Alea Iacta Est

Screen Shot 2017-01-08 at 11.48.13 AM.pngWhen he finished fighting the Gauls, when his command was terminated, when he himself was branded a traitor to Rome, Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), with his loyal army, came to Rome, announced, “The die is cast,” and crossed the Rubicon, entering Rome, defeating Pompey, winning the consulate, eventually making himself dictator for life, resulting in his assassination.

One of the most notable quotes in history, “The die is cast,” which in Latin is “Alea iacta est,”¹ was what Suetonius (c. 69-140), a Roman historian and biographer of emperors, claimed Caesar, who was returning with his armies in the year 49, reluctant to hand them over, said to his soldiers. Suetonius writes that Caesar, after apparently witnessing a deity cross the river, declared, “Let us accept this as a sign from the Gods, and follow where they beckon, in vengeance on our double-dealing enemies. The die is cast;”² similarly, the biographer Plutarch (c. 46-120), on writing of Pompey, writes, “For when he [Caesar] came to the banks of the Rubicon…. he merely uttered to those near him in Greek the words ‘Ανερρίφθω κύβος (let the die be cast),’ and led his army through it.”³

The quote itself denotes the point of no return, the crossing of lines, or in this case the Rubicon, which itself is an idiom (to cross the Rubicon), because Caesar, by going into Rome, with his army, past his military term, was putting his and his army’s lives in the hands of fate, of chance, as though it were a gamble, a roll of the dice. Used today, it usually does not involve a life or death scenario, though it can be used humorously or seriously, meaning that what one is about to do is irreversible, an act one cannot go back on, an act that can either end well or badly, entirely fortuitously.

 


¹’Ah-lee-uh     ‘yahk-tuh     est
²Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, p. 28
³Plutarch, Parallel Lives, p. 528 — ‘Anerriphtho kybos’

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