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The meaning and origin of the expression: Et tu, Brute

Et tu, Brute

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Et tu, Brute'?

"Et tu Brute" are supposedly the dying words of Julius Caesar. They translate from Latin as 'You too, Brutus?'.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Et tu, Brute'?

In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was murdered by a group of senators. They were led by Marcus Brutus, who had previously been a trusted friend and protégé of Caesar.

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Et tu, Brute'There's no substantiated evidence to show that Julius Caesar spoke the words "Et tu Brute". Suetonius, the Roman historian, wrote an account of Julius Caesar's death, of which this is a translation:

He was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering a groan only, but no cry, at the first wound; although some authors relate, that when Marcus Brutus fell upon him, he exclaimed, "What! art thou, too, one of them! Thou, my son!"

We need to be a little cautious about taking that as fact. Suetonius wasn't born until over a century after Caesar died. His text was itself probably based on hearsay.

Plutarch, the Greek writer who became a Roman citizen, was a contemporary of Suetonius. He wrote that Caesar uttered no words as he died.

Et tu, Brute'Et tu Brute' is really an invention of Shakespeare's, taking his lead from the writings of Suetonius. It is the best-known line from his play Julius Caesar, 1599.

As in many of his plays, Shakespeare massaged historical record for dramatic effect. In the play Caesar begins to resist the attack but resigns himself to his fate when he sees that his friend is amongst the plotters:

Caesar: Doth not Brutus bootless kneel?
Casca: Speak, hands, for me! [They stab Caesar.]
Caesar: Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar! [Dies.]
Cinna: Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!

Shakespeare has Caesar revert to Latin for the line in his death scene. By referring to Brutus as Brute he encouraged his English-speaking audience to view the treacherous Brutus as a brute.

See also: Beware the Ides of March.

See other - phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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