“Et tu, Brute,” is one of those phrases we know, even if we don’t know why. Another one is “Beware the Ides of March.” What is the Ides of March and why should we beware it? In Chapter 21 of ORIGINS, we take a look at the what, why, and how behind this famous March phrase.
Phrases can become so commonplace that we either forget or don’t know their ORIGINS. In chapter 19, we discovered the phrase “Pleased as Punch” referred to the popular puppet from the Middle Ages characterized in the Punch & Judy Show. In chapter 21, we will explore the phrase “Beware the Ides of March.”
Many of you may already know that this phrase was invented and made popular by the father of literature, William Shakespeare. In his play, Julius Caesar a soothsayer utters these ominous words to the tyrant emperor forewarning him of his death. Somehow, they took on a life of their own implying portentous, gloomy messages from the unknown. A supernatural coloring shades these words, but their root is actually in Latin. In the Roman calendar, lunar phases were noted as the Kalends (new moon), the Nones (first quarter moon), and the Ides (full moon). The Kalends fall on the first of every month of the year. So from this point forward, you can wish everyone a Happy New Kalends, if you like, on every January 1. The Nones alternate between the 5th and the 7th of each calendar month, much in the same way as the Ides, which flip flop between the 13th and the 15th.
So what’s the significance of the Ides of March? Well, nothing, when you really get down to it. Bill thought it was the perfect day for an assassination by a traitor (“Et tu, Brute?). And why not? Werewolves come out with the full moon. Vampires are affected by the moon phases. It just makes sense to have a lunar reaction that induces murder. That is where we get the term “lunatic” from: the belief that changes of the moon bring forth intermittent insanity. Still, this phrase has become an omen of bad luck and bad things to come. Party of Five, Xena Warrior Princess, and even the Simpsons have utilized the phrase in connotation of bad things to come (Lisa even plays the soothsayer…you should check that episode out). Ryan Gosling and George Clooney starred in the film Ides of March in which Gosling experiences the world of dirty politics complete with metaphoric backstabbing, a clear reflection of Shakespeare’s introduction of the term in Julius Caesar.
Is that all there is to this phrase, a darkened box on the calendar rendered as fact from a playwright’s edited word choice? Historically, the ominous nature of the Ides of March has been proved true on many occasions making the question of ‘does life reflect art or does art reflect life’ contentious. Let’s take a look at historically significant moments that have fallen on the Ides of March.
Julius Caesar himself may have darkened this date when he moved the Roman New Year from March 15th to January 1st just two months before his assassination in 44 B.C. Perhaps the date itself formed in darkness and the verbalization in Shakespeare’s permanent warning started the clock. Is it magic or spells; incantations that have become damning to the date? Words have power and who else besides God and the prophets have written more powerfully then Shakespeare? His words have shaped lives and stories and storytelling for hundreds of years.
The Ides of March, 1360, brought forth a raid on southern England to include a 48-hour rape, pillage, and murderous spree so heinous that King Edward III abandoned his own killing spree in France to deal with these Ides-lunatics.
In 1889, a Samoan Cyclone destroyed three warships belonging to the U.S. and Germany, taking the lives of more than 200 soldiers. Occurring on the Ides of March, the date could be to blame. Or it could have been the vengeful act of Maui, played by Samoan star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Debate is still out as to blame the demi-god or the ominous date.
In 1917, on the Ides of March, Czar Nicholas II abdicated his 304-year dynasty on the throne to usher in Bolshevik rule in Russia. This decision led to the death of both the Czar and his family by firing squad in 1918. Can the Ides be blamed for Communism? And more importantly, without the Ides, would we have ever experienced the sheer joy and pride of Rocky IV? In this case, if the Ides is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. I’ll deal with a dictator as trade if it ultimately produces Rocky IV. Speaking of dictators, in 1939 the Ides was to blame for the essential extinction of Czechoslovakia, after the country’s initial succession six months prior.
The Blizzard on the Great Plains turned deadly during the Ides of March, 1941. On a Saturday night, families huddled close as winds and ice beat down on their homes, killing at least 60 in North Dakota. What began as a light evening snowfall—a commonplace sight during winter in the plains—turned disastrous. Couples strolled the town square, families went out for dinner, and the homeless hunkered down for any other Saturday night. A blanket of fresh snow wasn’t stopping anyone. But out of nowhere, the Ides flipped the switch pushing down the arctic air of the icy north in angry gusts. Like hammering thunder, the 60-mile per hour winds rumbled and shook everything in their path, making this storm a killer. But the Ides wasn’t through with nature. In 1952, a 24-hour rainfall broke records over the island of La Réunion with 73.62 inches of rain! It seems the Ides prefers to mess with precipitation when it comes to the call of nature. Good to know.
After 23 years on the network, the Ed Sullivan show was cancelled in 1971 on…you guessed it: the Ides of March. I know it’s not a blizzard or even an overthrown government. But come on…Ed Sullivan? He was, like, a comedy genius. Without Ed, there would be no Richard Pryor, which means no “The Toy” and no remake of “Brewster’s Millions” one of my favorite films. This is a catastrophic handout by the Ides, in my opinion, who I’m gonna blame for the cancellation of Red Skeleton and Jackie Gleason too, even though those shows were cancelled in February. Maybe the Groundhog’s to blame for those two cancellations. But we’ll save the Groundhog and other anthropomorphic creatures for a later podcast.
