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Let’s face it.  Nobody would give a rip about the ides of anything, much less the Ides of March, if it hadn’t been for William Shakespeare.  In his play Julius Caesar, he has the Soothsayer warn the doomed ruler, “Beware the ides of March.”  (I.ii.66) 

Though Shakespeare isn’t known for his historic accuracy, he pretty much got this one spot on.  There really was a Julius Caesar, he really had made himself dictator, he really wanted that position to be permanent, and there really were a bunch of people willing to kill him in order to stop that from happening.  And they did... well, at least they killed him.  (Handwerk)  Ironically, in trying to stop a dictatorship, Brutus and his cohorts actually started a civil war that led to the even worse dictatorship of Augustus.  (Ides of March)

From earliest time, before Shakespeare and Caesar, the ides of every month were sacred to Jupiter, the chief Roman god.  There were sacrifices and feasts and a good time was had by all, except maybe the sheep.  As well, in the old Roman calendar, before Pope Gregory mucked everything up, March was the first month of the year, with ceremonies lasting through the ides.  (Ides of March)  There was even a special goddess just for that day, Anna Perenna, the goddess of the New Year. (Gill)  Tied into all of that, the Ides of March pretty much became the equivalent of tax day, that day of the year when you paid your debts. 

“Ides,” which means “to split,” marked the middle of every month in the Roman calendar.  However, to put it always on the same day would make sense.  So in March, May, July, and October the ides fall on the 15th, and in every other month on the 13th.  (Handwerk)  It apparently took the Romans awhile to figure out that dates work better if you don’t base them on the moon.


In general, the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” has come to mean “Beware any Fateful Day,” which seems a bit redundant.  (Gill)  But should we really fear the 15th of March?  Aside from Caesar’s death in 44 BCE, the French began a brutal raid of Southern England on that day in 1360.  A cyclone in Samoa destroyed six warships and killed over 200 sailors in 1889 (although it may have prevented a war).  In 1917, on the 15th, Czar Nicholas II gave up his throne, which brought in the Bolsheviks and led to execution of the Czar and his family (including Anastasia).  In 1939 on the Ides of March, Germany occupied Czechoslovakia.  In 1941 at least 60 people died from a blizzard on the Great Plains.  In 1952, setting a new record for a single day, it rained 73.62 inches on the island of La Réunion, out in the Indian Ocean.  If that weren’t enough, in 1971, on the Ides of March, CBS cancelled “The Ed Sullivan Show,” which marked the beginning of the end for all variety shows.  Then in 1988 NASA first scared the bejeezus out of everybody by telling us the ozone layer was disappearing.  And in 2003 the World Health Organization issued a warning for SARS, a particularly nasty malady.  (Frail)  And let’s not forget the band “The Ides of March,” which had the hit song “Vehicle,” but nothing else.  Nor can we forget the 2011 film by that same name which starred George Clooney.  (Gibson)  So maybe we should truly beware the Ides of March.

 

Work Cited

Frail, T.A.  “Top Ten Reasons to Beware the Ides of March.”  4 Mar. 2010.  Smithsonian.com.  3 Mar. 2014.  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/top-ten-reasons-to-beware-the-ides-of-march-8664107/?no-ist

Gibson, Megan.  “Not Just Julius: The Many Meanings of The Ides of March.”  15 Mar. 2011.  Time NewsFeed.  3 Mar. 2014.  http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/03/15/not-just-julius-the-many-meanings-of-the-ides-of-march/

Gill, N. S.  “Beware the Ides of March! Julius Caesar and a Look at the Romans' Ides of March.”  2014.  About.com.  03 Mar. 2014.  http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/caesar1/g/idesofmarch.htm

Handwerk, Brian.  “Ides of March: What Is It? Why Do We Still Observe It?”  15 Mar. 2012.  National Geographic Daily News.  3 Mar. 2014.  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/03/120315-ides-of-march-beware-caesar-what-when-shakespeare-quote/

“Ides of March.”  27 Feb. 2014.  Wikipedia.  3 Mar. 2014.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ides_of_March