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 "you, too, Brutus?", purportedly as the last words of the Roman dictator Julius Caesar to his friend Marcus Brutus at the moment of his assassination. The quotation is widely used in English-speaking world to signify the utmost betrayal by an unexpected person, such as a friend.

The fame of the quotation is entirely due to its occurrence in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, as Caesar utters these words as he is being stabbed to death, having recognized his friend and protégé Brutus among the assassins. However, there is no evidence that Caesar actually said these words.[1][2]

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 brother and protégé. 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?".[6] The phrase means "You too, child?" or "You too, young man?" but has commonly been interpreted as meaning "You too, my child?" (Tu quoque, mi fili 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, and took him under his wing as his protégé. 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). Caesar's sexual exploits were well known, and he and Servilia had met by that time, but it is probably better to assume that the words suggest only that Caesar had had a warm regard for Brutus, and had regarded him almost as a son.

There is no reliable evidence that Caesar ever spoke the words. Suetonius himself claims Caesar said nothing as he died, and that others only reported that Caesar said that phrase after recognizing Brutus.[7][8][9] Plutarch also reports that Caesar said nothing and merely pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.[10]

Interpretation[edit]

It has been argued that the phrase can, if Caesar said it, be interpreted as a curse or threat.[11][12][13] One theory states Caesar adapted the words of a Greek sentence which to the Romans had long since become proverbial:[11] 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.[11] In a similar vein, Caesar's words have been interpreted to mean "Your turn next."[13] and "To hell with you too, lad!"[13] 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, mi fili This version is reported, for example, in Charles François Lhomond's De Viris Illustribus,[14] an 18th-century summary of Roman history, which was long used as a standard text by Latin students.

Pronunciation[edit]

In Latin, all letters are pronounced when spoken, leading to the phrase being pronounced ɛt ˈtuː ˈbruːtɛ as noted above. The phrase is often heard mis-pronounced with the "t" in "et" being treated as silent, as it sometimes is in romance languages.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Henle, Robert J., S.J. Henle Latin Year 1 Chicago: Loyola Press 1945
  2. ^ Shakespeare, William (1960). S.F. Johnson; Alfred Harbage, eds. 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. ^ ...uno modo ad primum ictum gemitu sine voce edito; etsi tradiderunt quidam Marco Bruto irruenti dixisse "καὶ σύ, τέκνον;". De Vita Caesarum, Liber I, Divus Iulius, LXXXII.
  7. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar 82.2
  8. ^ The Alexander Thomson translation, OCLC 224612692
  9. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar, translation by JC Rolfe
  10. ^ Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, Life of Caesar 66.9
  11. ^ a b c Arnaud, P. (1998). ""Toi aussi, mon fils, tu mangeras ta part de notre pouvoir" –Brutus le Tyran?". Latomus 57: 61–71. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ a b c Henderson, John (1998). Fighting for Rome: Poets and Caesars, History, and Civil War. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58026-9. 
  14. ^ Lhomond De Viris Illustribus, Caius Julius Caesar