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"Et tu, Brute?"

Julius Caesar's last words; according to William Shakespeare's play of the same name.

There seems to be a difference of opinion regarding the exact translation and thus, too, perhaps, the true meaning of the phrase.

What is the exact, literal translation of the aforementioned phrase? What are other, possible meanings?

Feel free to also include your own interpretation, if you wish to do so.

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    Why do you say that there is a difference of opinion as to the translation? A reference to the actual people who hold these opinions would be helpful. As it is, I'm wondering why you haven't just looked up each individual word in a dictionary if you only want the literal meaning.
    – Asteroides
    Feb 24 '16 at 5:15
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a translation question that doesn't show any research effort.
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 24 '16 at 13:44
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    I'm voting to reopen as, I believe, we've come a long way in treating questions like these. It's not a perfect question, but it didn't deserve the treatment it got, in my opinion (though I am aware of the context in which it did get this treatment).
    – cmw
    Mar 15 '17 at 23:15
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    In general, I think "low quality" should generally be indicated by a low score, not by a closing—unless the quality is really too low to lead to anything useful or interesting.
    – Cerberus
    Mar 17 '17 at 3:23
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    @tjt263 I fully understand all that. And posting a question shouldn't be made into a lot of work. This website is supposed to be fun! However, when a question immediately calls up another question, one which only the original poster could answer, that is unfortunate. I don't think you would be expected to produce a list or investigate the issue yourself. But you say "there seems to be a difference of opinion". Don't you have a vague recollection of this difference, which you could write down in one or two sentences? No need for quotations or sources (although they would most welcome).
    – Cerberus
    Mar 18 '17 at 13:02
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Well, without too much knowledge of any deeper, ulterior meanings to the phrase, I can certainly provide and analyze the literal translation for you:

And you, Brutus?

  • et → a simple conjunction
  • tu → vocative, singular case of the second-person pronoun
  • Brute → vocative, singular case of the proper noun Brutus (2nd declension).

Alternative, fairly literal translations:

Even you, Brutus?
You too, Brutus?

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Suetonius, in his work Vita Divi Iuli, reports the last words of Caesar being Greek καὶ σὺ τέκνον; which is the original source of Shakespeare's line, translated into Latin fairly literally:

  • the conjunction καὶ becomes its equivalent et;
  • the pronoun σὺ becomes its equivalent tu,
  • τέκνον "child" is replaced by M. Iunius Brutus's own cognomen.

An alternative Latin translation, familiar to readers of Astérix, is the similar Tu quoque, fili: here τέκνον is translated by the equivalent filius, but the conjunction et "and, too" becomes quoque "as well, too, even."

In any case, the meaning is simple: Caesar was chastising Brutus for being among the conspirators, that he expected better from him. "Even you, son?" or "You, too, Brutus?" are standard renderings in English. Because of the simplicity of the phrase, it is rather straightforward to interpret and difficult to ascribe variant readings.

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It has already been pointed out that Suetonius reported the words "καὶ σύ, τέκνον" as Caesar's last, and that these are the ultimate origin of Shakespeare's "Et tu, Brute?" (though it seems to be Richard Edes who first coined the Latin phrase, in his 1582 Latin-language play Caesar Interfectes, seventeen years before Shakespeare's Julius Caesar).
The literal meaning is clear, but for the sake of completeness I want to mention the other interpretation, which has become somewhat popular in recent years, especially since Kathryn Tempest drew attention to it in her 2017 book Brutus: The Noble Conspirator.

Apparently the archaeologist James Russell pointed out, in a 1980 article that I haven't been able to track down, that the words "ΚΑΙ ϹΥ" (that is, "καὶ σύ" in caps with a lunate sigma) frequently appear on curse tablets, mosaics, and other forms of art, often in an apotropaic capacity. Here, for instance, is a prominent 2nd-century example from the House of the Evil Eye in Antioch-on-the-Orontes, which shows the Evil Eye being attacked by animals and weapons with the words:

kai su, evil eye

In this light, Caesar's last words possibly weren't a pathetic disbelieving "even you, son?", but rather a defiant (in Tempest's words) "See you in hell, punk".

The advantage of this view is that the preëxistence of "καὶ σύ" as a formula also provides an explanation for why Caesar would switch to Greek for no apparent reason—educated Romans of the era knew Greek, obviously, but they still spoke Latin in their day-to-day lives.
I don't know if this hypothesis has quite reached mainstream level yet, but I see no obvious problems with it, and it's not surprising it would largely have been missed so far.

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    Russell adds that the phrase, which does survive on a mosaic, was probably more fully καὶ σύ ἔρρε, which was shortened since it was so familiar. Interesting idea. I hadn't heard this before (or came across this article before now, probably because it was buried in an edited volume and not published separately in a journal?).
    – cmw
    Jun 13 at 22:46
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    Seems a bit strange to add τέκνον when you're telling someone to go to hell, though.
    – TKR
    Jun 13 at 23:27
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    Russell, J. (1980), ‘Julius Caesar’s Last Words: A Reinterpretation’, in B. Marshall (ed.), Vindex Humanitatis. Essays in Honour of John Huntly Bishop. Armidale, 123-128
    – Alex B.
    Jun 14 at 13:19
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    You may also want to read Arnaud, Pascal. "«Toi Aussi, Mon Fils, Tu Mangeras Ta Part De Notre Pouvoir» — Brutus Le Tyran ?" Latomus 57, no. 1 (1998): 61-71. jstor.org/stable/41538208.
    – Alex B.
    Jun 14 at 13:22

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