Whether from a Hollywood film, a television series or an English literature class, we've all heard the ominous warning: "Beware the Ides of March."
The dire sounding phrase was immortalized by English playwright William Shakespeare when he penned the words into the script of "Julius Caesar"in 1599. In the iconic play, a soothsayer shares the warning with Julius Caesar as he travels to the Roman capitol in 44 B.C. Then, shortly later, on March 15 – or the Ides of March – the dictator is brutally stabbed to death by a group of politicians in the Roman Senate.
The warning, now associated with the murder, has echoed across time and remains a prominent cultural reference today.
However, the Ides of March hasn't always been associated with a sense of foreboding and dread. In fact, Ides was simply the Latin word for the midpoint of the month. Along with Kalends and Nones, Ides was an ancient marker used to reference dates in conjunction with phases of the Moon.
Ides merely referred to a month's first full moon, which generally occured around the 13th or 15th. But the first full moon of March was especially significant to the ancient Romans, at least until Julius Caesar came along and changed things. The middle of March was long celebrated as New Year's, but two years before his death, Caeser decided to change it to January.
Perhaps such a dramatic change sealed his fate, bringing the chaos that followed.
Although its likely only coincidence, it's also no secret that some really awful things have happened on March 15 over the past centuries. Some more superstitious people have even suggested that Julius Caesar's untimely death, which is seen by many historians as the effective end of the Roman Republic, forever cursed the day.
With such a bloody history, the Ides of March sits firmly within our collective cultural consciousness as a date of which to be wary.
As a result, references have appeared regularly in popular television shows and movies. Back in 1995, the Ides of March was featured prominently in episodes of “Party of Five”, “Xena Warrior Princess” and “The Simpsons”. The plots centered around tragic death, feared execution and inevitable downfall.
More recently, in 2011, Ryan Gosling and George Clooney starred in the political drama film “The Ides of March”. The story focused on an idealistic campaign staffer (Gosling) who worked for an up-and-coming presidential candidate (Clooney). With a lot of intrigue and figurative backstabbing, the film can be seen as a sort of allegoric depiction of Julius Caesar's death.
Although the film was nominated for a range of Academy Awards, and was mostly well-received by critics, it failed to win in any category. Bad luck, coincidence or fate?
Tragic things will likely continue to happen on the Ides of March, and many will go on viewing the date with suspicion. Others will just shrug it off as another bad day. Whether March 15 is truly cursed or it's all a silly superstition, you'll have to judge for yourself.
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