity for another three centuries.
Caesar's transformation in the thirteenth century was precipitated by an anonymous text called the Faits des Romains. The author of this text redefined the Latin literary tradition of Caesar in entirely new and different terms. Before the Faits des Romains, Caesar was known principally through the writings of Sallust and Lucan, both of which were used as texts in the schools. Not only was close familiarity with Caesar confined to the formally educated, but his image was defined almost exclusively by these two texts . Because neither of these works is devoted exclusively to Caesar and because each covers a relatively short period of Caesar's life, his legend in the Latin tradition was at best sketchy. The author of the Faits des Romains extended the acquaintance with Caesar beyond the limits of Latin education. Not only did he compile virtually every source of Caesar's legend, he also translated his sources into the French vernacular. The impact of his work was rapid and far-reaching.
Nelson, Mark M., "Julius Caesar in Medieval France: The Textual Sources and Iconography of the Faits des Romains" (1980). Honors Papers. 674.