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?", made famous by its occurrence in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, where it is uttered by the Roman dictator Julius Caesar to his friend Marcus Brutus at the moment of the former's assassination. The Latin expression first occurs in Elizabethan literary texts,[1] the quotation is widely used in the English-speaking world to signify the unexpected betrayal by a person, such as a friend.

Caesar utters these words in Act III, scene 2, as he is being stabbed to death, having recognized his friend and protégé Brutus among the assassins. However, there is no evidence that the historic Caesar had ever spoken these words.[2][3]

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.[4]

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.

The historical Caesar's last words are not known with certainty, the Roman historian Suetonius, a century and a half after the incident, claims Caesar said nothing as he died, but that others reported that Caesar's last words were the Greek phrase "καὶ σὺ, τέκνον;".[5][6] The phrase means "You too, child?" or "You too, young man?".[7] Sometimes this is rendered translated into Latin as "Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi".

Plutarch also reports that Caesar said nothing, but merely pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.[8]

In the play Julius Caesar (1599), Caesar says "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!"[9] Shakespeare was making use of a phrase already in use: for example it is said, by Edmond Malone, to have appeared in a work that has been lost: Richard Eedes's Latin play Caesar Interfectus of 1582. It also occurs 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.[10][11]

Interpretation[edit]

It has been argued that the phrase can be interpreted as a curse or threat.[12] One theory states that the historic Caesar adapted the words of a Greek sentence which to the Romans had long since become proverbial: 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.[13] There is a poem by Horace, Satires; Book I, Satire 7, written approximately 30 BC, that mentions Brutus and his tyrannicide; in discussing that poem, author John Henderson considers that the expression "E-t t-u Br-u-t-e", (as he hyphenates it), can be interpreted as a complaint containing a "suggestion of mimetic compulsion".[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Henderson, John (1998). Fighting for Rome: Poets and Caesars, History, and Civil War. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58026-9. 
  2. ^ Henle, Robert J., S.J. Henle Latin Year 1 Chicago: Loyola Press 1945
  3. ^ Shakespeare, William (1960). S.F. Johnson; Alfred Harbage, eds. Julius Caesar. Penguin Books. p. 74. 
  4. ^ Gill, N. S., "Latin – Vocative endings", About.com, retrieved 2012-09-16 
  5. ^ ...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.
  6. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar 82.2
  7. ^ Billows, Richard A. (2009). Julius Caesar: The Colossus of Rome. London: Routledge. pp. 249–250. ISBN 978-0-415-33314-6. 
  8. ^ Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, Life of Caesar 66.9
  9. ^ Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 77
  10. ^ Dyce, Alexander (1866). The Works of William Shakespeare. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 648. 
  11. ^ Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare's Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality. Routledge, 2010. ISBN 9781135154899. p. 72-73
  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. ^ Woodman, A. J. The Annals of Tacitus: Books 5–6; Volume 55 of Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries. Cambridge University Press, 2016. ISBN 9781316757314.