March 14, 2009
This March 15 is the 2,053rd anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar. It’s a day known as “the ides of March”—and a day filled with foreboding for many.
In the ancient Roman calendar, the “ides” was the 15th day of March, May, July, and October and the 13th day of the other eight months. The ides was originally marked by a full moon.
The word “ides” (circa 1330) originates from the French “ides” and the Latin “idus,” meaning the eighth day after nones. Huh? Well, “nones,” in reference to the same Roman calendar, was the ninth day before the ides of each month, or the 7th day of March, May, July, and October and the 5th day of other months. The first day of each month was the “calends.” Seems unnecessarily complicated to me, but, then again, I wasn’t around 2,000 years ago, marking time by the moon.
In modern times, we rarely use the terms “ides,” “nones,” and “calends.” However, due in no small part to William Shakespeare, “the ides of March” has become a well-known metaphor for impending doom.
In his play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has a soothsayer utter the infamous line, “Beware the ides of March,” to Caesar. (I don’t know about you, but if someone who could predict the future told me to beware of a certain day, I sure as heck would lock my doors, call my bodyguards, and stay holed up inside all day. But not Caesar; he scoffed the warning.) On his way to the senate-house on March 15, foolish Caesar actually taunts the soothsayer, saying, “The ides of March are come.” To which the soothsayer sagely replies, “Ay, Caesar; but not gone.”
Well, as we all know, the soothsayer was right: Caesar didn’t live to see the end of March 15. Instead, a group of senators who claimed that he was trying to reinstate the monarchy stabbed him to death on that fateful day.
Now, whether you fear the ides of March or celebrate it—as a group of Italians do with a toga run through the streets of Rome—at least now you know a bit about its history and lore. So venture out at your own risk.