Aqua Net helped my curling ironed bangs retain their shape in elementary school. Then one day, the Ides of March struck, and my hair has never been the same. On the Ides of 1988, NASA reported the ozone was depleting over the Northern Hemisphere three times faster than originally expected, and I was told it was my fault. Well, me and every other girl of the 80s who teased their hair and sprayed it in place. How in the world a bottle of hairspray overpowered the ozone is still beyond my comprehension, what with cows farting in greater number than “Hair Bands” going on tour. But I’m not a scientist and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, so we’ll just drop the ozone convo altogether.
As if the Ides hadn’t done enough, in 2003 Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS was discovered by healthcare workers and patients in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, and Vietnam. This resulted in a global heightened health alert and the exponential sale of those tiny masks that go over your nose and mouth. This one seems a bit uncharacteristic of the Ides to me, but again, I’m no scientist.
Today, the Ides has found its way to establish a place in modern culture. The band The Ides of March released their only hit song “Vehicle” in 1970. In 1990, the group reformed (not sure why) to rehash their songs in the oldies market. Somehow, they scored eternal radio play of their song “Vehicle” on every Ides of March at some radio station. That’s some good marketing right there. In Rome, an annual toga run is performed by a “drinking group with a running problem” called Hash House Harriers (sounds like there’s more than drinking and running going on by their name). The group acts out the death of Caesar, shares a meal, and enjoys a pub crawl, all in the comfort of their bed sheet togas. I guess that makes sense if you drink till you pass out. Another modern-day twist on the Ides of March are the infamous Brides of March. You heard right. Women dress in thrift store wedding gowns—white only because they’re all virgins, of course—and march in a parade before enjoying a pub crawl in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, Arizona, Austin, and several other locations where chapters have been founded.
Another March holiday grounded in tradition is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated on March 17th. An Irish tradition, it commemorates the death of St. Patrick in 461 C.E. and always falls on Lent. Similarly, the Tuesday before Lent is known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Both are based in a mixture of religion and lore, both include copious amounts of drinking and partying, and both are associated with extraordinarily delicious delicacies specific to their host holiday. Not quite as ominous as the Ides of March, but close neighbors of the date nonetheless.
Is it possible for a date to hold power over time and space? Should you beware the Ides of March, and if so, how? Let’s take a closer look into the top five causes of death and make a pact that we won’t do any of them on the Ides of March.
- Choking – With approximately 2,500 deaths per year from choking, particularly children, this is an easy one to avoid. Make it a goal to fast on the Ides of March. If you’re diabetic or just can’t do it for 24 hours, avoid hot dogs, the number one choking hazard ever, plus the following:
- balloons, marshmallows, gooey gel candies, grapes, nuts, chewing gum, carrots, chunks of meat and peanut butter, apples, hard, round candies and small toys (https://listosaur.com/miscellaneous/top-5-causes-of-accidental-death-in-the-united-states/)
- Fires – Approximately 2,700 people die from fires each year. Since we don’t plan to eat, we won’t be cooking so we’ve already cut down our chances of death by fire exponentially. Make sure on the Ides you also refrain from using electricity, natural gas, your cell phone…basically, put yourself naked in a bubble in the middle of the woods and pray.
- Falls – 25,000 people fall and die each year. Makes me wonder if we shouldn’t be travelling on all fours. I guess it’s best to stay in bed all day on the Ides because you might fall and die. So maybe get naked in your bubble on March 14th and don’t bring food or you could choke.
- Poisoning – 39,000 deaths every year are related to poisoning. Believe it or not, the number one cause is accidental ingestion of illegal drugs. I have no idea how this is prominent or even possible. Maybe mushrooms? Also on the list are prescription drugs, either taken by the wrong person, an overdose by the right person, or a toxic cocktail mix on accident or without thinking. I’m gonna throw angry ex’s and unhappy spouses in this one too, so make sure if you do decide to eat, you fix it yourself, you know where the ingredients came from, and you never leave it out of your sight.
- Motor Vehicle – 42,000 deaths annually happen behind the wheel. This one’s easy. Don’t drive, don’t Uber, don’t Lyft. Don’t even walk. In fact, just get in that bubble, stay in that bubble, don’t eat, don’t breathe, don’t talk to anyone, and don’t forget to Beware the Ides of March.
I’m Jaimie Engle, and you’ve just discovered ORIGINS.
ORIGINS is a bi-weekly podcast that shares the story behind legends and lore, written and produced by me, award-winning author Jaimie Engle. You can learn more about my books, read show notes, and study this topic through provided links by visiting podcastORIGINS.com, where as a show sponsor your products and services will reach thousands of new customers. Please rate and subscribe to ORIGINS. It’s your greatest compliment. Finally, stick around for a short story from my book The Toilet Papers titled “English Channel” about a woman testing the first module for teleportation who discovers the importance of the date.
Before I go, I want to thank Subculture Corsets & Clothing. They offer a wide selection of men’s and women’s clothing at great prices. Subculture also boasts a cool selection of shoes and accessories in steampunk, gothic, and retro, plus corsets and much more. Check out subculturecorsets.com and use code ORIGINS for a 10% discount online or visit their store in Jacksonville, just off I-95.
# # #