Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Beware the Ides of March?

Are there many English-speaking people who haven’t heard the famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, “beware the Ides of March,” when a soothsayer warns Caesar of this auspicious day? But while the ominous line is often-quoted, I’ve sometimes wondered about the context and origin of the line. 

Political intrigue was afoot during 44 B.C. when the Senate had declared Julius Caesar “dictator perpetuo” or as we would translate it, dictator for life. Concerns about Caesar becoming tyrannical, getting rid of the Senate, and being declared king all contributed to the fears of those who conspired against him, who were primarily Brutus and Cassius, magistrates in the Roman Senate. The plan was set for the Ides of March, the day of the meeting at which Caesar would possibly be made king. 

The Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini {PD}
But what are exactly the Ides of March, or in Latin, Eidus Martius? The ides were the midpoint of each month, around the 13th or 15th. In a longer month such as March it would be the 15th. If Latin words and Roman numerals weren’t confusing enough for us today, the Romans didn’t number the days on the calendar in sequential order, but counted backwards from three fixed points they referred to as the Nones, which were on what we would count on the fifth or seventh, the midpoint, or Ides, and the first day of the month or Kalends. 

Because the Roman calendar was based on lunar cycles, the midpoint, depending on the length of the month, indicated the time of the full moon. While Martius eventually became the third month, on the earliest Julian calendars, it was the first month. The Ides of March would be date of the first full moon of that year.

On that portentous Ides of March, in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar made his way to the Theater of Pompey for a meeting of the Senate, despite several warnings. In addition to the soothsayer, His doctors told him not to go for physical reasons, and his wife told him of her troubling dreams, then asked him not to attend. Yet, Caesar went, and joked with the soothsayer he met on the way that the Ides of March had come and nothing had happened. The soothsayer* warned him that the day was not yet over. 

Caesar arrived at the theater, was presented with a petition, and was then assassinated by stabbing. After Julius Caesar’s death, civil war led to the fall of the Republic and the  rise of the the Roman Empire, in simplified terms. 

Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar, 1802, {PD}
(illustrating a scene from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar)
While today the Ides of March is known for the assassination of Julius Caesar, previous to that it was the time of the religious observance of Anna Perenna, which concluded the celebration of the ancient Roman new year. It was a time of merrymaking for all classes in that culture. 
So . . . the Ides of March ushered in a new year or at least the end of the religious ceremonies pertaining to it, was the date of the first meeting of the Roman Senate each year, and the first full moon of the year. Perhaps Cassius and Brutus took all of these into account, according to their particular superstitions, when planning their attack. Regardless, the day is imprinted on history as a pivotal event.

And just what is today’s date according to the ancient Julian calendar? Would I count back from Kalends of the next month and wind up around the decimus of Martius? I don’t know, but I don’t think that I’ll be listing that or the Ides of March on my Google calendar this year! 

*Disclaimer: This is a Christian blog. As a Bible-believing Christian, I do not endorse the use of fortune telling in any way, shape, or form. I have alluded to soothsayers as part of Roman history and of the superstitions which Caesar adhered to. Also, this was the reference point for the quote from the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar.

Kathleen Rouser has loved making up stories since she was a little girl and wanted to be a writer before she could read. She desires to create characters, who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. Her first full-length novel, Rumors and Promises, was published by Heritage Beacon Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, in April, 2016.

Previously a homeschool mother of three, she more recently has been a college student and is sometimes a mild-mannered dental assistant by day. Along with her sassy tail-less cat, she lives in the Midwest with her hero and husband of 35 years, who not only listens to her stories, but also cooks for her.

Meida links:
Website: kathleenrouser.com 
Twitter: @KathleenRouser
Pinterest: https:/ /www.pinterest.com/kerouser/


  1. Your post reminded me that "there is nothing new under the sun." Political intrigue is always with us ... regrettably.

  2. Isn't that the truth, Stephanie?! Thanks for your comment. It's a good
    observation for sure!