Beware the Ides of March

 

Caesar: The ides of March are come.
Soothsayer: Ay, Caesar, but not gone.
— Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1.

The word ides is derived from the ancient Roman calendar and comes from the Latin idus, which, as Oxford explains it, means “a day falling roughly in the middle of each month (the 15th day of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th of other months) from which other dates were calculated.”

In the beginning of Shakespeare’s excellent play, Julius Caesar has this premonitory exchange with the soothsayer:

Soothsayer: Caesar!

Caesar: Ha! who calls?

Casca: Bid every noise be still: peace yet again!

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: Set him before me; let me see his face.

Cassius: Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.

Caesar: What say’st thou to me now? Speak once again.

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.

Caesar: He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

— Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2.

The soothsayer, as you know, is soon vindicated.

And yet, as Nabokov noted, it’s not for his stories that we primarily love Shakespeare, but rather:

“The verbal-poetical texture of Shakespeare is the greatest the world has ever known, and is immensely superior to the structure of his plays as plays. With Shakespeare, it is the metaphor that’s the thing, not the play.”

There are 42 comments.

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I’m glad you reminded me while there still is time. I usually take Shakespeare’s advice and take precautions on the Ides of March, but this year I forgot (until now).

    • #1
  2. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    I was thinking about posting something about Shakespeare and Julius Caesar and whether the play is too opposed to his assassination.  I don’t mean to diminish the play’s many virtues, but I don’t like the historical Caesar (and I really hate Marc Antony).

    • #2
  3. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    You know he died in a rented toga? Brutus made a rent, Cassius made a rent….

    • #3
  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    He was a master of rhetoric, but that’s a poor example of it.

    It’s a better example of his dramatic sense because Caesar’s betrayer is there to hear the supernatural warning as well. A director might even have Brutus fetch the soothsayer for Caesar (“Set him before me”).

    • #4
  5. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    DocJay (View Comment):
    You know he died in a rented toga? Brutus made a rent, Cassius made a rent….

    Et tu Doc?

    Who let the dogs out?

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #5
  6. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Yeah, but is there a cocktail?!

    • #6
  7. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    DocJay (View Comment):
    You know he died in a rented toga? Brutus made a rent, Cassius made a rent….

    bah! Such gadzookery, Jay.

    • #7
  8. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    DocJay (View Comment):
    You know he died in a rented toga? Brutus made a rent, Cassius made a rent….

    Do we start with the Roman jokes?

    A Roman walks into a bar, holds up two fingers and say “five beers, please.”

    A Roman walks into a bar and says “I’ll have a martinus.” The bartender says, “Don’t you mean a martini?” The man replies “if I wanted a double, I would have asked for one.”

    Seawriter

    • #8
  9. jzdro Member
    jzdro
    @jzdro

    Ray Harvey:

     

    Ceasar: The ides of March are come.

    Soothsayer: Ay, Caesar, but not gone.

    — Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1.

     

    We have a saying: The day’s not over yet!    People say that on surviving some crisis or crises in the workday, and wishing to signal continued vigilance and awareness of how nasty Fate can be.

    I’d always thought it purely a subliminal desire to avoid tempting Fate. Now it seems more than that: literary inheritance, modified over time. What an interesting thought!  Thank you, @rayharvey.

     

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    • #10
  11. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    The whole Roman system of numbering days of the month seems absurdly complex:

    The day preceding the Kalends, Nones, or Ides was Pridie, e.g., Prid. Id. Mart. = 14 March. Other days were denoted by ordinal number, counting back from a named reference day. The reference day itself counted as the first, so that two days before was denoted the third day. Dates were written as a.d. NN, an abbreviation for ante diem NN, meaning “on the Nth (Numerus) day before the named reference day (Nomen)”,[21] e.g., a.d. III Kal. Nov. = on the third day before the November Kalends = 30 October. The value two was not used to denote a day before the fixed point, because second was the same as pridie. Further examples of date equivalence are: a.d. IV Non. Jan. = 2 January; a.d. VI Non. Mai. = 2 May; a.d. VIII Id. Apr. = 6 April; a.d. VIII Id. Oct. = 8 October; a.d. XVII Kal. Nov. = 16 October.

