3 of Swords - Brutus
Dramatis Personae: Marcus Brutus; Julius Caesar; Caius Cassius; Casca; Trebonius;
Ligarius; Decius Brutus; Metellus Cimber; Cinna.
Text & Context: Brutus is scrupulous; a man of nature and art. His nature is his intense emotional life; his art, the intentional control of that life. In this, Brutus is the classic Stoic.
Brutus loves and admires Caesar, but perceives in him a desire for power which runs contrary to the abiding ideal of a Republican Rome. Unlike Cassius, whose aim is political, Brutus is a man of probity. This is, itself, at the very heart of his corruption. Cassius, acting as mirror, shows Brutus, the noble Roman, a man who is ignoble, shirking his duty to Rome.
In this way, by performing his duty, Brutus cedes to the lesser evil for the greater good. The upshot is the death of innocents, civil war, his death, and the instituting of the Roman Empire - thereby precipitating the very things he meant to subvert.
But from the start, what was this "greater good"? - A Rome where a man's spouse, distressed by his behaviour, first wounds herself, then swallows fire, and that man's noble stoic reaction is, "O ye gods, render me worthy of this noble wife!"? And what kind of rational man, aware of the incongruities of human nature, considers it sound to see in another man the honest reflection of himself? And more, being human, should not such a man reflect above all on his own imperfections of nature and perception? We, at least, may reflect on the unconscious language Brutus uses to address the collective after Caesar's assassination -
Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords:
Then walk we forth, even to the market-place,
And, waving our red weapons o'er our heads,
Let's all cry 'Peace, freedom and liberty!'
This is the language of sacrifice, exalted and deluded; Cain's killing of his brother Abel. We may also recall then, with this issue of blood, that Brutus was Caesar's bastard son, and Octavious, who becomes the first Roman Emperor despite Brutus' ministrations, was Caesar's adopted son. Here we can see the paternal triumvirate recurrent elsewhere in Shakespeare: Henry Percy, Prince Harry, Henry IV; Edmund, Edgar, Gloucester; Fortinbras Jr., Hamlet Jr., Hamlet Senior. And of this latter recall how Polonius, having played Caesar, was killed by that brute calf, Hamlet.
As a forfeit of the heart by way of the sword - both metal and mental - the 3 of Swords card is a heartrending warning against the virtues of such an enterprise. Yet, misdirection, unconscious motive, self-righteousness - such are the ways of the world; the word and the sacrifice - in Christian terms, God the Father and God the Son - precipitate that in which we live: the ghost, the Spirit.
Subtext: A key trope in Shakepeare's mythos is bound up in his namesake, Pallas (cognate of phallos, the male aspect of Athene). The stone statue of the spear-shaking Athena was rescued from the sacred city of Troy by Aeneas, who brought the Palladium to Italy and founded Rome. En route, shaken by Dido's plea to remain with her in Carthage, Virgil likens his hero to a tree, tempest-torn, yet firmly rooted. Stoicly, Aeneas sacrifices his heart and remains true to the goddess of wisdom, craft, and war. As a result, the Empire of Rome is grafted from the Troyan branch, as in time the Empire of Britain will be by Aeneas' descendant, Brutus of Troy. This Brutus differs from the Brutus of Julius Caesar historically, but not literally - that is: they are to be confused. Shakespeare in this, like Hamlet, is analogous with Brutus, whose muse Athena brought the mythical Troyan branch to Trinovantum at the founding of the British Empire.