Monday, March 14, 2011

Beware Of The Ides Of March!

That line "Beware of the Ides of March," is a pithy line and people remember it, even if they don't know why. Who said it? Why? And what does it mean? Hopefully this blog will answer those questions.

That line was made popular in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar by a soothsayer warning of impending danger to Julius Caesar.

The soothsayer tells Caesar who is already on his way to the Senate (and his death), "Beware the ides of March." Caesar replies, "He is a dreamer, let us leave him. Pass." The Roman ruler, Julius Caesar, was assassinated on the Ides of March - March 15, 44 B.C.E.

According to Plutarch's (a biographer and an historian) account of the story written in 75 A.D., the unidentified soothsayer was a Roman astrologer by the name of Spurinna. It was reportedly sometime prior to the fateful day of March 15 that Spurinna had first given Caesar the famous warning to "beware of the Ides of March." The astrologer, Spurinna, had previously warned Caesar that on the Ides of March, he would be in great danger. If, however, Julius Caesar took care on that one day - then all would be well.

According to Plutarch, Caesar had previously made the wise decision to stay within the safety of his bedroom chambers on the 15th of March. However, Caesar's "friend" Decimus (Albinus) Brutus (not Marcus Brutus) managed to convince him that the astrologer's warnings were nothing more than superstitious foolishness. So Julius Caesar decided to attend the Senate on the 15th of March. On his way to the Senate, Caesar "accidentally" met up with the astrologer, Spurinna. Caesar then told the astrologer "The Ides of March are come." Spurinna answered, "Yes, they are come, but they are not past." Later that day - on March 15, 44 B.C.E - Caesar's enemies assassinated him in the Pompey theater, at the foot of Pompey's statue, where the Roman Senate was meeting that day in the temple of Venus.

Et tu Brute
"Thou, too, Brutus!" Julius Caesar's exclamation when he saw that his old friend, Marcus Brutus (85-42 BC), was one of his assassins. "Does my old friend raise his hand against me?"

What Are the Ides?

In the ancient Roman calendar, each of the 12 months had an "ides." In March, May, July and October, the ides fell on the 15th day. In every other month, the ides fell on the 13th.

The word "ides" was derived from the Latin "to divide." Ides just means the middle of the month according to the Roman calendar.

Basic Roman Calendar

The Kalends
fell on the first of each month
The Nones were on the 5th or 7th (depending on the month) and
The Ides fell on the 13th or 15th, again depending on the month.

The Romans did not count days of the month from 1-30, but rather the day before the Nones of March or the Day before the Ides of April.

In the case of April, the day before the Ides would be what we call April 12, because the Ides of April (unlike March) fall on the 13th.

The date was never spoken in the past, as in the day after the Ides. It was always in relation to the upcoming of the 3 days. April Fool's Day was The Kalends of April.

The Roman Calendar is basically broken down as follows:

The Kalends:
March 1, April 1, May 1, June 1, July 1, August 1, September 1, October 1, November 1, December 1, January 1, February 1

The Nones:
March 7, April 5, May 7, June 5, July 7, August 5, September 5, October 7, November 5, December 5, January 5, February 5

The Ides:
March 15, April 13, May 15, June 13, July 15, August 13, September 13, October 15, November 13, December 13, January 13, February

So for example, if your birthday fell on November 21 in the Roman calendar it would be ten days before the Kalends of December.

And so, it was the Ides of March in 44 BC, that Julius Caesar was betrayed by friends and murdered in the streets of Rome.

Until that day Julius Caesar ruled Rome. The traditional Republican government had been supplanted by a temporary dictatorship, one that the famous leader very much wished to make permanent.

But Caesar's quest for power spawned a conspiracy to have him killed, and on March 15 a group of prominent Romans brought him to an untimely end in the Senate House. He was 55 years old.
Of all the lines in the play, "Beware of the Ides of March" seems to be the one most people remember, followed closely by (or perhaps surpassed by) "Et tu, Brute?"

I hope this blog has helped you as much as it has helped me to know the meaning of that popular phrase.

Until we meet again...

This is Raven- as the crow flies!


  1. Et Tu Raven... it seems the the Ides of March have found you to.. there is more blogging by you this month than any other.. so beware of the times of march as they are fast taking their hold on you!!

  2. Et tu were up very early. I'm happy you read the blog. The Ides of March are upon us!!! See you the day after the Ides of March.

  3. Thanks to Sparrow I must say I will see you on the 16th day before the Kalands of April, not the day after the Ides of March.

    Sure glad we don't have to count days like that anymore.