Caesar’s Use of Literary Devices

In Julius Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō (Book 1 section 1 and Book 6 section 16), he employs various literary devices to create different effects in his writing. Although one may think he was not a skilled writer at first, after examining his work more closely, it is evident that his writing style was quite sophisticated.

Caesar frequently uses indirect statements in his writing to detach his opinions and statements from himself. In Book 6 section 16, Caesar writes, “nōn posse deōrum immortālium nūmen plācārī arbitrantur.” (They think the divine power of the immortal gods is not able to be appeased). By saying “they think” rather than “I think” or not using an indirect statement at all, Caesar is able to disconnect that statement from himself. He then writes, “Supplicia eōrum quī in fūrtō aut in latrōciniō aut aliquā noxiā sint comprehēnsī grātiōra dīs immortālibus esse arbitrantur.” (They think that the punishments of those who have been arrested in theft either in robbery or another crime are more pleasing to the immortal gods.) He creates a similar effect in that sentence; while he is writing that statement as someone’s opinion, the lack of an explicitly stated subject makes the reader more likely to take it as more of a fact than an opinion. Caesar also uses diction to give some insight into his opinions without directly stating them: “​​Cum ēius generis cōpia dēfēcit, etiam ad innocentium supplicia dēscendunt.” (When the supply of that type fails, they evenstoop to the punishments of the innocent). By saying “dēscendunt” (to stoop to), Caesar is showing that he thinks they should not resort to using innocent people for sacrifices.

Caesar is able to communicate his thoughts not only through the meaning of his words alone, but also through the arrangement of his words. At the beginning of Book 1 section 1, he writes, “Gallia est omnis dīvīsa in partēs trēs.” (All of Gaul is divided into three parts.) He puts“est” between “Gallia” and “omnis,”so that the syntax reflects the action, physically dividing the words to show the division of Gaul. In Book 6 section 16, he writes about the “Wicker Man,” a Druid sacrifice ritual, explaining, “quibus succēnsīs circumventī flammā exanimantur hominēs.” (With [these twigs] having been set on fire, the men, having been surrounded by flames, are killed.) “Circumventī” means “to be surrounded,” and in that sentence, “circumventī” is surrounded by “succēnsīs” (to set on fire) and “flammā” (flames), both of which are words relating to fire. Caesar’s use of a word picture there allows him to communicate the meaning of the section through the placement of the words. Caesar also uses chiasmus in Book 6 section 16, which is a literary figure where part of a phrase is repeated in reverse order. Caesar, again about sacrifices, writes, “prō vītā hominis nisi hominis vīta reddātur.” (The life of a man is given back for the life of a man). The words “vītā hominis” are repeated in reverse order, separated by “nisi.” The repetition and change in word order emphasizes the exchange between the lives of men.

Caesar also uses conjunctions in various ways to stress certain words and to separate phrases. In Book 1 section 1, Caesar writes, “Gallōs ab Aquītānīs Garumna flūmen dīvidit, Gallōs ā Belgīs Matrona et Sēquana dīvidit.” (The Garumna river divides the Gauls from the Aquitani, the Matrona and the Sequana differ the Gauls from the Belgae.) As he explains that the three parts of Gaul were divided by rivers, he amplifies that division with the lack of a conjunction to connect the clauses. Caesar alternatively adds conjunctions to emphasize certain words as well. In the quote, “prō vītā hominis nisi hominis vīta reddātur,” ‘nisi’ is a conjunction. Its placement between the repeated words in the chiasmus creates space between them, emphasizing the phrase and causing readers to read it more slowly. Another example of this use of a conjunction is in Book 6 section 16, where he writes, “in fūrtō aut in latrōciniō aut aliquā noxiā…” (in theft or in robbery or another crime…). “Fūrtō,” “latrōciniō,” and “noxiā” are all words meaning crime, and the addition of the unnecessaryaut causes the reader to slow down when reading the phrase, therefore emphasizing crime. Caesar also uses hendiadys, the use of two nouns connected by a conjunction to form one meaning rather than an adjective describing a noun. In Book 6 section 16, he writes, “in proeliīs perīculīsque…” (in battles and in dangers…). Caesar could have written “in dangerous battles,” buthis choice to use two nouns separated by a conjunction stresses each of those words, emphasizing how dangerous the battles were. Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō demonstrates his skilled rhetoric and how his ability to effectively use various literary devices set him apart from most writers of his time.

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