Beware the Ides of March!


March is upon us and it is a beautiful month in many ways.  It is a month of hope, with spring beginning on it’s 20th day and with more daylight given to us in the evenings on it’s 11th day. Jonquils and other early bloomers begin their journey up from their winter sleep.

Why then would an age-old expression, associated with the month of March and warning of doom and gloom, come to us over 2056 years ago.  It still rears its head, even today and is something I would like to explore.

I am fairly certain that sometime in your life you’ve heard the expression, “Beware the Ides of March”, but did you ever bother to find out what “ides” are and why one should be beware of them?  Maybe you never really cared, and maybe you still don’t or maybe you are slightly interested and will let me take a few minutes of your time on this day to share some of my findings.

First of all, I can ease your mind about the “Ides”.  Believe or not the word “ides” simply means the middle of.  It is an ancient word, derived from a Latin phrase, that was used in the Roman Calendar. In simple terms, and in today’s vernacular, it meant something was going down in the middle of March. Their calendar also referred to the ides of July, August, and November, occurring on the 15th of each of those month along with a few other months, with their ides occurring on different days.

The first record of the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” was way back in the year 44 BC  when a soothsayer, as their fortune tellers were called, whispered the warning to Julius Caesar on his way to a Senate hearing. He told him of troubles in the middle of the month. But of course, Caesar being the almighty Caesar, ignored what the man said and did not heed his warning. 

Consequently, in the middle of March, precisely on March 15,  in the year 44 BC, a group of disgruntled Senators led by the infamous Brutus, stabbed Julius Caesar in the back 25 times, thus dubbing him as the original backstabber.

Before he passed on, Caesar took a long look at Brutus and asked that well-known question, “Et tu Brute? Et tu?”  Roughly translated it means, “You too, Brutus?”

The next time anyone paid any kind of public attention to that phrase or the phrase The Ides of March, was when Shakespeare wrote a little play in about the year 1600, and if  I remember my High School literature correctly, he just called it Julius Caesar.

Then again in 1948 a brilliant book was published, written by Thornton Wilder, a novelist and playwright, entitled “Beware the Ides of March.” It was an account of the last days of the collapsing Roman Empire and the final days of Julius Caesar. Wilder, born in 1897 in Wisconsin, was a very prolific writer.  He won the Pulitzer Prize 3 times and was one of the favorite authors of millions of readers around the world. 

And bringing it all up to date, we have, hot out of Hollywood, a great political thriller entitled “Ides of March”. It is the story of the age-old rivalry in Congress, between the ultra liberals and the ultra conservatives.  It is a movie written, directed and performed by George Clooney and is based on a screen play called Farragut North. George was also nominated for a few Oscars for his work on this film.

March 6th is super Tuesday, the big day for many of the still pending Republican Primaries and, while it is not exactly the middle of March, it is close enough for politics and horseshoes and could again mean there is trouble in the middle for someone.  We shall see if George should have tacked the word “Beware” to the title of his movie.

I am sure there have been other times in the past when someone has warned “Beware the Ides of March” and no doubt there will be more “middles of the month” in the future where a warning to someone should be given.  These are but a few of the most notable from the past.

Do you have “Ides of March” stories to share?

Don Langrehr

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One Response to Beware the Ides of March!

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s so interesting to find out the origins of commonly used phrases and expressions. Thanks for another great story!

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