“Beware the Ides of March”

Vincenzo Camuccini, "Morte di Cesare", 1798,In Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Caesar,” a soothsayer repeatedly warns Rome’s all-powerful dictator, Julius Caesar, to “Beware the Ides of March,” a date that the soothsayer suggests could be injurious to Caesar’s health.

And so, in the morning hours of the Ides of March (March 15) in 44 B.C., that very same Julius Caesar stood outside of Rome’s Pompey Theatre feeling healthy as a horse and a bit smug. Spotting the soothsayer, Caesar says to him contemptuously. “Well, soothsayer, the Ides of March are come.”

“Aye, Caesar,” the soothsayer replies in one of literature’s great rejoinders, “but not gone.”

Minutes later Caesar lay in a pool of blood, having been stabbed to death by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Caius Cassius Longinus.

Today is the 2058th anniversary of the emperor’s assassination by his own Senate. the Ides of March. But there’s no need to be on guard.

Julius Caesar probably should have been. But then, he blew off the soothsayer who told him to “beware the Ides of March” in the first act of Shakespeare’s play.

ides-cartoon2You might remember from English class that things didn’t go so well for him.

Out in the Twitterverse, posters are using #idesofmarch as a way to remember actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a drug overdose last month. Hoffman was in George Clooney’s convoluted 2011 political drama “The Ides of March.”

Though Bridget Hughes had one of the best tweets so far: “Note to self: On Saturday March 15th, order a Caesar salad, lure it into a false sense of security, then stab it 23 times #IdesofMarch

All because of a line dashed off 415 years ago.

What if Shakespeare’s soothsayer had simply said, “Watch a month from now!” Would anybody remember the line?

“Ides of March” has a better ring to it. And yet all it means is “halfway through the month.”

Ides comes from an old Latin verb iduare, which meant to divide. It was the Roman term for the day that came in the middle of each month.

Every month has an Ides. March had 31 days, so the Ides of March is on March 15.

Julius actually got several warnings. Later on in the play there’s a big storm. To find out what it means, he sends a servant to get priests to sacrifice animals and read the omens in their entrails.

Their message is even clearer: Don’t go out.

In best horror movie fashion he ignores them and, like an idiot, goes out.

So it’s no surprise when Brutus and some other conspirators waylay him on the steps of the Capitol and stab him to death.

But unless it’s 44 B.C., you’re a Roman Consul and ignoring omens right and left, you should be just fine on Saturday.


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