Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beware the Ides of March

Et tu, Brute?
     The above was not said by Julius Caesar.
     Today, the Ides of March, marks the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.  Caesar was famously assassinated at a meeting of the Roman Senate after having (almost certainly apocryphally) been warned to “Beware the Ides of March.”  He was presented with a written warning of the conspiracy against him as he was taken to the Senate meeting, but seems to have never read the warning.  Although stabbed twenty-three times by the various conspirators, only one wound was fatal.
     Caesar’s death unleashed upon the tottering Roman Republic the Second Civil War of Caesar’s heir Octavian (later to be Caesar Augustus) and his compatriot Marc Antony (Lepidus, the third member of the Second Triumvirate, was a place holder) against the assassins and their various supporters. Assassins Brutus (Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger) and Cassius (Gaius Cassius Longinus) would each commit suicide after losing a phase of the Battle of Philippi, and Cicero (who was not himself part of the conspiracy) would be assassinated as part of the proscriptions after the victory of the Second Triumvirate.  Still later Octavian and Antony would turn on one another, Antony’s forces being routed at Actium.
But back to Caesar’s dying words.  “Et tu Brute” is not recorded by any classical historian – it is a quote from Shakespeare.  Plutarch, who was born exactly 100 years after the assassination, reports that Caesar said nothing after the attack began in earnest.  Suetonius wrote that others reported his last words to be “κα σύ, τέκνον” (Greek still being the lingua franca of the Romans), transliterated as “Kai su, teknon” or “You also child,” addressed to Brutus.  There were rumors, later reported by Plutarch (Suetonius is silent on the topic) that Caesar was in fact Brutus’ father – it was known that Brutus’ mother Servilia was Caesar’s mistress.

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