Et tu Brute?
As Blair and Brown slug it out behind the scenes, and their partisans line up for a more public fight, up-market journalists have gone back to their Latin. “Et tu Brute?” has been bandied about more than it has for decades. There’s no better slogan for being shafted by an erstwhile ally.
“You too, Brutus?” is what Julius Caesar is supposed to have queried when he spotted his friend Marcus Junius Brutus amongst the posse of senators pointing their daggers at him on the Ides of March. That’s if you print it with a question mark. Print it with an exclamation mark and it becomes more of a threat: “They’ll get you too, Brutus” (which, of course, in the end they did).
In fact, Caesar never said it.
“Et tu, Brute” is an invention of William Shakespeare. The chances are that Caesar died with no more than a scream and a groan. If he had the presence of mind to make any such remark, he made it in Greek (many elite Romans were effectively bilingual). His ancient biographers, Plutarch and Suetonius, both claim -- imaginatively I would guess – that he said “kai su, teknon?” or “You too, child?”.
This would give a rather different spin to the relationship between Blair and Brown.
Whether the assassination of Caesar has much to teach us about this particular political crisis is a moot point. The closest parallel is probably the fact that we know almost as little about what is really going on in Downing Street in 2006 as we know about what went on in the Senate House in 44 BC.
But, as always, rough political times do tend to see us reaching for the Classics. On television last night the plans for Blair’s departure were being dubbed “Cloud Cuckoo Land” (from Aristophanes comedy The Birds – referring to an impossible Utopia). And his whole farewell parade around the cities and television studios of the country has been repeatedly referred to as a Roman-style “triumph”. This was a lavish victory parade through the streets of the ancient city, an honour granted only, it was said, to successful commanders whose armies had slaughtered more than 5000 of the enemy. Some cynics will be tempted to say that Blair well qualifies.
Don’t imagine, though ,that Rome these days is only being dragged up to provide parallels for the final days of Consul Blair. At Robert Harris’s Imperium party, where fellow blogger Stothard and friends were taking a political turn, some of the more literary types were busy weighing up the merits of various adaptations of I Claudius.