Sic semper tyrannis
The phrase is often said to have originated with Marcus Junius Brutus during the assassination of Julius Caesar on 15 March 44BC, but according to Plutarch, Brutus either did not have a chance to say anything, or if he did, no one heard what was said:
Caesar thus done to death, the senators, although Brutus came forward as if to say something about what had been done, would not wait to hear him, but burst out of doors and fled, thus filling the people with confusion and helpless fear.
The phrase has been invoked historically in Europe and other parts of the world as an epithet or rallying cry against abuse of power.
Usage in the US
John Wilkes Booth wrote in his diary that he shouted "Sic semper" after shooting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, in part because of the association with the assassination of Caesar.
Motto of Virginia
The phrase was recommended by George Mason to the Virginia Convention in 1776, as part of the commonwealth's seal. The Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia shows Virtue, spear in hand, with her foot on the prostrate form of Tyranny, whose crown lies nearby. The Seal was planned by Mason and designed by George Wythe, who signed the United States Declaration of Independence and taught law to Thomas Jefferson. A joke referencing the image on the seal that dates as far back as the Civil War, is that "Sic semper tyrannis" actually means "Get your foot off my neck."
The phrase is also the motto of the United States Navy attack submarine named for the state, the USS Virginia (SSN-774). Before that, it was the motto of the nuclear-powered cruiser USS Virginia (CGN-38). It is also the motto of the U.S. city Allentown, the third largest city in Pennsylvania, and is referenced in the official state song of Maryland.
In popular culture
- The phrase was used in the season two2 finale of The Last Ship as one of the season's previous villains (Curtis) shoots and leaves for dead one of the main protagonists (Dr. Rachel Scott) in the season's end cliffhanger.
- In the episode of Seinfeld titled "The Pilot", just as Jerry's NBC-TV pilot is about to be taped, Crazy Joe Davola leaps from the balcony and, much like John Wilkes Booth, shouts "Sic semper tyrannis!" Later in the show, Jerry explains the Booth connection to George, but gets the translation wrong. He tells George it means "death to tyrants."
- The phrase is the Title in the season 2 premiere of CBS series NCIS: New Orleans.
- Plutarch, "Caesar", Plutarch's Lives, with an English Translation by Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1919. ch. 67. On Line text.
- "From Classroom to White House". google.co.uk.
- "Diary Entry of John Wilkes Booth". umkc.edu.
- "TimesMachine April 15, 1865 - New York Times". The New York Times.
- Kilzer, Lou; Flynn, Kevin (1997-12-19). "Did McVeigh Plan to get Caught, or was he Sloppy?". Denver Rocky Mountain News.
- Rowland, Kate Mason (1892). The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792. G.P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 264–265.
- von Borcke, Heros (April 1866). "Memoirs of the Confederate War for Independence". Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. American edition, vol. 62 (New York: Leonard Scott & Co.) 99 (606): 462. Retrieved 21 August 2010.
...the coat of arms of the state of Virginia, bearing the motto, Sic semper tyrannis, which the soldiers translated, "Take your foot off my neck", from the action of the principal figure ... representing Liberty, who, with a lance in her right hand, is standing over the conquered and prostrate tyrant, and apparently trampling on him with her heel.
- Webster entry - audio pronunciation