SHOULD WE ‘BEWARE OF THE IDES OF MARCH’?

The month of March contains some events which to look forward, namely, St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th for those who enjoy being “Irish” for a day and the first full day of spring — the Vernal Equinox — on the 19th when you can try to stand a raw egg on its end that day.

But if you’re into observing and even celebrating all kinds of anniversaries you can circle several other memorial events on your March calendar. They include: Alexander Graham Bell’s birthday in 1847 on the 3rd and his patent for the telephone in 1876 on the 7th. Since March is the windy month, don’t forget to celebrate Chinook Wind Day on the 12th. And talking about birthdays earlier, you could celebrate Albert Einstein’s on the 14th. He would be the ripe old age of 141. The first book – the Gutenberg Bible – was printed on the 22nd in 1457 and the spoon was invented on the 23rd in 19,000 B.C.

Speaking of ancient dates, the first zoo was founded on the 27th in China in 2000 B.C. and “Respect Your Cat Day” is observed on the 28th in England by the royal edit of Richard II in 1384 condemning cat eating. Ugh!

But what about the “Ides of March,” which occurs on the 15th, and we’re warned to “Beware”? Even if you relied on Cliff Notes or something else to get through Shakespeare in English class, you probably have some memory of a soothsayer warning Julius Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.” First of all, to ask a practical question: What is/are Ides? And what exactly does “Ides of March” mean?

According to Wikipedia, the word is derived from the Latin verb iduare, which Scientific American defines as to divide. Ides bisect a month in the Roman calendar. Thus, the infamous “Ides of March” comes every year on March 15 and was a marker day used to divide the month into two. Months of the Roman calendar were arranged around three named days — the Kalends (first day of the month), the Nones (7th day in March, May, July and October; 5th in the other months) and the Ides (15th day in March, May, July and October; 13th in the other months). All these days were reference points from which the other (unnamed) days were calculated. Confused? Me too!

The expression “Beware the Ides of March” is first found in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1601. The line is the soothsayer’s message to Caesar, warning of his death. The Ides of March didn’t signify anything special in itself. In Shakespeare’s day it was just the usual way of saying “March 15th.” And since each month has an Ides (often the 15th), this date wasn’t significant in being associated with death prior to 1601. But on March 15 in 44 B.C., Shakespeare’s Caesar character was assassinated and so began its history as a day to lay low. The notion of the Ides being a dangerous date was purely an invention of Shakespeare’s.

(Note: Caesar didn’t “Beware the Ides of March,” and thus met his demise to the sharpened knives of literal and figurative backstabbers — including his best friend Marcus Brutus. Et tu, Brute?)

Although the brutally murdered Roman Emperor should have heeded warnings about the cursed “Ides of March” in 44 B.C., do we modern-day commoners have any cause for concern since the Ides of March just means the 15th of a month in the Roman calendar? According to the Farmer’s Almanac, in ancient times, the Ides of March also marked the first full moon of the year, which Romans celebrated with feasts and sacrifices in honor of the god Jupiter. So, unless you were livestock, the day was relatively inauspicious.

But even though it has been 2,064 years since Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. people are still wary of this fateful day. And, unfortunately, there have been some other momentous events that have occurred throughout history on March 15. For example:

Between 1918 and 1955, the Ides of March marked tax day in the United States

On March 15, 1938, Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia
In 1941, a blizzard killed more than 150 people in Minnesota and North Dakota

The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization issued warnings for SARS, a deadly type of pneumonia, in 2003

And in the vein of a Roman revolution, protests erupted in Syria on March 15, 2011, that led to the beginning of the country’s civil war

But, some good things have been known to occur on the Ides of March, too, including: the founding of Rolls Royce in 1906, President Lyndon B.

Johnson’s call for equal voting rights in a speech to a joint Congressional session in 1965 and the premiere of The Godfather in 1972.

While we don’t know if March 15, 2020, will hold any historical or wary events, one thing is for certain: The Ides of March will bring lots of Caesar salad puns. (Reportedly, Brutus also slipped some poisonous hemlock leaves onto Julius’ salad.) But you would have to be “Mad as a March Hare” to worry about the Ides of March. What does that phrase mean? Maybe next year.

Vince LaBarbera

Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer