Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides of March

Soothsayer:  Beware the ides of March.

Most of us grew up with superstitions.  My parents were not superstitious at all so most of the superstitions I learned and believed in were those I learned from my peers in school; hence, many were embellished to be far more powerful and frightening than had my parents passed them down to me.   You know how children are.  When they find a believer, they make the best of it. A few of my childhood favorites are seven years of bad luck for breaking a mirror, bad luck for walking under a ladder, opening an umbrella indoors and having a black cat cross my path will also produce bad luck. In  fact, superstitions are part of our heritage, transporting us to a distant past that links with the roots of our culture. 

The ancient lore of our forefathers are still very much alive, many having remained unchanged for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years.  But, there was one superstition that really frightened me, "Beware the Ides of March."   My fear of that day was so great that I even found reason not to go to school.  Of course, today I know better, but there are many people in the world today who believe this is a bad luck day.  The problem was, I didn't know where the superstition had come from.  Our teachers would mention the Ides of March, but never really got into its origin, and because it was in such a different time, we had no computers to go to to research those topics we did not fully understand.  

The word ‘Ides’ comes from the Latin word meaning divide. The date was meant to fall in the middle of the month, at the rise of the Full Moon.
The Ides of March was just another day in the Roman calender.  Dates were given each month that were sacred to the God, Jupiter, and these days were usually the fifteenth or thirteenth of every month. In March the Ides was on the fifteenth, and it was a day of celebration that bloomed
from Pagan worship. It was the day of the Full moon, and it was widely celebrated throughout the Roman world. The day that was plucked out in order to celebrate the festive event was March 15.  It was also celebrated in May, July, and October, and when the Full Moon landed on the other months, followers could raise their stalks of wheat when day 13 arrived. The patron god for the event was said to have been the famous war god,  Mars, and his followers often held great parades that had a military theme.

What many people remember when they hear the Ides of March, is the assassination of Julius Caesar.  It is this event that gave the term a bad name.  According to the legend, a soothsayer warned Caesar that he was going to be in grave danger until the Ides of March passed. Ironically, that was, in fact, correct. In three days Caesar was planning to leave Rome on a mission to avenge the death of the Roman general, Crassus at the hands of the Parthians. The journey would have taken him out of the reach of the senators who were plotting against him, and he probably would have returned a much more powerful man. So, the senators decided that if they were going to strike, it had to be soon. 

Caesar had spent the evening before with Lepidus, and, as the men enjoyed dinner and drinks,  the conversation somehow turned to the best way to die with Caesar admonishing that it should be swift and unexpected.  That night, his wife, Calpurnia, had a dream.  She saw his body bleeding from numerous wounds. On the morning of his death,  she pleaded with him to stay home.

When he reached the senate there was little hope for Caesar. He took his seat and was approached by a group under the guise of presenting a petition, but instead of law-making,  the senators attacked. They ripped Caesar's purple toga from his neck and attempted a quick kill. It failed and what ensued was a rampage without mercy for Caesar did not go quietly.  When at last he gave into death, they continued their assault sometimes cutting each other in the process.

The senators had no popular support for their deed. Caesar had been immensely popular with the public. Much to their distaste he was allowing foreign blood into the senate and was as close to a king as Rome had seen.  Eventually, though,  their act caught up with them, and 300 senators were to be killed in the following months

It is their deed that earned the 15th of March its reputation. The Ides of March would never again merely be the days of a Full Moon.  Please feel free to share any of your own superstitions or ones you’ve observed in friends and family. Do you avoid picking up a coin on the ground if it’s tails up? Have you ever thrown salt over your shoulder? Does dropping a spoon on the floor hold any special significance for you? We’re a curious breed, we humans.


  1. I love superstitions but also try not to take them TOO seriously! Just because the Ides of March were bad luck for Julius Caesar doesn't mean it's bad luck for everyone. Unless you're a dictator. Let's hope today is bad luck for Gaddafi!

  2. I can never remember the true date of the Ides of March! I *want* it to be on the 19th. lol.

    Yes, drop a spoon and a child will visit. Drop a fork and a woman will. Drop a knife and a man will. Just fun stuff though.

    Since I had a strict catholic upbringing, guess Good Fri. and all that, had a lot of "baggage" with it. Didn't talk from noon to 3pm on Good Fri. and that jazzzzz.

  3. Aunt Amelia... "didn't talk from noon to 3 pm on Good Friday"?? never heard that one...bummer for kids...

  4. thank you so much for your info.. I will from now on celbrate the Ides of March per its full moon... I like that much better....