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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beware - It's the Ides of March.

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 turned 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. 
Casca:      Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar. 
Caesar:     What sayst thou to me now?  speak once again.
Soothsayer:     Beware the ides of March.
Caesar:     He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

~William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar, Act I, Sc. 2) 

       On the fateful day, Shakespeare's protagonist encounters the soothsayer again:

Caesar:    The ides of March are come.
Soothsayer:     Ay, Caesar, but not gone.

~Ibid., Act III, Sc. 1) 

Caesar:    Et tu, Brute?  Then fall, Caesar!

The corpse was still lying where it had fallen, abased and stained with blood - that of a man who had marched west to the British Isles and the Ocean,and intended to march east to the thrones of Parthia and India, so that they too might be made subject to a single empire and all land and sea be governed from one capital; but no one dared to remain and recover his body.  Those of his friends who were present had fled, those who were outside were hiding in their houses; or changed their clothes and departed for the countryside and the nearby towns. 

~Nikolaus of Damascus (fl. ca. 40-20 B.C.)*
(Universal History, fragment) 

(Today is the Ides of March - notionally, in the Roman lunar calendar, the day of the full moon that marked the midpoint of the month.**  It was on this date in 44 B.C. that Julius Caesar was assassinated by a conspiracy headed by Marcus Junius Brutus and Quintus Cassius Longinus, who feared Caesar's growing power in the Roman Senate.  The most famous portrayal of the events of that infamous date 2,066 years ago is found in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, based largely on Sir Thomas North's 1579 English translation of Plutarch's Lives and likely first presented at the Globe in the summer of 1599.  There, the Bard has Marc Antony saying - famously -
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interrèd with their bones. 
So let it be with Caesar..." ***) 

*  N.B.  Nikolaus of Damascus was a Greek historian who befriended Herod the Great and Augustus Caesar, Julius's nephew, heir, and later Roman emperor.  This excerpt from his fragmentary Universal History is believed to be the earliest account of Caesar's murder.
**  In the Julian calendar (reformed in 46 B.C.), the "ides" were the 15th days of March, May, July, and October - and the 13th days of all the other months.  From 222 until 154 B.C., the ides of March was the day on which the new consuls of the Roman Republic entered office.  The Romans did not number days of a month sequentially from the first through the last day. Instead, they counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st) of the following month. The Ides occurred near the midpoint, on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th for March, May, July, and October. The Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, reflecting the lunar origin of the Roman calendar. On the earliest calendar, the Ides of March would have been the first full moon of the new year.

Until 1955, U.S. federal income tax returns were due on 15 March, adding to the sinister connotations of that date. 

***   After the Roman people were aroused against the conspirators by Marc Antony, Brutus and Cassius fled to Syria and in 42 B.C. were defeated by Antony and Octavian at the battle of Phillipi.  This left the way open for Octavian to seize power and - as Caesar Augustus - become the first Roman emperor. 

From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step:

Julius Caesar the Highly Condensed Version

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