Cave, Caesar!

Today is the Ides of March, according to the ancient Roman calendar. It is perhaps most famous as the date in 44 B.C. on which Julius Caesar was assassinated. Ironically, the eponymous Julian Calendar, devised by Caesar or at his direction, went into effect in Rome the year before his death.

In the previous calendars, the Ides appear to have been used to designate the full moon, and fell on the 13th day of the month except for May, March, July and October, which fell on the 15th of those months. The Kalends, from which our word “calendar” is derived, was the 1st of each month – the new moon, and the Nones was eight days before the Ides, that is the 5th or the 7th depending on the month. Since the moon cycles roughly every 29.5 days, Caesar’s calendar, which had 12 months of 30 or 31 days except for February which had 28 with one added for correction every four years, meant that the phases of the moon ceased to synchronize with the days of the month most of the time. These names remained in use for some time, however.

Thanks to Shakespeare’s drama Julius Caesar, the Ides of March is familiar to most of us. In the play, a soothsayer warns Caesar of that date on the Lupercalia, a holiday in February, and later on the actual day, but Caesar dismisses the warning both times, and goes to his fate. Shakespeare’s drama is based on Plutarch’s biography of his title character and that of Marcus Brutus, who is actually the tragic protagonist of the story, in his Parallel Lives, (available in a translation by John Dryden around 1683 at this link.

The play is based on facts as they have come down to us – with dramatic license, of course. Shakespeare had access to an earlier translation that read in English “take heed of the day of the Ides of March.” Not dramatic enough for the Bard; he phrased it more poetically as “Beware of the Ides of March.”

Not quite as scary as that day one month hence, but it is the day our corporations must file their tax returns in the good old U.S.A.

A recent political thriller film “The Ides of March” was released last August 2011. In the film, the date is that of a fictional Ohio Presidential Primary. I watched it on DVD early last month, but do not recommend it. It has few redeeming values other than a fairly competent cast.

Anyway, don’t fear going the Capitol today. Unlike in Caesar’s day, we have metal detectors. Only the occasional mad legislator can bring a weapon in. But, hey, they don’t need guns and knives. They do enough damage with some of the idiotic laws they pass.

Cheers!

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