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Ides of March

The experiences we have growing up and the exposure we have to history, culture and people heavily shape what is significant to us. For example, to me March 15th has for as long as I can remember been the Ides of March not just another day in early spring. I’ve long known (at least high level) what it was and why people say “beware the Ides of March” but many people in my social circle and family look at me with a blank expression when I mention it.

I’ve been blogging consistently and long enough now that experiences throughout my day trigger the impulse to write or at least to make note to write about something later. Much the same way I see paper and I imagine it as Origami or that I choose to impulsively video things for my 1 second a day video and imagine hiding a geocache nearly every place I visit. As such creative writing ideas occasionally infiltrate my dreams and I woke up this morning thinking not only that I should discuss the Idles of March but that I had already done it. Imagine my dismay when reality set in and I realized my work still lay ahead.

So first, what the heck is an “Ides”? In short it is the middle day in a month... ok, well sort of. The Romans did not number each day of a month. Instead they counted from fixed points in the month namely the Nones, the Ides and the Kalends (full disclosure I had to look the other two up). The Nones were either on the 5th or 7th of the month and basically were calculated as 9 days before the Ides. The Ides were either the 13th or 15th of a month and the Kalends were the 1st of the following month. Originally the Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, reflecting the lunar origin of the Roman calendar. In the earliest calendar, the Ides of March would have been the first full moon of the new year.

There is a great deal of information explaining why and how these were used online that I wont repeat here but needless to say it was way of measuring days in ancient Rome. This leads to the second question, why should we care that it is the Ides of March? In 44 BCE on the 15th of March Julius Cesar was assassinated on the floor of the Roman senate by an estimated 60 Senators led by his "friend" Marcus Junius Brutus.

Painting by Vincenzo Camuccini found in the Glasgow Museum and shared under Creative Common license

This is famously depicted in the Shakespeare play “Julius Caesar” where a soothsayer warns the Roman dictator that harm would befall him by the Ides of March. On March 15th as Cesar made his way to the Senate he passes the seer saying “The Ides of March have come” as if to say he was wrong. The fortune teller responds, “Aye, Cesar but not gone”. This exchange has long been cemented in my memory as I played the role of the Soothsayer in the 8th grade play at St. Regis Catholic School. A small role but for a shy kid it was nerve racking none the less.

Another notable exchange occurs directly after Cesar is stabbed when he turns to see his friend Brutus among the assassins saying, “Et tu Brute?” This Latin phrase translates to “You too Brutus?” I’ve often quoted this swapping Brutus for the name of a friend or family member who has unexpectedly joined in to tease me or who seized an opportunity in a board game at my cost. I mean it all in good fun but often it’s lost on them and explaining it takes away the humor of the moment.

Here is hoping that everyone has a peaceful (and safe) Ides of March.


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