From games of chance in which the outcome is determined by the throwing of dice or a single die. Popularized by its use by Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon to begin a civil war in the Roman Republic, indicating the commission of an irreversible act, whence also cross the Rubicon.
The form “the die is cast” is from the Latin iacta alea est, a mistranslation by Suetonius, 121 CE, of the Ancient Greek phrase of Menander «Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος» (anerriphtho kybos), which Caesar quoted in Greek (not Latin). The Greek translates rather as “let the die be cast!”, or “Let the game be ventured!”, which would instead translate in Latin as iacta alea esto.Historical details
- Caesar: ... "Iacta alea est", inquit.
- Caesar said ... "the die is cast".
Originally stated by Caesar in Ancient Greek as «Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος» [script?] (anerriphtho kybos), as reported by Plutarch:
- Ἑλληνιστὶ πρὸς τοὺς παρόντας ἐκβοήσας, «Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος», [anerriphtho kybos] διεβίβαζε τὸν στρατόν.
- He [Caesar] declared in Greek with loud voice to those who were present ‘Let the die be cast’ and led the army across.
Caesar in turn was quoting Menander, his favorite Greek comic dramatist, specifically “Ἀρρηφόρῳ” (Arrephoria, or “The Flute-Girl”), as quoted in Deipnosophistae, Book 13, paragraph 8.
Suetonius’s much-quoted and much-translated translation of the Greek (as reported by Plutarch) is apparently incorrect – according to Lewis and Short , the phrase used was a future active imperative, “let the die be cast!”, or “Let the game be ventured!”, which would instead translate in Latin as iacta alea esto.