Major among the minors: a cultural materialist reading of Julius Caesar
When Metellus Cimber makes this contribution at the conspirators’ conference in Brutus’s orchard, he is alerting his fellow confederates to the essential importance of including Cicero in their design to overthrow Caesarean tyranny. While the conspirators’ broad logic is that the restoration of Roman republican virtue can only be achieved by an exemplary, purgative act of extreme violence, Metellus adds the proviso that this in turn can only be sanctioned via the legitimating cultural authority of Cicero’s wisdom and age. His “silver hairs” will “purchase” the “good opinion” of the populace and force all citizens to “commend” a political act they might otherwise have dissented from. For Metellus it is only the popular perception of Cicero’s sagacity that can remove the taints of youth and “wildness” adhering to the act of assassination, only his “judgement” that can sublimate butchery into sacrifice (2.1.143-46). He is, in a sense, exactly right. Brutus’s refusal to incorporate this popular elder statesman, orator and philosopher into the conspiratorial plot is but the first of a series of political blunders which blight his progress and precipitate his tragic fall in Shakespeare’s play.