Julius Caesar: "Beware the Leader Who Bangs the Drums of War..."

From the Urban Legends Mailbag

Julius Caesar
Hulton Archive/Getty images

Dear Urban Legends:

The following quote has been widely distributed online and attributed to Julius Caesar:

Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.
And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so.
How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.

I can find no verifying source stating unequivocally that Caesar said or wrote this. I did locate one obscure message board, discussions between professors of Latin literature, where one guy asked his colleagues if they knew whether or not it was true, and the two replies he received were skeptical.

It sounds rather like something Caesar might have said, but I have this "thing" for truth and accuracy (even if the sentiment supports my personal belief system). Could you apply your research talents to discover if ol' Julius did, in fact, write or say this?

Dear Reader:

Well, it's odd, to say the least, to find a passage attributed to Julius Caesar (born 100 B.C., died 44 B.C.) that never appeared in print, anywhere, before 2001.

It's equally odd that while the quotation has been repeated in dozens of Internet discussions concerning post-9/11 political developments, it never turns up in any articles or books about Julius Caesar himself. If it's to be found among Caesar's own writings, no one has yet been able to pinpoint where.

The passage has also been attributed — most famously by a red-faced Barbra Streisand — to William Shakespeare, who presumably would have composed the lines for his historical play, Julius Caesar. However, they're nowhere to be found in that work, either. Apart from one brief phrase within the purported quote ("And I am Caesar") which vaguely echoes the closing words of a Shakespearean couplet ("I rather tell thee what is to be fear'd / Than what I fear; for always I am Caesar."), the language is distinctly un-Shakespearean and anachronistic. The words "patriotism" and "citizenry" were unknown in Elizabethan England. The Bard's Julius Caesar spoke in iambic pentameter, not mediocre prose.

Short of the culprit stepping forward, there's little likelihood of finding out who actually did come up with this politically convenient load of baloney. But we know it wasn't Shakespeare, and we can be reasonably sure it wasn't Julius Caesar.

It bears all the earmarks of a "classic" Internet hoax.

Sources and further reading:

The Life and Death of Julius Caesar
By William Shakespeare

Biography of Julius Caesar
About.com: Classics

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations