The Ides of March

Growing up, we loved quoting Shakespeare, especially around the dinner table. The song of the witches in Macbeth is one of my favorites. Seriously, Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog. Too much fun. But when March comes around, Shakespeare’s famous line in Julius Caesar is what comes to mind: Beware the Ides of March.

Certain dates can have fun meanings. For example, today is March 14 or 3.14 – PI Day. There’s also May 4th or Star Wars Day; May the Fourth be with you. October 4th is another fun date: 10-4. March 15th, however, isn’t a notable day because of the numbers that make up its date, but rather because it is the middle of March.

Two years prior to his death in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar changed the calendar. It is a marvel to me that someone could literally change the way we count days, months, and years. That is exactly what Julius Caesar did. He added ten days to calendar, switched New Year to January 1, and instituted Leap Year.* Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why some of his Senators turned on him.

 

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Picture courtesy of Pexels

Prior to that date change, the calendar centered around the lunar calendar. March 1st began the new year with a new moon or Kalends. The Ides of a month always meant the middle of the month, when a full moon filled the sky.* The month was one of celebration, new beginnings, and the onset of Spring. Some of Easter’s celebrations come from the celebrations around this time of year, but more on that in another post.

 

So why has March 15, or the Ides of March, become one of danger and warning? Because that is the date Julius Caesar was assassinated. Prior to his death, a soothsayer, or prophetess, warned him his death would occur shortly. Shakespeare’s famous line comes from that event.

The soothsayer was correct. On March 15, Senators who opposed Julius Caesar surrounded him, stabbing him multiple times. They hoped the people would join them in their revolt, but Julius Caesar had done much good for his people. The coup failed and Octavian became the new leader, renaming himself Caesar Augustus.** That name brings up quite a bit more history we won’t talk about here.

Thanks to Shakespeare’s play, written in 1599, we have a window into a significant moment in world history. While the play is not a perfect history of the event, it has given us sayings that remind us of the importance of certain day in March, the man who died that day, and the impact he had on the world.

So, next time you’re wondering about a certain date, remember that Julius Caesar is the reason the dates fall as they do. And next time you worry about the chaos of a full moon, be grateful that the calendar change means the full moon doesn’t always fall on the 15th of every month. In fact, this year, it’s a new moon on the 17th.*** But, just to be sure, heed the soothsayer’s warning, watch out tomorrow and Beware the Ides of March.

Notes:

* History.com, “What are the Ides of March”

** National Geographic, “44 BCE: Julius Caesar Assassinated”

*** Moon Phases 2018

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