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Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini

"Et tu, Brute?" (pronounced "Et tu, Bruté?") ("Even you, Brutus?" or "And you, Brutus?" or "You too, Brutus?" or the more linguistically antiquated "Thou too, Brutus?") is a Latin phrase often used poetically to represent the last words of Roman dictator Julius Caesar. Immortalized by Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the quotation is widely used in Western culture as an epitome of betrayal.

Context

On March 15 (the Ides of March), 44 BC, Caesar was attacked by a group of senators, including Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar's close friend. 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 version best known in the English-speaking world is the Latin phrase Et tu, Brute?, which derives from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, where it actually forms the first half of a macaronic line: "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!" 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, a source work for Henry VI, Part 3.[1]

Shakespeare's version evidently 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;"[2] (transliterated as "Kai su, teknon?": "You too, my child?" in English or "Tu quoque, Brute, fili mi" in Latin) - though Suetonius himself claims Caesar said nothing as he died.[3] Plutarch also reports that Caesar said nothing and merely pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.[4]

Interpretation

While the words Kai su, teknon? are usually understood as an expression of shock towards Brutus' betrayal, it has recently been argued that, if they were uttered by Caesar, the phrase was instead intended as a curse and threat.[5][6][7] One theory states Caesar adapted the words of a Greek sentence which to the Romans had long since become proverbial:[5] 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.[5] In a similar vein, Caesar's words have been interpreted to mean "Your turn next."[7] and "To hell with you too, lad!"[7] In some other languages, 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, fili mi. This version is reported, for example, in Charles François Lhomond's De Viris Illustribus,[8] an 18th century summary of Roman history, which was long used as a standard text by Latin students.

A precisely literal translation of the sentence into English is ¨And you/thou, Brutus?¨ The second option is the most historically accurate, being both the natural and literal Elizabethan version of the Latin sentence; however, since in modern forms of standard English there is no way of pronominally distinguishing an informal or familiar address from a formal or elevated one, you must serve instead to render the Latin tu. Brute (pronounced as in Italian) is the vocative or addressing form, Brutus the nominative, from which it passes into English unchanged.

Notes

  1. ^ Dyce, Alexander; (quoting Malone) (1866). The Works of William Shakespeare. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 648. 
  2. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar 82.2
  3. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Julius Caesar, translation by JC Rolfe
  4. ^ Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, Life of Caesar 66.9
  5. ^ a b c Arnaud, P. (1998). ""Toi aussi, mon fils, tu mangeras ta part de notre pouvoir" –Brutus le Tyran?". Latomus 57: 61–71. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ a b c Henderson, John (1998). Fighting for Rome: Poets and Caesars, History, and Civil War. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58026-9. 
  8. ^ Lhomond De Viris Illustribus, Caius Julius Caesar
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