Alea iacta est

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Alea iacta est ("The die is cast") is a Latin phrase attributed by Suetonius (as iacta alea est [ˈjakta ˈaːlea est]) to Julius Caesar on January 10, 49 B.C. as he led his army across the Rubicon river in Northern Italy. With this step, he entered Italy at the head of his army in defiance of the Senate and began his long civil war against Pompey and the Optimates. The phrase, either in the original Latin or in translation, is used in many languages to indicate that events have passed a point of no return.

Meaning and forms[edit]

Caesar was said to have borrowed the phrase from Menander, his favourite Greek writer of comedy; the phrase appears in “Ἀρρηφόρος” (Arrephoros,) (or possibly “The Flute-Girl”), as quoted in Deipnosophistae, Book 13, paragraph 8. Plutarch reports that these words were said in Greek:

The motto of the Hall family from Shackerstone reads jacta est alea.

Ἑλληνιστὶ πρὸς τοὺς παρόντας ἐκβοήσας, «Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος», [anerriphtho kybos] διεβίβαζε τὸν στρατόν.[1]

He [Caesar] declared in Greek with loud voice to those who were present 'Let the die be cast' and led the army across.

— Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 60.2.9[2]

Suetonius, a contemporary of Plutarch writing in Latin, reports a similar phrase.

Caesar: '... iacta alea est,' inquit.[3]
Caesar said, "The die has been cast."

— Suetonius, Vita Divi Iuli (The Life of the deified Julius), 121 CE, paragraph 33

Lewis and Short,[4] citing Casaubon and Ruhnk, suggest that the text of Suetonius should read iacta alea esto (reading the imperative ESTO instead of EST), which they translate as "Let the die be cast!", or "Let the game be ventured!". This matches Plutarch's use of third-person singular perfect middle/passive imperative of the verb ἀναρρίπτω,[5] i.e. ἀνερρίφθω κύβος (anerrhiphtho kybos, pronounced [anerːípʰtʰɔː kýbos]).

In Latin alea refers to the early form of backgammon that was played in Caesar's time. Augustus (Octavian) mentions winning this game in a letter. Dice were common in Roman times and were cast three at a time. There were two kinds. The six-sided dice were known in Latin as tesserae and the four-sided ones (rounded at each end) were known as tali[6]. In Greek a die was κύβος kybos.[7]

In other languages[edit]

The phrase in translation is used in many languages to indicate that events have passed "a point of no return"; for example:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Perseus Digital Library Plut. Pomp. 60.2
  2. ^ See also Plutarch's Life of Caesar 32.8.4 and Sayings of Kings & Emperors 206c.
  3. ^ Perseus Digital Library Suet. Jul. 32
  4. ^ alea. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  5. ^ ἀναρρίπτω. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  6. ^ alea. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  7. ^ κύβος.

External links[edit]