Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Let the Die Be Cast

Robert Renehan, Greek Textual Criticism: A Reader (Cambridge: Harward University Press, 1969), pp. 54-55:
Another proverb found in Menander (frag. 59.4 Koerte), though certainly not original with him, is ἀνερρίφθω κύβος. Aristophanes (frag. 673 Kock) shows a variation of it: φράζε τοίνυν, ὡς ἐγώ σοι πᾶς ἀνέρριμμαι κύβος. There is no doubt that ἀνερρίφθω κύβος was, as Koerte calls it, a "proverbium notissimum." Appian (BC 2.35) and Plutarch (Pompey 60, Caesar 32) both state that Caesar exclaimed ἀνερρίφθω κύβος at his famous crossing of the Rubicon. Plutarch is quite explicit. In his Life of Caesar he states: τοῦτο δὴ τὸ κοινὸν τοῖς εἰς τύχας ἐμβαίνουσιν ἀπόρους καὶ τόλμας προοίμιον ὑπειπὼν "Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος" ὥρμησε πρὸς τὴν διάβασιν; and in his Life of Pompey he states: καὶ τοσοῦτον μόνον Ἑλληνιστὶ πρὸς τοὺς παρόντας ἐκβοήσας, "Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος," διεβίβαζε τὸν στρατόν. The following facts thus appear: (1) ἀνερρίφθω κύβος was a common saying uttered before (προοίμιον) undertaking a risky and doubtful venture; (2) Caesar's terse comment at the Rubicon was made (a) in Greek (b) before he crossed the stream. He was in fact quoting a Greek proverb of common currency. Suetonius, in his Divus Iulius 32, gives us the story in Latin dress; the MSS read
tunc Caesar: "eatur," inquit, "quo deorum ostenta et inimicorum iniquitas vocat. iacta alea est."
Strictly speaking the "die was not cast" until after Caesar crossed the Rubicon; iacta alea est is slightly illogical. But this distinction must not and need not be pressed. It is clear from the evidence presented above that Suetonius, who certainly knew the famous story, is here translating the Greek proverb ἀνερρίφθω κύβος; the Greek has a perfect imperative and Suetonius rendered it by a Latin perfect imperative: iacta alea esto. est of the MSS is nothing but a trivialization of the commonest sort. The rare perfect imperative corrupted to a familiar perfect indicative. Centuries ago the great Erasmus conjectured iacta alea esto; the general reluctance of editors of Suetonius to this day to print esto is incomprehensible to me. Lest there be any who, pace Plutarch, do not think that the perfect ἀνερρίφθω κύβος can be said of an act not yet begun, I give here a larger extract from the Menander fragment cited above:
A.                              οὐ γαμεῖς, ἂν νοῦν ἔχῃς,
τοῦτον καταλιπὼν τὸν βίον· γεγάμηκα γὰρ
αὐτός· διὰ τοῦτό σοι παραινῶ μὴ γαμεῖν.
B. δεδογμένον τὸ πρᾶγμ᾿· ἀνερρίφθω κύβος.
A. πέραινε, σωθείης δὲ κτλ.
Here are translations of some of the passages cited by Renehan.

Aristophanes, fragment 673 Kock = 929 Kassel and Austin (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
Tell me, then, since I'm your last cast of the dice.
Plutarch, Life of Caesar 32 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
And uttering the phrase with which men usually prelude their plunge into desperate and daring fortunes, "Let the die be cast," he hastened to cross the river.
Plutarch, Life of Pompey 60 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
And calling out in Greek to the bystanders these words only, "Let the die be cast," he set his army across.
Menander, fragment 59 Koerte = 64 Kassel and Austin, lines 1-5 (tr. Maurice Balme):
A. You will not marry, if you've any sense,
And leave your present way of life. Myself,
I'm married; that is why I tell you not to.
B. It's all decided. Let the die be cast.
A. Go on, then; and I hope you'll survive.
Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar 32 (without Erasmus' conjecture; tr. J.C. Rolfe):
Then Caesar cried: "Take we the course which the signs of the gods and the false dealing of our foes point out. The die is cast."

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