    • #11
  12. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    The whole Roman system of numbering days of the month seems absurdly complex:

    It kept the Greeks and Etruscans from figuring out what day the Romans planned to attack, though.

    Seawriter

    • #12
  13. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    He was a master of rhetoric, but that’s a poor example of it.

    It’s a better example of his dramatic sense because Caesar’s betrayer is there to hear the supernatural warning as well. A director might even have Brutus fetch the soothsayer for Caesar (“Set him before me”).

    I like your comment, but I don’t entirely agree that this is a poor example. There are better, to be sure, but I must say, I don’t regard this as poor.

     

    • #13
  14. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    The whole Roman system of numbering days of the month seems absurdly complex:

    It kept the Greeks and Etruscans from figuring out what day the Romans planned to attack, though.

    Seawriter

    And that’s no small thing. ;-)

    • #14
  15. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    The whole Roman system of numbering days of the month seems absurdly complex:

    The day preceding the Kalends, Nones, or Ides was Pridie, e.g., Prid. Id. Mart. = 14 March. Other days were denoted by ordinal number, counting back from a named reference day. The reference day itself counted as the first, so that two days before was denoted the third day. Dates were written as a.d. NN, an abbreviation for ante diem NN, meaning “on the Nth (Numerus) day before the named reference day (Nomen)”,[21] e.g., a.d. III Kal. Nov. = on the third day before the November Kalends = 30 October. The value two was not used to denote a day before the fixed point, because second was the same as pridie. Further examples of date equivalence are: a.d. IV Non. Jan. = 2 January; a.d. VI Non. Mai. = 2 May; a.d. VIII Id. Apr. = 6 April; a.d. VIII Id. Oct. = 8 October; a.d. XVII Kal. Nov. = 16 October.

    Whoa!

    • #15
  16. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    Percival (View Comment):

     

    Friend, that may be the best thing I’ve seen all day.

    Thank you.

    • #16
  17. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    jzdro (View Comment):
    I’d always thought it purely a subliminal desire to avoid tempting Fate. Now it seems more than that: literary inheritance, modified over time. What an interesting thought!

    Thank you, @jzdro, for your beautiful explication, which is more eloquent by far than anything I could muster.

    • #17
  18. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    DocJay (View Comment):
    You know he died in a rented toga? Brutus made a rent, Cassius made a rent….

    Do we start with the Roman jokes?

    A Roman walks into a bar, holds up two fingers and say “five beers, please.”

    A Roman walks into a bar and says “I’ll have a martinus.” The bartender says, “Don’t you mean a martini?” The man replies “if I wanted a double, I would have asked for one.”

    Seawriter

    Ha-ha-ha!

    I’ve never heard either of those, you son-of-a-gun.

    • #18
  19. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    MLH (View Comment):
    Yeah, but is there a cocktail?!

    My friend, there’s always a cocktail.

    (I recommend the Carpet-Licker)

    • #19
  20. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I’m glad you reminded me while there still is time. I usually take Shakespeare’s advice and take precautions on the Ides of March, but this year I forgot (until now).

    I’m glad you, sir, took the time to read my scribbles.

    Thank you for dropping by.

    • #20
  21. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    DocJay (View Comment):
    You know he died in a rented toga? Brutus made a rent, Cassius made a rent….

    How dare you make me spit coffee all over my computer screen!

    • #21
  22. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):
    I was thinking about posting something about Shakespeare and Julius Caesar and whether the play is too opposed to his assassination. I don’t mean to diminish the play’s many virtues, but I don’t like the historical Caesar (and I really hate Marc Antony).

