Friday, March 15, 2013

'Et tu, Brute?' Probably not... the Ides of March and the death of Julius Caesar

To this day, flowers are still laid at the
statue of Julius Caesar in Rome
It's the Ides of March, one of the most famous days in history that, arguably, resulted in one of the most spectacular unintended consequences ever and spawned a famous Latin phrase that was probably never uttered.

Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated by eight senators, calling themselves the Liberatores (Liberators), at the Curia of Pompey in Rome on March 15, 44 BC.

Although Brutus was among the killers who stabbed Caesar several times, it is most unlikely that the dictator said "Et tu, Brute?", or for that matter anything else in Latin. Indeed, he might not have said a single word, although this is still disputed.

Roman historian Suetonius (70AD-130) reported that some people said Caesar's last words were in Greek: "Kαὶ σύ, τέκνον" - meaning "You too, child?" Yet, both he and Greek historian Plutarch (46AD-120) claim that Caesar said nothing, just pulling a toga over his head when he saw Brutus was among the group.

"Et tu, Brute?" comes from William Shakespeare's play. But it is not based on historical evidence, being just a nice phrase that was popular during the great hack's time.

And the unintended consequence?

The Liberators thought they were doing exactly that, liberating the Romans from a would-be king and tyrant. Although about 40 people joined the plot, it was not supposed to be a coup d'état. They believed the death of just one man would be symbolically effective. Is wasn't.

The assassination led to civil wars, the death of the republic and the birth of an empire under Caesar's adopted son and heir, his great-nephew Octavius – or Caesar Augustus, the first, all-powerful Roman emperor and 'living god'.


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