At our staff meeting the other day, we brainstormed about news story ideas for the March 16 issue. I piped up and said: “Beware the ides of March.”
The famous phrase generated only a little bit of discussion. Since the Friday, March 16, issue falls after the official “ides,” there was not much point in dedicating a weekend news story to it.
But it got me to thinking, because I use the saying every year: Do people even know what I’m talking about?
The phrase itself, “Beware the ides of March,” comes to us from the greatest and most famous author to grace the English language.
It was William Shakespeare in “Julius Caesar,” who wrote this line in Act 1, Scene 2. In the play it is delivered by none other than Marcus Brutus, of “Et tu, Brute?” fame.
Those lines were written 413 years ago.
That is staying power.
I read “Julius Caesar” in high school. An eccentric English literature teacher, Mr. Thompson, introduced my class to the likes of Oedipus and his eye-gouging conch shells. Then we met the great thane, Beowulf — my teacher mused aloud about Grendel tearing apart freshmen. Mr. Thompson enjoyed enthusiastic assassination re-creation fun when it came time for Julius Caesar to get whacked — on the “ides of March.”
To this day I mimic that teacher’s sinister “Bewaaaare the ides of Maaaarch” delivery, every March.
Ides of March is not Shakespearean poetic license. The term comes from the Latin root, idus, meaning half. In the ancient Roman empire the middle of each month was observed as a marking point in the calendar system. In March it was marked as a big holiday in honor of the god Mars, the month’s namesake.
The ides fell on the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and (OK, I had to look up this part on Wiki) the 13th day of the other months.
Roman historian Plutarch wrote about Julius Caesar more than 100 years after the great dictator’s murder in 44 A.D. Plutarch wrote that Caesar was warned by a soothsayer (today we’d call them psychics) who predicted he’d be attacked “before the ides of March” was over.
Before the day was out, conspiring Senators including Brutus stabbed Caesar to death.
William Shakespeare picked up the historic tidbit and made it his own, 1,644 years later. In Shakespeare’s theatrical version, Brutus uttered the line first, simply passing along the soothsayer’s prediction. Brutus later ensured the prophecy.
It’s odd, the things that stick with you. I have that teacher to thank — and my own poetic license — for mental images of a mythical Greek king serving his own eyeballs up on the halfshell, for Beowulf ripping off Grendel’s arm and beating him to death with it. Thanks to Mr. Thompson each March 15 brings me a high school flashback.
At our news staff meeting, we came neither to bury Caesar, nor to praise him. But he gave me something to talk about.
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