Book 4

SHORT ESSAY

Erat ob has causas summa difficultas, quod naves propter
magnitudinem nisi in alto constitui non poterant, militibus
autem, ignotis locis, impeditis manibus, magno et gravi onere
armorum oppressis simul et de navibus desiliendum et in
fluctibus consistendum et cum hostibus erat pugnandum, cum
illi qui ex arido aut paulum in aquam progressi omnibus
membris expeditis, notissimis locis, audacter tela conicerent et
equos insuefactos incitarent.
Bellum Gallicum 4.24

How does Caesar portray the position of his soldiers versus the position of the soldiers in Britain? Consider Caesar’s stylistic choices, word placement, and diction, as you make and explore your thesis.


sample answer: score: 24 out of 25 (I wanted the passive periphrastic mentioned and the last sentence of the third paragraph, which I added as well.))

Caesar displays in this section of Book 4 his soldiers’ steep disadvantage. He portrays this disadvantage, primarily, with his diction and word placement.

Caesar begins the passage with the three phrases “ignotis locis”, “impeditis minibus,” and “magno et gravi onere amorum oppressis” to display the issues his soldiers are facing. Their hands are impeded, they’re unfamiliar with the location and they’re bearing the great and heavy burden of their weapons. How can they handle all this while managing to jump from the ship and charge into an army full of soldiers with “membris expedites” (or unimpeded hands) and who are most familiar with this “notissimis locis”? Ceasar juxtaposes the words to describe his soldiers – ignotis, impeditis, oppressis – with their antonums – expedites, notissimu – to describe hi enemies.

Furthermore, Caesar paints a picture of his soldiers in a situation in which they have no choice but to set up in the water and fight the army, no matter the circumstances. He uses passive periphrastics to show the necessity of the actions his brave and daring soldiers take: “de navibus desiliendum et in fluctibus consistendum et cum hostibus erat pugnandum.” They had to jump down from the ship, they had to set up in the waves, they had to fight with the enemy. It’s funny, really, since Caesar and his legions have approached Britain of their own accord, that now his soldiers find themselves in a spot with no options. Caesar masterfully creates this picture so we feel compassion and admiration for his soldiers.

With his word placement, he also mangages to portray his soldiers as underdoges. The third line is filled with all of the struggles his soldies face. At the very beginning he stacks the odds against them, and then, thre lines later he adds that, on top of all the struggles they face even trying to get off the ship, his enemies are practiced and face none of these challenges. Having advanced, “progressi,” from dry land – “ex arido” rather than having jumped into a deep and rough sea, they “audacter tela coniecerent et equos insuefactos incitarent”, i.e. boldly throw weapons and urge on their trained horses.

Using opposing diction and word placement, Caesar contrasts the difficulties his soldiers face with the ease his enemies have as they go about this battle. In doing so he makes his soldeiers all the more impressive for overcoming these odds and winning the battle and, eventually, the war.