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The die is cast

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on July 24, 2005

In Reply to: The die is cast posted by Wes Bellmore on July 24, 2005

: The phrase "The die is cast" likely has a more literal origin than the one provided on your site.

: A "die" (apart from being one of a pair of dice) is a still-used term for a hollow mold used to form or "cast" things like mechanical parts and decorative statues by holding molten metal until it cools. But the "die", or mold, itself is often formed by "casting" (sort of a chicken and egg need a die to cast a die...) So if one uses the term "the die is cast", to mean "we must now rely on fate" it means the "mold is already made", and nobody can change what the result of the molding will be. A complicated explanation, but it seems likely to me. Dies (molds) of this sort were certainly used in Ceasar's time, so this may be what he alluded to as he sailed the Rubicon.

I'm afraid that Caesar was certainly not alluding to anything of the kind. In the original Latin, what Caesar said was "Alea jacta est". The Latin noun "alea" means literally a "die" as in half-a-pair-of-dice, or figuratively "luck, chance, hazard". It does not mean die in the sense of a mould for casting; the Latin for that was "forma" or "matrix".
Similarly, the verb "jactare" means "to throw", and does not mean "to cast molten metal" in any possible context. If Caesar had been talking about metal-casting, he would have used the verb "fundare" (the English word "foundry" is related), and his quotation would have been something like "Forma fundata est", or Matrix fundata est".
By the way, he didn't "sail" the Rubicon! It's a piffling little river, nowadays called the Fiumicino, which you can wade across. (VSD)

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