March 14, 2017

The Ides of March

The Death of Caesar
Detail, The Death of Caesar, Vincenzo Camuccini, 1798.

The Ides of March corresponds to the date on the ancient Roman calendar of March 15th. The idea of the Ides of March and the expression"Beware the Ides of March", were popularized by William Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar. In the play, a soothsayer ominously declares to Emperor Caesar: "Beware the Ides of March." To which Caesar unmoved replies: "He is a Dreamer, let us leave him."

The Romans of Caesar's day imbued the "Ides," i.e: the 15th and 13th of various months with almost mystical power as consequential periods of time. The word Ides derives from the Latin word meaning "to divide." The Ides originally marked the full moon, but due to calendar months and lunar months each being different lengths, they quickly grew unsynchronized. March 15th, became a Roman holiday of sorts occasioned by various festivals and both official and private observances.

"It was Casca who gave him the first blow with his dagger, in the neck, not a mortal wound, nor even a deep one, for which he was too much confused, as was natural at the beginning of a deed of great daring; so that Caesar turned about, grasped the knife, and held it fast. At almost the same instant both cried out, the smitten man in Latin: "Accursed Casca, what does thou?" and the smiter, in Greek, to his brother: "Brother, help!"

So the affair began, and those who were not privy to the plot were filled with consternation and horror at what was going on; they dared not fly, nor go to Caesar's help, nay, nor even utter a word. But those who had prepared themselves for the murder bared each of them his dagger, and Caesar, hemmed in on all sides, whichever way he turned confronting blows of weapons aimed at his face and eyes, driven hither and thither like a wild beast, was entangled in the hands of all; for all had to take part in the sacrifice and taste of the slaughter. Therefore Brutus also gave him one blow in the groin. And it is said by some writers that although Caesar defended himself against the rest and darted this way and that and cried aloud, when he saw that Brutus had drawn his dagger, he pulled his toga down over his head and sank, either by chance or because pushed there by his murderers, against the pedestal on which the statue of Pompey stood. And the pedestal was drenched with his blood, so that one might have thought that Pompey himself was presiding over this vengeance upon his enemy, who now lay prostrate at his feet, quivering from a multitude of wounds. For it is said that he received twenty-three; and many of the conspirators were wounded by one another, as they struggled to plant all those blows in one body."

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