Beware the Ides of March!

This post is by Nancy Jardine

This post is by Nancy Jardine

Okay I admit it. I had Caesar Salad dressing on my greens last night. Was that a good choice on the night before the ides of March? Aha! Time will tell. As many good schoolboys and schoolgirls might know, the ides of March was not a great time for the ancient Roman named Julius Caesar, because things got a bit sticky for him on the ides of March – specifically a sticky end on the sharp point of a very sharp dagger. Make that many daggers.

It was very much a ‘dividing’ point for Caesar in that his assassination divided him from life to death on the steps of the Capitol in Rome. His assassins were Brutus and Cassius (not to mention the 60 or so others who stabbed him according to some ancient sources) many who had earlier professed to have been his friend. The English playwright, William Shakespeare, immortalised the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar in his play ‘Julius Caesar’ and forever thrust the phrase ‘Beware the ides of March’ into the public domain. Many people can quote nothing else of that play but they just might remember the ‘ides’ phrase. However, they may have no idea what ‘ides’ refers to.

julius 2

I confess to having absolutely no idea what the ‘ides’ were until I became 15 years of age. I was in my High School English class when it reared its amazing head. In my day, it was usual for every school in Glasgow, Scotland, to study the works of the English playwright William Shakespeare. It was also usual in Glasgow at that time, during the mid 1960s, that every single school followed strictly laid down programmes of work for all pupils. The Shakespeare plays we studied were selected particularly for levels of maturity of the students. In the first year of study it was the comedy -‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, since that was considered to be a nice little fairy tale suitable for 12 going on 13 year olds (actually it isn’t really but it was an easy work to study). In second year, it was ‘The Merchant of Venice’- also a comedy. By third year we were deemed old enough to tackle the tragedies- the ones with NO happy ever after endings. One of the third year plays was Julius Caesar.

http://shakespeare.mit.edu/

The play made an impact on me for one reason only…

Zoom back with me to 1967. I’m sitting in my English classroom, some thirtyish pupils in the room. By third year, the English class was a mix of boys and girls, my first two high school years having had all classes segregated into girls only, and boys only classes. (Archaic? Probably but that’s how it was ) My English teacher of the time was the head of the department and a ‘classicist’. That means he had not only a qualification in English from University, but he was ‘of the old school’ who also had Latin and Greek qualifications. The man seemed as ancient as the old plays and books he taught us about, he was incredibly strict, but was also very knowledgeable.

 Dscn5414I can’t remember exactly, but I imagine that the week set aside to study ‘Julius Caesar by good old Willie S’ was probably the middle of March. I remember a cold dread as the soothsayer warns Julius Caesar ‘Beware the ides of March’ early on in the play. As we carried on reading-some pupils chosen to read the dialogue out loud to the others-the tension in the room escalated. Julius Caesar chooses to ignore the soothsayer who told his fortune and quips: “He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.”And Caesar carries on that night as normal.

But boys will be boys and are bloody with it (deny it if you will those males out there). My male classmates liked the idea of Julius Caesar having his comeuppance for being too much of a dictator in Ancient Rome and enthusiastically, if quietly, rejoiced in class when Julius Caesar is assassinated on the day following the soothsayers warning, on the steps of the Capitol in Rome, the forum below full of onlookers.

 Now why on earth should that be memorable to me? One of my lovely friends, probably one of the five I still keep occasional contact with, ratted on me. Someone made it public that the ‘ides’ of March, specifically the fifteenth, was my birthday. For some days, the corridors of my secondary school were not safe for me. I’m thinking you can imagine the amount of times I was metaphorically stabbed (and very noisily too) for the duration of reading that wonderful play by those enthusiastic boys whose maturity wasn’t actually all that well honed. There was no such thing in those days as harassment, or bodily harm-it was all great fun and any bruises encountered by me were not on show since they were hidden below my school uniform. It was called camaraderie!

So, what does the ‘ides’ actually mean? It doesn’t mean anything awful will happen but simply means the ‘dividing point’ of the month- the half-way mark. And the amazing thing is that every single month has one! *insert a very smiley face here* Nonetheless, I have never forgotten what the ‘ides of March’ means and the fifteenth has been a pretty good day for me for a long time… *wink, wink*

My historical romantic adventure series is set in Celtic Roman Britain but not in the time of Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar was the first Roman to venture onto the soil of the island the Romans named Britannia, but his very partial conquest was in 55 B.C. and his assassination in 44 B.C.

 New covers x 3

The era I write about is a bit later – the end of the first century AD 71-84. In only 10 days, the 3rd book of my series After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks will be officially launched. I’m not sure if I love writing about Celtic /Roman Britain because of my reading of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, or because I was already loving my history classes at school, but I like to think it was probably a bit of both!

What do you think?

