Et tu, Brute?

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Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini

"Et tu, Brute?" (pronounced [ɛt ˈtuː ˈbruːtɛ]) is a Latin phrase meaning "and you, Brutus?" or "and you too, Brutus?". The phrase is often used poetically to represent the last words of the Roman dictator Julius Caesar to his friend Marcus Brutus at the moment of his assassination. However, there is no evidence that Caesar actually said these words, and the fame of the quotation is entirely due to its occurrence in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.[1][2] The quotation is widely used in Western culture to signify the utmost betrayal by an unexpected person, such as a friend.

Another common translation for the phrase is "You too, Brutus?". Literally, the Latin phrase translates to "And" (or "Also") "you, Brutus?". The name "Brutus", a second declension masculine noun, appears in the phrase in the vocative case, and so the -us ending of the nominative case is replaced by -e.[3]

Context[edit]

On March 15 (the Ides of March), 44 BC, Caesar was attacked by a group of senators, including Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar's close friend. Caesar initially resisted his attackers, but when he saw Brutus, he supposedly spoke those words and resigned himself to his fate.

Caesar's last words are not known with certainty and are a contested subject among scholars and historians alike. The phrase Et tu, Brute?, maintains its familiarity from William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar (1599), where it actually forms the first half of a macaronic line: "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!"[4] Shakespeare in turn was making use of a phrase already in common use in his time: it appears for example, in Richard Eedes's Latin play Caesar Interfectus of 1582 and The True Tragedie of Richarde Duke of Yorke &c of 1595, the earliest printed version of Henry VI, Part 3.[5]

The phrase follows in the tradition of the Roman historian Suetonius, who reports that others have claimed Caesar's last words were the Greek phrase "καὶ σὺ τέκνον;", transliterated as "Kai su, teknon?". The phrase means "You too, child?" or "You too, young man?" but has commonly been interpreted as meaning "You too, my child?" (Tu quoque, fili mi in Latin) and taken as an indication that Brutus was Caesar's illegitimate son. His mother was Servilia Caepionis: Caesar's long-time and most beloved and trusted mistress. Caesar was known to be very fond of Brutus, and to treat him as a father would a son. However, for Caesar to have been the father of Brutus, the child must have been conceived when Caesar was only 14 years and 2 months old (assuming a usual 9 months pregnancy). Still, Caesar's sexual exploits were well known, and he and Servilia had met by that time.

There is no reliable evidence that Caesar ever spoke the words, if he did then the interpretation "my child" is not certain, and he was only fourteen when Brutus was born. Suetonius himself claims Caesar said nothing as he died.[6][7][8] Plutarch also reports that Caesar said nothing and merely pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.[9]

Interpretation[edit]

It has recently been argued that the phrase can, if Caesar said it, be interpreted as a curse or threat.[10][11][12] One theory states Caesar adapted the words of a Greek sentence which to the Romans had long since become proverbial:[10] The complete phrase is said to have been "You too, my son, will have a taste of power," of which Caesar only needed to invoke the opening words to foreshadow Brutus' own violent death, in response to his assassination.[10] In a similar vein, Caesar's words have been interpreted to mean "Your turn next."[12] and "To hell with you too, lad!"[12] In some other languages, for example Italian, the best-known version of Caesar's last words is a more literal Latin translation of the Greek phrase reported and dismissed by Suetonius: tu quoque, fili mi. This version is reported, for example, in Charles François Lhomond's De Viris Illustribus,[13] an 18th-century summary of Roman history, which was long used as a standard text by Latin students.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Henle, Robert J., S.J. Henle Latin Year 1 Chicago: Loyola Press 1945
  2. ^ Shakespeare, William; S.F. Johnson, Alfred Harbage (Editors) (1960). Julius Caesar. Penguin Books. p. 74. 
  3. ^ Gill, N. S., "Latin – Vocative endings", About.com, retrieved 2012-09-16 
  4. ^ Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 77
  5. ^ Dyce, Alexander; (quoting Malone) (1866). The Works of William Shakespeare. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 648. 
  6. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar 82.2
  7. ^ The Alexander Thomson translation, OCLC 224612692
  8. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar, translation by JC Rolfe
  9. ^ Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, Life of Caesar 66.9
  10. ^ a b c Arnaud, P. (1998). ""Toi aussi, mon fils, tu mangeras ta part de notre pouvoir" –Brutus le Tyran?". Latomus 57: 61–71. 
  11. ^ Woodman, A.J. (2006). "Tiberius and the Taste of Power: The Year 33 in Tacitus". Classical Quarterly 56 (1): 175–189. doi:10.1017/S0009838806000140. 
  12. ^ a b c Henderson, John (1998). Fighting for Rome: Poets and Caesars, History, and Civil War. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58026-9. 
  13. ^ Lhomond De Viris Illustribus, Caius Julius Caesar