Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beware the Ides of March


The Ides of March March 15. William Shakespeare wrote in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 13–24 that Caesar best beware the Ides of March. And it was The Ides of March in 44 B.C. that Caesar was stabbed to death at a meeting of the senate. Led by Brutus and Cassius, as many as 60 conspirators including senators had a hand in the death of Caesar who was stabbed 23 times.

But what informed Shakespeare that Caesar beware the Ides of March and just what are the Ides? First let's look at Shakespeare's famous passage.

Soothsayer:     Caesar!   

Caesar:            Ha! who calls?   

Casca:             Bid every noise be still: peace yet again!   

Caesar:            Who is it in the press that calls on me?        
                        I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
                       Cry "Caesar!" Speak; Caesar is turn'd to hear.   

Soothsayer:     Beware the ides of March.   

Caesar:           What man is that?   

Brutus:           A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.   

Caesar:           Set him before me; let me see his face.   

Cassius          Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.   

Caesar:          What say'st thou to me now? speak once again.   

Soothsayer:    Beware the ides of March.   

Caesar:          He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.



Shakespeare's research into the assassination of Julius Caesar would have led him to an English translation of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. Also known as The Parallel Lives or Plutarch's Lives the collection also includes the Life of Julius Caesar.

In Plutarch's description, a seer (whom Shakespeare would call a Soothsayer) had warned Caesar "to take heed of the day of the Ides of March." Caesar happening upon the seer on the 15th joked that, "The Ides of March have come," and that he was still alive. The seer, according to Plutarch replied, "Aye, Caesar; but not gone." The Roman historian, Suetonius would later identify the seer as the Roman senator and haruspex Titus Vestricius Spurinna.

As for the Ides...the Ides were one of three points in a Roman month. Sandwiched between the Nones and the Kalends the Ides were determined by the full moon and in March the Ides falls on the 15th.