March 15th marks a very inauspicious anniversary. Like a black cat crossing your path, the Ides of March has become a metaphor for impending doom. How did a day that was once celebrated by the Romans become so heavily cloaked in superstition?
The Ides of March is a phrase derived from the Latin idus, a term marking the 15th day of March, July and October as well as the 13th day of other months in the Roman calendar year, and the Latin martii, “March,” which is derived from the Latin Mars, the Roman god of war. The “ide” marks the halfway point of the month—most likely alluding to the day of the full moon. Apparently, devised by Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome, the early Roman calendar cited other dates of the month by counting backwards from the kalends (1st day of the month), kones (the 7th day of March, May, July and October) and of course, the ides.
Once a celebratory day dedicated to the Roman god, Mars (complete with a military parade) the backstabbing of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. cast a dark cloud. Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar immortalized this dark moment. Written by William Shakespeare around 1599, Julius Caesar portrays the assassination of the Roman dictator by a group of conspirators. After ignoring the warnings of a soothsayer, a person who professes to foretell events, who uttered the phrase “Beware the Ides of March,” Caesar is stabbed 23 times in the back.
Thus, the same man who brought us the month of July involuntarily inaugurated the phrase “backstabbing.”
Why did Shakespeare describe Cassius as having “a lean and hungry look“? Find out.