July is the first month of the year named for a specific person. Well, January, March, May, and June are all named for Greek or Roman gods, but July is named for a real historical person: Julius Caesar. Caesar was born in the month of July, which is why, in 44 BC, Rome renamed the summer month of Quintilis "Iulius" after the ambitious, toga-wearing general. We've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to cross the Rubicon this month and set the record straight about the life and death of the ancient world's biggest celeb. Friends, Romans, countrymen: lend him your ears.
The Debunker: Were Caesar's Last Words Really "Et Tu, Brute?"
They say history is written by the winners, but when it comes to British kings and the Roman Empire, lots of history was written by a single guy: William Shakespeare. An actor and playwright! Come on. In our day, that would be like if actor David Duchovny switched from those quirky little novels he writes and started writing big, authoritative biographies of the Founding Fathers.
In Shakespeare's version of Julius Caesar's assassination, Caesar is aghast to see that his friend Brutus has betrayed him and asks "Et tu, Brute?" ("Even you, Brutus?") as the daggers come out. Then he adds, "Then fall, Caesar!" and dies. Nice of him to do play-by-play commentary on his own murder.
"Et tu, Brute?" isn't original to Shakespeare. The Bard probably borrowed it from another Elizabethan playwright, Richard Eedes, who used the line in his now-lost tragedy Caesar Interfectus. The line goes back to this Roman historian Suetonius, who notes that, according to some in the crowd, Caesar said "Kai su, teknon?" ("You too, my son?") when he saw Brutus. But Suetonius sides with Plutarch, who held that Caesar's last words were a surprised "Casca, you villain, what are you doing?" as the killers advanced on him. His reaction to seeing Brutus in the squad was to disappointedly pull his cloak over his face, but he didn't say a word.
So Caesar may have been completely silent during the attack. This might have been a soldier's stoicism, sure, but it also could have been the perfectly natural result of having a bunch of guys stabbing him twenty-three times, mostly to the neck and chest. I don't know if I would have thought of a pithy quote either.
Quick Quiz: : For legal reason, what famous cartoon bad guy was renamed "Brutus" in when he moved to television in 1960?
Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.