Common Errors (26): Et tu, Brute?

Daggers on a coin of Brutus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien)

The last words of Julius Caesar are often quoted as Et tu Brute?, “You too, Brutus?” They are also quoted as Tu quoque, Brute?, which means the same. The second variant has been sufficiently popular to make logicians apply these words to a well-known logical fallacy (“pot calling the kettle black“).

That those famous last words are quoted in two versions, already suggests that something’s gone wrong. They cannot both be correct. As it turns out, the expression “Et tu Brute” has been coined by Shakespeare (Julius Caesar, act 3, scene 1); they are not the dictator’s final words, though, because he reflects upon his own death in characteristic third-person, “Then fall, Caesar”.

That leaves us with Tu quoque, Brute. But Caesar probably did not even say that. According to Suetonius, he just sighed, or said something in Greek:

When he saw that he was beset on every side by drawn daggers, he muffled his head in his robe, and at the same time drew down its lap to his feet with his left hand, in order to fall more decently, with the lower part of his body also covered. And in this wise he was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, “You too, my child?” (καὶ σὺ τέκνον;)

[Suetonius, Life of Caesar, 82.2]

<Overview of Common Errors>

3 Responses to Common Errors (26): Et tu, Brute?

  1. Bill Thayer says:

    The interesting thing has been picked up by modern scholars — Brutus may well in fact have been Caesar’s own son. I’m not the first person to have picked up on the clue in chapter 50 of Suetonius (see my note at the 82.2 link above), but I’m one of the more timid. Others have been very affirmative about it.

  2. judithweingarten says:

    Et tu, Brute? on History Carnivalesque Et tu, Brute?

    Kind regards,

    Judith

  3. One little nitpick: the earliest use of “Et tu, Brute” that I’m aware of is indeed Shakespeare, but surprisingly _not_ in _Julius Caesar_. The latter was written in 1599, but in _Henry VI, Part 3_ (1592), King Edward IV uses the phrase in reference to his brother George’s treachery. The context suggests that it was already proverbial.

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