One of the most powerful speeches of the world – Mark Antony, after Caeser’s death
There was some disturbance when Antony mounted the steps to speak. The mob was persuaded after a fashion that Caesar had been a tyrant, and that Rome was well rid of him. “He’d best speak no harm of Brutus here,” threatened the sapient citizen who had suggested crowning Caesar’s better parts. But having obtained silence, Antony knew better than to begin by attacking Brutus.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen,” he began, “attend ! I am here to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil which men do survives them; the good is often laid away under earth with their bones. Let it be so with Caesar. He was ambitious, the noble Brutus has told you. If that were so, it was a grievous fault, and Caesar has paid for it grievously. Here, by leave of Brutus and the rest for Brutus is a man of honour, and so are they all, all men of honour I am come merely to speak the last words over my friend.
“For he was my friend, and to me faithful and just; though Brutus- -who is a man of honour says he was ambitious. He brought, in his time, many captives home to this city, and poured their ransoms into the public coffers. When the poor have cried, Caesar has wept for them. It is hard to detect ambition in all this; but Brutus who is a man of honour says he was ambitious. You all saw how at the Lupercalia I thrice offered him the kingly crown, and how he refused it thrice. Was this ambition ? Brutus says so; and to be sure, he is a man of honour. But I am not here to disprove what Brutus told you. I am here merely to tell you what I know. You all loved him once not without cause. Can you not mourn for him ? Oh, have men lost all their judgment, all their reason !” He paused as one surprised at his own out burst. “Bear with me, friends ; my heart is in the coffin there with Caesar. Grant me a while to pause and recover it !”
His listeners were moved already. ” There is reason in what he says.” ” Caesar has had a great wrong, if you consider.” ” We may have a worse master than Caesar.” ” He refused the crown so he did so ’tis plain he couldn’t have been ambitious.” ” Poor soul ! look at his eyes, red as fire!” “There’s not a nobler man in all Rome than Antony !” Thus they murmured together, while Antony conquered his emotion and prepared to speak again.
” But yesterday,” he went on, ” the word of Caesar might have weighed against the whole world. Now he lies there with none -not the poorest to do him reverence. Sirs, if I were disposed to stir you to mutiny and rage I should be wronging Brutus and Cassius who, as you know, are men of honour. I will not do this. I choose rather to wrong the dead, to wrong myself, to wrong you, than to wrong such men of honour ! But here I have Caesar’s will. If I were to read it to you but, pardon me, I do not mean to I say if I were to read it you would run to kiss Caesar’s wounds, to dip your handkerchiefs in his blood
“The will! read the will!” shouted the people; but Antony protested that he must not; it was not meet for them to hear how much Caesar loved them ; it would in flame them, make them mad. There was no saying what might come of it.
” Read the will ! Read it !” they clamoured.
But again he protested ; he had gone too far in speaking of it ; he feared, indeed he did, that he was wronging the men of honour whose daggers had stabbed Caesar.
” The will ! the will ! ‘ Men of honour !’ Traitors ! Read the will !”
” You force me to read it ? Then come, make a ring about Caesar’s corpse while I show you him who made the will.” He stepped down from the rostrum, and as they gathered and pressed about him, he lifted the mantle from the body. ” You all know this mantle. I remember the first time Caesar put it on one summer’s evening, in his tent. It was the day he overcame the Nervii.” He showed them the holes made by the daggers ; where Cassius had stabbed, and Casca, and Brutus “the well-beloved Brutus,” “Caesar’s angel” “ah, that was the unkindest blow ! That was the heart-breaking stroke ! Then it was that great Caesar covered his face and fell !” His hearers were weeping by this time, and he could be bold. ” Fell ? Ay, and what a fall ! My countrymen, then it was that I and you and all of us fell, while treason and bloodshed flourished over us. You weep at sight of his garments merely ! Look you here then on him marred, as you behold, by traitors !”
They were mad now. They shouted for revenge. ” Fire !”
” Kill !” ” Slay !” ” Death to the traitors !” But Antony, who had worked them to frenzy with such masterly art, must perfect that frenzy before letting them slip.
” Good friends, sweet friends, I must not stir you up so. The men who have done this deed are men of honour. What private griefs they had against Caesar to make them do it, I know not, alas ! But as men of honour they will give you their reasons. You see, I am no orator like
Brutus !” indeed he was not ! ” but, as you all know me, a plain blunt man, who love my friend, and have permission to speak. For I have no gifts of eloquence to set men’s blood stirring. I only speak right on, telling you what you know already, showing you Caesar’s wounds, and bidding them speak for me. Were I Brutus now, I could put a tongue into every wound of Caesar that should move the very stones of Rome to rise in revolt.”
” And so will we !” ” Burn the house of Brutus !” “Down with the conspirators !” Antony had to shout for a hearing.
” Why, friends, you are going to do you know not what ! Nay, you scarce know yet how much cause you have to love Caesar. You have forgotten the will I told you of.”
” True the will ! Read the will !”
” Here is the will, then, sealed by Caesar. It gives to every Roman citizen a legacy of seventy-five drachmas,” again the hubbub was deafening ” and to the citizens in general he bequeaths his gardens and orchards beyond Tiber, to them and their heirs for their recreation for ever. . . .”
They listened for no more. They rushed on the market place, tearing up benches, stalls, tables, and heaping the wreckage for a funeral pile. They laid the body of Caesar on it and set fire to the mass ; and as it grew hot they plucked out the blazing brands and rushed off towards the conspirators’ houses, yelling for revenge. Antony could watch now. He had done his work, and done it thoroughly.