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?". This phrase occurs in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, and are almost the last words spoken by the Roman dictator Julius Caesar to his friend Marcus Brutus at the moment of his assassination. The quotation is widely used in the English-speaking world to signify the utmost unexpected betrayal by a person, such as a friend.

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 reason to think that Caesar actually said these words.[1][2]

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 BCE, Caesar was attacked by a group of senators, including Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar's friend 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; in the play Julius Caesar (1599), Caesar says "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!"[4] Shakespeare was making use of a phrase already in use: it appears for example, in Richard Eedes's Latin play Caesar Interfectus of 1582, and also in The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and the death of good King Henrie the Sixt, with the Whole Contention betweene the two Houses Lancaster and Yorke of 1595, which is the earliest printed version of Shakespeare's play Henry VI, Part 3.[5]

The phrase derives from the Roman historian Suetonius, who quotes others who say Caesar's last words were the Greek phrase "καὶ σὺ, τέκνον;" (transliterated Kai su, teknon?).[6] The phrase means "You too, child?" or "You too, young man?". It has been suggested that the phrase could be interpreted to support the rumors that Brutus was Caesar's illegitimate son.[7]

It is not known for certain that Caesar 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.[8][9][10] Plutarch also reports that Caesar said nothing and merely pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.[11]

Interpretation[edit]

It has been argued that the phrase can, if Caesar said it, be interpreted as a curse or threat.[12][13][14] One theory states Caesar adapted the words of a Greek sentence which to the Romans had long since become proverbial:[12] 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;[12] in a similar vein, Caesar's words have been interpreted to mean "Your turn next."[14] and "To hell with you too, lad!"[14] 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,[15] an 18th-century summary of Roman history, which was long used as a standard text by Latin students.

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 (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. ^ Corrigan, Kristy. Brutus Caesar's Assassin. Pen and Sword, 2015. ISBN 9781473871762. p. 34
  8. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar 82.2
  9. ^ The Alexander Thomson translation, OCLC 224612692
  10. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar, translation by JC Rolfe
  11. ^ Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, Life of Caesar 66.9
  12. ^ a b c Arnaud, P. (1998). ""Toi aussi, mon fils, tu mangeras ta part de notre pouvoir" –Brutus le Tyran?". Latomus. 57: 61–71. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ a b c Henderson, John (1998). Fighting for Rome: Poets and Caesars, History, and Civil War. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58026-9. 
  15. ^ Lhomond De Viris Illustribus, Caius Julius Caesar