The Ides of March

The Ides of March

The Ides of March

Ides of March
Detail of The Death of Julius Caesar (1804-05) by Vincenzo Camuccini, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome

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

The Ides of March is the name on the Roman calendar for the 15th day in the month of March, however it is most famously remembered as the day of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C.E. This fateful and ominous day was immortalized by William Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar.

The soothsayer says to Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March!” Shakespeare was perhaps basing this on a true story: Plutarch wrote that a seer warned Caesar that he would be killed before the Ides of March, on his way to the theatre of Pompey. In the same year of his assassination, Caesar was named dictator for life by the senate. This marked a culmination of his political reforms, which granted him more power over the empire. Unfortunately for Caesar, the Senate became wary of his increasing power (even though they had granted it to him), fearing that he wanted to overthrow the Senate to become the sole ruler of Rome. Thus, a conspiracy to assassinate Caesar was executed by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus, and other senators.

In Shakespeare’s play, upon seeing his friend Brutus among the conspirators, Caesar laments: Et tu Brute? His disbelief that his own close friend would do such a thing characterizes the sense of confusion and chaos in the play. This fits with the ominous nature of the Ides of March, for as Plutarch wrote, it is a time when the sea gives in to chaos and the full moon rises to bring high tides. As Caesar’s death is thought to have been the beginning of the end for the Roman Republic, the Ides of March has become a mysterious and ominous day in our minds.

Article by C. Arbagey