Thursday, March 14, 2013

Beware the Ides of March

     Do you ever wonder where certain phrases came from or how exactly they originated? Since a lot of popular phrases come from literature I thought that it might be fun to periodically take a break from reviews and research such phrase origins.

     The Ides of March dates back to the days when the Romans were a powerful empire. The Romans didn't number their days like we do today, instead they based their calendar on the lunar cycle. Kalends usually fell on the 1st day of the month and represented the new moon. Ides was the full moon which generally occurred on the 13th of short months (such as January, April, June, etc.) and 15th of long months (March and October for example). Nones is halfway between the Kalends and the Ides and most probably the day of the half moon, this denotes the 7th or 9th, depending on the length of the month. The Romans would refer to days in a system very similar to their numbering system where October 14th would merely be considered the day before the Ides of October.

     Anna Perenna was the Roman goddess of the circle of the year and her festival was held on the Ides of March, which was the first full moon of the year. In the old Roman calendar they had considered March to be the first month and the festival of Anna Perenna would be comparable to us celebrating New Years. As an unrelated note of interest, the word perennial is derived from this goddess.

     The Ides of March was regarded as a day of celebration and Roman citizens enjoyed a day of drinking, feasting, and general merry making. Not when a seer had warned that Caesar would come to harm no later than the Ides of March, nor even after Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, 44 BCE would this day be particularly feared as a day of danger. It wasn't until 1601 when Shakespeare penned this famous quote in his play Julius Caesar as the soothsayer warned Caesar "Beware the Ides of March" that this date would forever have an ominous significance.

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