The Ides of March

“Beware of the [amazon_link id=”0060088907″ target=”_blank” ]Ides of March[/amazon_link]” is a commonly heard [amazon_link id=”0738712779″ target=”_blank” ]superstition[/amazon_link]. It’s a day to remember that your “[amazon_link id=”B000H6SXMY” target=”_blank” ]friends[/amazon_link]” may yet be the cause of your downfall.

The Ides of March is well-known today in part due to [amazon_link id=”B003YJFAFO” target=”_blank” ]William Shakespeare’s [/amazon_link]play [amazon_link id=”0743484932″ target=”_blank” ]Julius Caesar[/amazon_link]. The play begins during the [amazon_link id=”1905047959″ target=”_blank” ]Feast of Lupercal [/amazon_link]usually celebrated on February 15th. Caesar is walking around town with a group of Roman Senators including Mark Antony who is completely naked. There is music playing and a celebratory atmosphere.

[amazon_link id=”0140449345″ target=”_blank” ]Plutarch[/amazon_link] described the Feast of Lupercal: “At this time many of the noble youths and magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

Directly before the following passage, Caesar instructs his barren wife, Calpurnia to stand “directly in Antonio’s way when he doth run his course” so that she may “shake off” her “sterile curse” (Act I, Scene II, lines 5-11.)*


Ha! Who calls?

Bid every noise be still. Peace yet again. (This is the 2nd time [again] that the music is stopped.)
[Music Ceases]

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turned to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

What man is that?

Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Set him before me; let me see his face.

Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
[The Soothsayer comes forward.]

What sayst thou to me now? Speak once again.

Beware the ides of March.

He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass! (14 – 26)*

It is clear that Caesar does not believe the [amazon_link id=”B00092PDPG” target=”_blank” ]fortune-teller [/amazon_link]who tells him to beware of the future date of March 15th; Caesar walks or passes right by dismissing both the man and his prediction.

The second warning comes in Act II, Scene II when Calpurnia tells Caesar of all of the “warnings and portents” that have been reported to her. She tells Caesar, “You shall not stir out of your house today” (9) however, Caesar’s (false) associates persuade him that Calpurnia’s [amazon_link id=”044669603X” target=”_blank” ]dream[/amazon_link] is actually a positive sign and he acquiesces, saying that he is ashamed that he yielded to her fears.

Act III, Scene I begins with Caesar saying jokingly to the Soothsayer, “The ides of March are come.” The Soothsayer replies, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone” (2)* Soon after this exchange, Caesar is murdered.

In the [amazon_link id=”0715633015″ target=”_blank” ]Roman Calendar[/amazon_link], the term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months. The term ides comes from the original Roman calendar, which is said to have been devised by [amazon_link id=”0865166919″ target=”_blank” ]Romulus[/amazon_link], the mythical founder of Rome.

The Roman calendar organized its months around three days, each of which served as a reference point for counting the other days:
•Kalends (1st day of the month)
•Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months)
•Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months)

Approximately one year before his death, Julius Caesar established the “[amazon_link id=”1931956766″ target=”_blank” ]Julian calendar[/amazon_link],” which continued to use the confusing system of Kalends, Nones, and Ides. His calendar style was in general use in Europe and Northern Africa until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII spread use of his [amazon_link id=”B000WDPEDI” target=”_blank” ]Gregorian calendar[/amazon_link]. Reform was required because too many leap days were added with respect to the [amazon_link id=”0387789553″ target=”_blank” ]astronomical seasons[/amazon_link]. The Gregorian calendar was adopted by most Catholic countries (e.g. Spain, Portugal, Poland, most of Italy). Protestant countries followed later, and the countries of Eastern Europe adopted the “new calendar” even later. In the British Empire (including the [amazon_link id=”0142002100″ target=”_blank” ]American colonies[/amazon_link]), Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752.

So now you know that the ides of March is just another day on the calendar and is nothing to be superstitious about!

*This text and all of the following quoted text is taken from [amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005


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