Someone told me these were Caesar's actual last words. Google confirms this. But I can't find an explanation for what looks to me like weird grammar.

First of all, shouldn't "Brutus" be "Brute" (vocative case) since Caesar would presumably be talking to him?

Secondly, "mi fili"? "Fili" I assume comes from "Filius." So if he's saying, "my son," shouldn't that also be vocative case? So, "Filie"? And shouldn't "mi" be "mei," genitive of "ego"? So for a total: "Tu quoque, Brute, filie mei?"

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    related latin.stackexchange.com/q/123/39 – Alex B. Jun 29 '20 at 14:25
  • Wiki article on Tilius Cimber tells us that the signal for the assassination to begin would be Cimber, grabbing JC, by the arm (pretext of handing him a petition). In Roman society it was the depths of bad manners to touch someone--especially if they were important. When Cimber did this JC is reported to have said: "ista quidem vis est!" = "This indeed is violence of yours!", roughly--"How dare you touch me!"--sort of thing. Is this true? Who knows? Given the mores of that World, it has some credibility. – tony Jun 29 '20 at 16:22

I suspect that your friend misremembered the phrase.

Concerning the actual phrase that Julius Caesar said, the biographers offer conflicting evidence. Suetonius tells us that Caesar died in silence, though he admits the tradition that Caesar said in Greek: "καὶ σὺ τέκνον;" Cassius Dio echoes Suetonius, claiming that the "truest account" says that Caesar was silent although some claim he said the above Greek phrase. Shakespeare famously gives Caesar the words, "Et tu, Brute?" Perhaps he felt that Latin spoken in an English play would have a similar effect to Greek spoken in a Latin context.

Regarding the particular phrase you cite ("Tu quoque, Brutus, mi fili?"), I suspect that it is misquoted, since it returns pretty much 0 results in a web search and it's not good Latin. As you note, the vocative of "Brutus" is "Brute." "Fili mi," however, actually is the correct vocative.

Modified in this way, the phrase "Tu quoque, Brute, mi fili?" does appear to have some currency. For reasons that are utterly opaque to me (if Wikipedia is to be trusted), it appears that different language traditions favor certain versions of Caesar's final words, e.g.:

Despite the title of the Italian article, however, I can find no source that actually ascribes these words (or their Greek equivalent) to Caesar. It seems to be an explanatory gloss.

To summarize: Caesar probably said nothing when he died, but historians mention the account that he said in Greek: "καὶ σὺ τέκνον;" "τέκνον" can mean "child," "young man," or "son," so "fili mi" is a reasonable Latin translation, yielding "Tu quoque, fili mi" or (most literally) "Et tu, fili?" There's no evidence I can find, beyond Shakespeare's dramatization of the incident, that he addressed Brutus by his name.

  • I still don't understand how "fili mi" is proper Latin in this context, or "fili." That should translate as either "sons" or "son's". – ribs2spare Jun 30 '20 at 16:42
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    @ribs2spare You're thinking of "filii" (with two i's). Take a look at A&G section 49.c: the vocative of 2nd declension nouns in "-ius" is often "-i," and "meus" has an irregular vocative. – brianpck Jun 30 '20 at 16:54
  • I'm a bit confused. I see that "meus, -a, -um" is a separate adjective from the declension of "ego." But then what is the genitive singular form of "ego" for? Doesn't "mei" mean "of me" or "mine"? – ribs2spare Jul 10 '20 at 14:28
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    @ribs2spare Take a look at this question about the difference. Short answer: the possessive adjective (meus, -a, -um) is almost always used for possession, but the genitive pronoun (mei) is usually used for other genitive constructions, such as verbs that take the genitive (e.g. verbs of forgetting or remembering). – brianpck Jul 10 '20 at 14:50

It should indeed be Brute, not Brutus, and the vocative form seems to be far more common if you make an internet search. The person who told that the last words came with Brutus appears to be slightly misinformed, perhaps due to knowing that the name is Brutus but being unaware of the Latin vocative case.

The nominative Brutus would make sense if it was the subject of some clause instead of just the addressee in an explamation, so you would need to supply something like me cecidisti ("[you] murdered me") to make it work. But even then I would take tu as the nominative and put the name in the vocative.

The nominative of "my son" is meus filius but the vocative is mi fili. Words ending in -eus and -ius tend to get a shorter vocative form -i rather than -ee or -ie. This does not apply to all nouns ending this way, but it is common.

Different sources give different last words for Caesar. I will not discuss the whether he actually said so, so take this only as an analysis of this particular quote attributed to him.

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    llmavirta: There is another argument concerning "et tu brute" in Q: latin.stackexchange.com/q/4982/1982. I'm not sure that this one has yet been resolved. My understanding is that "et tu..." is a Shakespearian invention. JC's last (recorded) words were "ista quidem vis est". This has more credibility; but as always, proving anything is the nightmare. Any thoughts? – tony Jul 12 '20 at 10:41
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    @tony There are so many accounts of his last words that I would say that we simply don't know well enough. Many phrases may have been uttered in various stages of the final act. The Greek kai sy teknon seems to have a classical origin as his last words, and that would quite naturally translate as et tu fili, so the invention is not without sense. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 12 '20 at 19:06
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    llmavirta: A fascinating piece in en.wikipedia.org/Wiki/Last words of Julius Caeser: Keith Massey realised that the Greek "kai tu tekson" = "You, my child" sounds similar to the Latin "Quaeso te non" = "I beg you, no" or "Please no". (Attestation: Plautus: "Apollo quaeso te" = "Apollo, I beg you"; Mercator 678.) Suetonius offered both "ista quidem....." and silence--some "witnesses" stated that JC didn't say anything. Of course--hidden agendas--it may have been deemed noble to claim that JC died silently. In the unfolding tumult/ chaos, it could have been anything or nothing. – tony Jul 13 '20 at 11:23

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