in American Senator

Chapter 21 – The First Evening at Rufford Hall

aut Caesar aut nihil

“Either Caesar or nothing.”  In the explanatory notes for his edition of The American Senator, John Halperin explains that this phrase was the motto of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI and possibly the model for Machiavelli’s Prince.  Halperin notes that there is something Machiavellian about Arabella, although she does not get what she wants in the end.  Halperin also states that this phrase might be a misquotation from Suetonius, but the quotation that he gives, aut Caesar aut nullus, could not be located in Suetonius.  [KS 2012]

Some anthologies of  quotations in the 19th c. attributed the phrase aut Caesar aut nihil or aut Caesar aut nullus to Julius Caesar.  Arabella is elsewhere likened to Julius Caesar in The American Senator.  [RR 2012]

Sources:  John Halperin’s note in the World’s Classics edition of The American Senator.  Oxford:  Oxford UP, 1986, 561.
For an example of an anthology connecting the phrase to Julius Caesar, see C. A. M. Fennell, The Stanford Dictionary of Anglicised Words and Phrases.  Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 1892, 119.


a choice of horses

Arabella may ride Jack or Jemima when she hunts with Lord Rufford.  If she chooses Jack, she will have an easy time; if he selects the more fearsome Jemima instead, she may win “honour and glory”–but her life itself might also be in danger.  We can see Lord Rufford’s presentation of Arabella’s choice as a humorous rendition of Achilles heroic dilemma:  he may return home from Troy to a long and pleasant life, or he may fight and die at Troy but win eternal glory.

Source:  Homer, Iliad 9.410-416.