While March 15, the Ides of March, has taken on a modern-day meaning associated with foreboding and a sense of impending doom, just where did this phrase originate from?
The term Ides of March was originally derived from the Latin word idus, a term applied to the 15th day of March, July and October. In other months, it fell on the 13th day. The “ides” of a month was the halfway point and most probably referred to the day of the full moon. The term martii, which comes from the Latin word Mars (the Roman god of war), means “March.” Originally the Ides of March was a day of celebration dedicated to the god Mars.
But, how did a day of celebration morph into what we know it as today?
The Ides of March took on its more sinister connotations due to the assassination of Julius Caesar on this date in 44 B.C. Caesar, who was the Pope of Rome, had just been named by the Roman Senate to the position of dictator perpetuo, essentially making him the King of Rome. Along with Cassius and Brutus (Caesar’s son), about 60 Roman Senators who opposed this appointment conspired to murder him in order to prevent him from becoming their ruler. Altogether Caesar was stabbed 23 times at that fateful Senate meeting, with the final wound being said to have been dealt by his own son, Brutus.
The popular saying “Beware the Ides of March,” however, originated from William Shakespeare’s recounting of the event in his play Julius Caesar. In the play, Caeser says, “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.” In reply, a soothsayer tells him, “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar unfortunately fails to heed the soothsayer’s warning, going on to be betrayed by his son Brutus and Brutus’ co-conspirators in the Senate.
Another well-known quote which emerged from the play Julius Caesar is the famous Et tu, Brute (“Even you, Brutus?) which Shakespeare has him utter as he is being stabbed by his son. Today, this quote has taken on the meaning of being betrayed by a friend. The phrase “stabbed in the back” also has its origins in the assassination of Caesar.
In modern times, the Ides of March is not really celebrated as a holiday. Instead, thanks to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, it has become a metaphor for betrayal and falling victim to one’s fate. The association is so well known, in fact, that a film of the same name was made in 2011 starring Paul Giamatti, George Clooney and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film dealt with the theme of dirty politics on the campaign trail. Clooney played a presidential candidate while Hoffman portrayed his campaign manager in the drama. Gosling played an idealistic campaign worker who gets swept up in scandal as he seeks to help Clooney’s character win the election, proving perhaps that nothing has really changed in politics since Caesar’s time. It’s still a good idea to watch ones back.
By Nancy Schimelpfening