If you have ever been told to “beware the Ides of March”, you may be wondering what the phrase means and where it is from.
The saying comes from Shakespeare’s famous play Julius Caesar, and it has cemented itself in culture, becoming a warning of the doom and gloom that is experienced between 13 and 15 March.
The phrase was given to Julius Caesar on 15 March – the day he was assassinated by a group of rebellious senators led by Brutus and Cassius, who stabbed him to death after being warned by a seer.
Now, it has been largely associated with dark happenings which occur in the middle of March.
So, what are the Ides of March and how did a normal day in the calendar become associated with doom and gloom? Here’s a run down of what it means, where it originates from and how it’s cemented itself in culture.
What does ‘beware the Ides of March’ mean?
The phrase warns people to be wary, particularly of people within their immediate circles, around 15 March.
In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar the soothsayer emerges from a crowd to warn the Roman dictator with the now-famous words: “Beware the Ides of March.”
The act in the play, however, is based on real-world events. Julius Caesar was in fact stabbed to death in 44BC by a group of senators.
Historians also refer to the fact that Julius Caesar was warned of his impending death by a seer named Spurinna.
But Caesar ignored the warning, only to be stabbed in the back hours later by members of his state.
Since then, the 15 March has a dark and gloomy connotation which portrays the date as being cursed.
What does ‘Ides’ mean?
“Ides” refers to the first new moon of a given month, typically between the 13th and 15th.
Where does the word ‘Ides’ originate from?
Despite having a dark connotation, the Ides of March actually has a non-threatening origin story.
Romans used to mark specific days of the months on their calendar using three words to mark the lunar phases: “kalends,” “nones,” and “ides”.
“Kalends” refereed to the first day of the month, whilst “nones” was between the fifth and seventh of every month, depending on when the “ides” was on the calendar.
The Roman calendar was made up of different phases of the moon. “Ides” was the date of the full moon and generally marked the middle of the month.
So when is the Ide of the month?
The “Ides” therefore marked the middle of every month, usually between the 13th and 15th. It was not restricted to just March in ancient times.
In March, however, it falls on the 15th every year.
How has the phrase caught on?
Numerous TV shows and films have referenced the Ides of March with Shakespeare’s meaning in mind and often result in a dark and gloomy storyline.
Examples include the 2011 political drama The Ides of March, The Simpsons episode “The Ides of March,” and the Party of Five episode “The Ides of March” all deal with main characters facing betrayal or other consequences for not heeding the warnings.
In 2011, Columbia Pictures released The Ides of March, a movie about an idealistic campaign staffer (Ryan Gosling) who gets a harsh lesson in dirty politics while working for an up-and-coming presidential candidate (George Clooney). Unsurprisingly, a lot of backstabbing is involved.