    The historical Caesar had his points: He was smart. He had some class. He ate and drank with his foot-soldiers, and by all accounts, his soldiers did love him. Yes, I know: he overthrew the Senate and became dictator — which I don’t countenance — but let us not forget either how utterly corrupt the Senate had become.

    He was far better than Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero — not saying a lot, I know, but it’s something.

    • #22
  23. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Ray Harvey (View Comment):
    He was far better than Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero — not saying a lot, I know, but it’s something.

    What was so wrong with Augustus?  I thought as benevolent dictators go he was one of the more benevolent, that the Empire was peaceful and prosperous under his rule.

    • #23
  24. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Ray Harvey (View Comment):

    MLH (View Comment):
    Yeah, but is there a cocktail?!

    My friend, there’s always a cocktail.

    (I recommend the Carpet-Licker)

    I’m kinda  afeared to click on the link. . .but here goes. . .
    . . .looks like a waste of a perfectly good glass of wine (not your video, the aforementioned cocktail).

    • #24
  25. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Ray Harvey (View Comment):
    He was far better than Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero — not saying a lot, I know, but it’s something.

    What was so wrong with Augustus? I thought as benevolent dictators go he was one of the more benevolent, that the Empire was peaceful and prosperous under his rule.

    He wasn’t too bad. I once read that he wouldn’t even come out of his tent during battles because he was either superior or cowardly, and I admit that’s always tainted my opinion of him.

    I also didn’t like that, as I also once read, he let his power-hungry wife influence him a lot.

    But you’re point is well-made and well-taken: Augustus ruled during Rome’s hay-day, and it was a period of relative peace.

    • #25
  26. Ray Harvey Inactive
    Ray Harvey
    @RayHarvey

    MLH (View Comment):

    Ray Harvey (View Comment):

    MLH (View Comment):
    Yeah, but is there a cocktail?!

    My friend, there’s always a cocktail.

    (I recommend the Carpet-Licker)

    I’m kinda afeared to click on the link. . .but here goes. . .
    . . .looks like a waste of a perfectly good glass of wine (not your video, the aforementioned cocktail).

    That’s a bastardized Carpet-Licker if ever I saw one!

    Everyone knows a true Carpet-Licker is enjoyed primarily for its rent-down-the-middle — not unlike Caesar’s toga, come to think of it.

    • #26
  27. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Ray Harvey (View Comment):
    He wasn’t too bad. I once read that he wouldn’t even come out of his tent during battles because he was either superior or cowardly, and I admit that’s always tainted my opinion of him.

    I seem to recall from the History of Rome podcast that he was rather frail, and was once confided to his tent by a rather severe illness, which his enemies claimed was just an excuse to cover up his cowardice.

    In any case there’s little doubt Caesar was a better general than Augustus.

    • #27
  28. David Carroll Thatcher
    David Carroll
    @DavidCarroll

    Ray Harvey (View Comment):

    MLH (View Comment):
    Yeah, but is there a cocktail?!

    My friend, there’s always a cocktail.

    (I recommend the Carpet-Licker)

    Shouldn’t the cocktail be an Irish whiskey minus two?  Not sure how you concoct that….

    • #28
  29. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    David Carroll (View Comment):

    Ray Harvey (View Comment):

    MLH (View Comment):
    Yeah, but is there a cocktail?!

    My friend, there’s always a cocktail.

    (I recommend the Carpet-Licker)

    Shouldn’t the cocktail be an Irish whiskey minus two? Not sure how you concoct that….

    But if you  are drinking it, you survived the ides. No need to subtract anything!

    • #29
  30. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    In any case there’s little doubt Caesar was a better general than Augustus.

    No doubt. But Augustus stabilized the whole show after the ruinous wars; Rome could get back to business again. Caesar would have been a fine dinner companion, and if he’d had time he probably would have given Rome all sorts of nice shiny things – paid for by expropriated property, of course. There’s a whiff of Chavez that comes off the fellow.

    • #30

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