The feared and revered 15th of March seems always make people a bit more cautious than usual. And I guess it’s rightly so. Julius Caesar was murdered on this day in 44 B.C. He was slaughtered by the very group of men he knew and surrounded himself with daily. This group of men thought that by removing the lifelong Dictator of Rome, they would bring back the prosperity and growth of the Roman Republic. The complete opposite fell upon them soon after Caesar’s death and their plans crumbled into nothing and only assist in weakening and then crushing the once proud Republic.
The worst of the betrayals were by two of his closest friends and advisors Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. The very two men who Dante even includes in his Inferno (found in the ‘Center of Hell’ section). Dante shows them as residing in the Center of Hell right along with Judas. Because of their betrayal, they will forever by chewed on by Lucifer in Hell.
William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar played with the events that lead up to this historic moment in time and what happened a bit past Caesar’s death. One of the most dramatic lines I’ve read from Shakespeare has to be the famous “Et tu, Brute?”. This is mostly because after reading the play I got to watch the live reenactment that came out in 1953 – yes, the old school black and white one. Anyway, the actor who played Caesar says everything even the acting cues. So when he turns around after being stabbed 33 times, he looks at Brutus and says “Et tu, Brute? The falls Caesar” then collapses on the ground in an obvious fake death style. I just cracked up when I saw this for the first time and it still makes me laugh a little whenever I feel the need to watch something Shakespeare.
Despite the dramatics and entertaining acting, in this play we see Shakespeare do what he does best works word magic that stays throughout the years. Shakespeare, ever the master with words, manages to coin the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” thanks to this play. A little history fact on the word ‘Ides:’ it was once used as a marker for the first full moon of a given month and to some a beginning of a new year. It was seen more as a day of celebration and merriment than unluckiness and fear. The fact the Shakespeare was able to take this ancient word, Ides, and change it into representing a single day. That is power!
So without thinking of the Soothsayer’s statement as warning, he is telling us to watch out for the first full moon of March and perhaps don’t get into too much trouble during the celebrations of the new year. No wonder there wasn’t a big hullabaloo over the warning. It would be like our parents telling us to be careful when we are out celebrating on New Year’s Eve. We know that we have to watch ourselves and be attentive to those around us, but they let us know either way because they care.
The thought of Shakespeare taking this once jovial and lucky word then forever pairing it with its’ complete opposite is stunning. I wonder if the author new how much power his words and influence would have on things in the future when he was writing his plays. Did he simply go with it because it sound foreboding and great together? Or perhaps he was making his own mark on the ancient word and wanted us to look at the entire thing as a change over of a new year and see Caesar dying as that turn over moment in time? Shakespeare is an author that I can read one time and get one understanding and then read again at another point in my life and see an entirely different meaning.
So I’ll ask you then: When you hear ‘Beware the Ides of March,’ what do you think about? Do you think back to the historic moment of Julius Caesar dying? Do you remember having to read the barely understanding Shakespearean play Julius Caesar? Or Did you know about the history of the Ides and think about how ironic it is that we use that word in such an opposite fashion then it was once used?