Beware the Ides of March!

Beware the Ides of March!
Most likely all of you have heard of the "Ides of March," but do you know what the "Ides" means?

"Is it a misspelling of the explosive devices that have wounded or killed so many of our boys in Iraq?" Phyllis wanted to know.

"No," I answered. "That's an I.E.D. (improvised explosive device), and it's not the same."


"Well what is it then?" she asked.

"Okay, I'll tell you�� even though you didn't have Latin in high school," I replied. "You didn't read Willy Shakespeare either."

So I proceeded to give her a history lesson, although it's been many long years since I studied that dead language or was forced to read the bard's writing.

First of all, the word "Ides" dates back to the Roman calendar which preceded the Julian calendar we now use. It comes from the Latin word meaning "to divide," and so it stood for the 15th of the Month in March, May, June and July. The rest came on the 13th. So there were lots of "Ides."

Actually, the Roman calendar was supposedly created by the mythical Romulus, said to be a founder of the Italian city. There were 12 months and each was divided into three parts ("in partles tres"): kalenda (the first day of the month, nones (the 7th day in March, May, July and October) and ides (the 15th). The other days were designated by counting from them. In Roman numerals yet!

It was a lousy arrangement and didn't last long – but Julius Caesar lived during its time.

Are you with me yet?

Shakespeare made the term popular when he used it in his play, Julius Caesar. It seems Caesar had a warning from a soothsayer named Titus Spurinna "to look out for the Ides of March," so he heeded the tip and stayed home that day. But then a buddy told him the warning was all baloney and he should go out to the Senate anyhow.

It is said that his wife had a dream in which he was killed and begged him not to go, but he poo-pooed that, too.

Well, the upshot was that he went anyway, and that's when it happened. A group of senators attacked him and stabbed him to death so he wouldn't name himself king. They wanted the republic to continue and not a monarchy. The murderers included his distant cousin, Marcus Brutus, a central figure in Shakespeare's play. That led to the expression of "et tu, Brute?" ("And you, too, Brutus?")

Of course, there were lots of other things involved. Some said that he had epilepsy and allowed himself to be murdered so that he was spared the indignity of seizures as he grew older. Others claimed he misunderstood the date, and he thought it was the Ides on the 13th and thus he avoided the astrologer's warning.

There you have it: my memories of high school classes a long, long time ago! Bessi Burgi and Helen Burgess would be proud to know that I remembered the stuff they taught me – but I also got some help from Google!

© 2007 Robert F. Karolevitz

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