As Shakespeare’s Caesar said to the clairvoyant just moments before his death, “The ides of March are come.”
As Shakespeare’s Caesar said to the clairvoyant just moments before his death, “The ides of March are come.” Reuters

The Ides of March are upon us.

It sounds ominous, but there's nothing to worry about unless you're Julius Caesar, 2056 years ago.

On March 15, 44 B.C., writes the historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, the revered dictator of Rome was stabbed twenty three times by a conspiratorial group of friends and colleagues. He died on the Senate floor.

Before that fateful day, the ides of March was nothing more than a lunar event. 'Ides' marked the date of the full moon; on the Roman calendar, there was one every month. In March particularly, ides was often celebrated with a military parade to honor Mars, the god of war.

But conspirators against Julius Caesar, with a little help from Shakespeare, have given that particular date a significance that has lasted into modern times.

Julius Caesar rose to fame as a general and a statesman in the republic of Rome. But after winning a civil war in 45 B.C., he went on to assume the title of dictator in February of 44 B.C. -- and this made his friends, including Marcus Brutus, wary. They conspired to kill him for the sake of the Republic, but in the end their efforts were in vain; Caesar's legacy of centralized power was carried out by Octavian, who became Rome's first official emperor.

The phrase beware the ides of March was made famous by Shakespeare, who immortalized the great betrayal in his play Julius Caesar, first performed in 1599. In the second scene of the first act, a soothsayer, or clairvoyant, warns Caesar about his impending death while he and Brutus are walking in a public space.

Caesar: 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.

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.

Caesar: What man is that?

Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Caesar does not heed the warning, and days later finds himself cowering as his conspirators crowd around him with daggers drawn.

Speaking of politicians deposed, today is the day former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich heads to a prison cell in Colorado. It's also the day Bo Xilai, Communist Party secretary for the Chinese city of Chongqing, was suddenly fired despite rumors that he was slated to move up in the ranks during China's power transitions this fall.

Could this be a historical trend? Is today a day of reckoning for crooked politicians? We'll see as the hours unfold. As Shakespeare's Caesar said to the clairvoyant just moments before his death, The ides of March are come.

Ay Caesar, came the reply, but not gone.