It all started with a prophecy from a soothsayer and the assassination of Julius Caesar. “Beware the Ides of March” may mark March 15, but there is more to the date than one death.
The saying and “Ides of March” will be forever associated with William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar.” In act 1, scene 2, a soothsayer calls out to Caesar as he walks with Antony, Brutus, Cicero, Cassius, Casca, Portia and others. The soothsayer only speaks the ominous phrase “Beware the Ides of March” to Caesar, with Brutus restating, “A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.” Unbeknownst to Caesar, Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus were the leaders of a conspiracy to assassinate the Roman dictator.
Shakespeare’s soothsayer was based on "Plutarch’s Lives,” a collection of biographies of influential Greeks and Romans. An English translation of Plutarch’s work was published in 1579 by Sir Thomas North. In the translation, a soothsayer had warned Caesar to beware March 15 but as he walked to the senate on that day, the dictator told the soothsayer that the day had come but nothing had happened to which the soothsayer replied, “Yes, they are come, but they are not past.”
Caesar was stabbed to death on March 15, 44 B.C. and the Ides of March has become synonymous with the assassination of the Roman dictator. While many will remember the soothsayer’s words another popular quote from Shakespeare’s plays are Caesar’s last words, “Et tu, Brutus?” to his friend-turned-traitor.
The Ides itself marks the 15th or 13th day of each month and Romans celebrated March 15 with the Festival of Anna Perenna, a Roman goddess of the year, which featured plenty of drunken debauchery and a carnival-like atmosphere.
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The Festival of Anna Perenna would mark the first full moon of the Roman calendar. March’s full moon for 2014 falls on Sunday so it won’t be a perfect Ides of March.