Thanks to Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” has become something of a common saying. But why? And was Shakespeare correct in the date and depicting the events of Julius Caesar’s death?
The answer is “yes” to both, even the bit about the Soothsayer warning Caesar about the “Ides of March” and Caesar dismissing the warning as a bunch of nonsense (which he didn’t live to regret).
But what IS the Ides of March?
The Ides of March marks the anniversary of Julius Caeser’s murder on March 15, 44 BC, by 60 of his senators at the age of 55. It is also marks the halfway point in the month of March (the “divide” in English or “Ides” in ancient Roman).
Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of senators shortly after being declared Dictator Perpetuus or “dictator for life” (the main reason why they killed him).
He was stabbed 23 times (clearly some of them weren’t trying very hard, but really, they didn’t need to with that many stab wounds already inflicted) as he sat in his golden chair at the Senate, with the fatal wound landing on his breast.
The Roman historian Suetonius wrote: “He was stabbed with three and 20 wounds, uttering not a word, but merely a groan at the first stroke, though some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek, ‘You too, my child?’ (Et tu, Brute?)
Fun facts about the Ides of March (unless you were an ancient Roman, or Caesar himself):
- In Roman times the Ides of March was mostly notable as a deadline for settling debts. (Nicely ironic)
- March 15 was the original Roman New Year, before Julius Caesar changed their calendar (two years before his assassination) to the Georgian calendar and made January 1 the new, New Year.
- According to Plutarch, a seer had warned that harm would come to Caesar no later than the Ides of March. On his way to the Theatre of Pompey, where he would be assassinated, Caesar passed the seer and joked, “The Ides of March are come”, implying that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” (To those familiar with Shakespeare’s play, you will see that he actually used these exact lines in the text – why reinvent the wheel when such great dialogue actually happened?)
- The Roman biographer Suetonius, collaborates this story and identifies the “seer” as a haruspex named Spurinna.
- “The Ides of March” has entered popular culture in a massive way with songs, plays, films and more including or using the phrase in some way, including Alan Fletcher & The Waiting Room’s hit “So Wrong” which includes the phrase “The Ides of March are calling” (just in case anyone doubted how much of a Shakespeare geek Fletch truly is! 😉 ) By the way, you can buy a digital copy of the single here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/so-wrong-single/268097811. See all of Fletch’s music here … plug, plug … pardon the pun 😉
So … beware the Ides of March … good excuse to stay home today, watch all our amazing content available online and eat chocolate … just saying … 😉