Nancy Jardine: TOPAZ EYES-A finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE FICTION 2014 – Results end May 2014.  AFTER WHORL: BRAN REBORN Book 2 of Celtic Fervour series has been accepted for THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2014- further updates in April 2014

You can find her books at:  Amazon UK author page   Amazon US author page  Barnes & Noble; Waterstones; W.H. Smith; Smashwords, Kobo and other major book retailers.

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 Have a lovely weekend!

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25 Responses to Beware the Ides of March!

  1. Happy birthday, Nancy! I love your Glasgow columns, always so interesting.

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  2. How fortunate you are to have a birthday on the Ides of March. I’ve long known what it meant (my English Lit teacher was a lover of Shakespeare) and I’ve always been happy that I was fortunate to have someone teach the classics to me. Since I came from a rural class of 33 graduating seniors it was difficult to find teachers like Ms. Livingston. I’ll be forever grateful for her expanding my horizons. She often lent me books from her own library and discussed them with me during lunch or after school. Happy Birthday Nancy! You are one of the chosen few!

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  3. Wranglers says:

    Happy Birthday and I so much enjoyed your post. Those bad boys. 🙂 I did not study the classics and I have never read Shakespeare(I probably shouldn’t admit to that) you make them sound very interesting. I am watching the Tudors and I loved Downton Abbey. Learning my history the fun way. LOL. Cher’ley

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  4. sstamm625 says:

    Happy Birthday, Nancy! I confess to having forgotten what the “ides” means. I did know it once–because of studying Julius Caesar in school–and yesterday I had a rather vague thought about March 15 being the “ides of March,” but I wasn’t sure if I was remembering correctly. I had completely forgotten the “dividing point” or halfway mark bit. Obviously, I don’t have such a compelling reason to remember as you do. 🙂

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  5. katewyland says:

    When my daughter knew she was going to have a Caesarian, she deliberately chose March 16, to avoid both the Ides and St. Pat’s day. Funny how a common term becomes infamous.

    Happy Birthday!

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      That is amazing. Being Scottish, my mother was glad I was born on the 15th since the 17th wouldn’t have suited her quite so well!

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  6. Doris says:

    Oh Nancy, the memories you ignited. We also studied ‘the bard’ but our first was Romeo and Juliet as freshmen. To this day I still hate that story. My favorite, studied our senior year was MacBeth. I still go around quoting pieces from it. *Grin*.

    Hope you have a wonderful ‘ides’ of a birthday. Doris

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  7. I rarely think about the Ides of March. This was an interesting post.

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  8. ritterames says:

    My favorite Shakespearean play has always been The Merchant of Venice. We didn’t have quite the schedule you did, but nearly 🙂

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  9. Nancy, great job! Informative and fun. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not know what the ides of March meant, and that every month has one, but the ides of March is most recognized because Ceasar was stabbed like 60 times. Not the way he intended to be remembered and then immortalized by William Shakespeare.

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      Sherry-People do tend to have a vague recollection of the ides being something special but in general they’re not! And as you say Caesar would likely have wanted some notoriety but maybe not the Shakespeare way.

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  10. Happy belated birthday!

    Great post. I also love books set in Celtic/Roman Britain. I would love to write one one of these days.

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      Hi Cindy. Northern Celtic/Roman Britain isn’t so easy to research – mostly becasue there isn’t much out there that’s been documented! That does leave a lot to interpretation, though.

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  11. Mike Staton says:

    As I read the previous comments, I can’t help but notice it’s all women who are commenting. How about the guy wranglers? What’s going on? I didn’t read Shakespeare until college and later. Nothing in high school. My mom told me about toga parties she had in high school in a small town in Ohio as part of Latin class. Remember when Latin was a class requirement?

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      I’m sad to say, Mike, that I wasn’t able to take Latin classes at school, which I regret bitterly now – the reason being that it clashed with my double sciences (physics and chemistry)

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  12. Neva Bodin says:

    Great post and history lesson. I had forgotten about the “ides” of March. I like mysteries yet never liked Shakespeare as I had to think too much, or maybe because I never had a teacher who taught it even. I think they were remiss. You make me want to read it. Thanks, Nancy.

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    • Nancy Jardine says:

      There are very good copies with ‘translations in sidebars’. My favourite now is probably Twelfth Night- I find that ridiculously amusing.

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  13. Nancy, Happy belated birthday to a fellow “March’er”! (mine is about a week away). I didn’t study much Shakespeare, but I have seen a few plays (where I used to live in Montana we had festivals of “Shakespeare in the Park” — the actors were quite good!).

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  14. Nancy Jardine says:

    hi Gayle- I’ve recently gone to outdoor ‘rapid’ performances of Shakespeare where they do condensed version which can be very funny. They’re also very good because having a champagne/strawberries picnic, while watching Shakespeare, can be badly affected by the vagaries of Scottish weather- nice one minute and a downpour the next! 😉

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