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 "even you, Brutus?" It is notable for its occurrence in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, where it is spoken by the Roman dictator Julius Caesar to his friend Marcus Junius Brutus at the moment of Caesar's assassination. The first known occurrences of the phrase are said to be in two earlier Elizabethan plays; Henry VI, Part 3 by Shakespeare, and an even earlier play, Caesar Interfectus, by Richard Eedes.[1] The phrase is often used apart from the plays to signify an unexpected betrayal by a friend.

Caesar utters these words in Act III, scene 1, as he is being stabbed to death, having recognized his friend and protégé Brutus as one of the assassins. There is however no evidence that the historic Caesar spoke 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, the historic Caesar was attacked by a group of senators, including Brutus, who was Caesar's friend and protégé. Caesar initially resisted his attackers, but when he saw Brutus, he reportedly responded as he died.

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] which means "You too, child?" or "You too, young man?".[7]

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

In Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar (1599), when Caesar says Et tu, Brute?,[9] the phrase had already been in use; Edmond Malone claimed that it appeared in a work that has since been lost—Richard Eedes's Latin play Caesar Interfectus of 1582. The phrase had also occurred in another play by Shakespeare, The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and the death of good King Henrie the Sixth, with the Whole Contention betweene the two Houses Lancaster and Yorke of 1595, which is the earliest printed version of Henry VI, Part 3.[10][11]

Interpretation[edit]

It has been argued that the phrase can be interpreted as a curse or warning.[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 BCE, 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.


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