The Ides of March
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
(Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19)
Ominous warning, one that Caesar did not heed. The Ides of March forever has a tinge of the foreboding to it, thanks to Shakespeare. However, in Roman times, the ides of March had no special foreboding or dark meaning. The ides of March was simply the standard way of saying it was the middle of March. In fact, every month had an Ides.
The term comes from the earliest of Roman calendars, said to be created by Romulus (a mythical founder of Rome). The calendar was complex and was organized around three days, which were reference points for counting the other days.
Kalends (1st day of the month)
Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months)
Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months)
The remaining days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, Nones, or the Ides. For example, March 3 would be V Nones—5 days before the Nones (the Roman method of counting days was inclusive; in other words, the Nones would be counted as one of the 5 days). The days in March up Until Ides would be
March 1: Kalends; March 2: VI Nones; March 3: V Nones; March 4: IV Nones; March 5: III Nones; March 6: Pridie Nones (Latin for “on the day before”); March 7: Nones; March 15: Ides
As you can see, it is may be little confusing to us, but quite common for the Romans. It was also used in the Julian calendar (established by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C.E.) the confusing system of Kalends, Nones, and Ides continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance.
Kalends, the word from which calendar is derived, is another exotic-sounding term with a mundane meaning. Kalendrium means account book in Latin: Kalend, the first of the month, was in Roman times as it is now, the date on which bills are due.
There is nothing to fear from the Ides of March…Unless you are Caesar.