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Beware the Ides of March

March 10, 2008

In his play Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2), William Shakespeare depicts a prophetic encounter. The ominous dialogue is an exchange between the Emperor and a soothsayer in the crowd.

Sensing a threat, Caesar pauses to challenge, “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?” inquires Caesar.

Brutus identifies the voice. “A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.”

Shakespeare borrowed this scene, along with other details of Caesar’s death, from the Life of Julius Caesar by the first century scholar Plutarch, a Greek historian and biographer.

Tradition alleges that Julius Caesar was a superstitious man. He wasn’t likely to take a soothsayer lightly. Caesar might have heeded numerous harbingers of impending danger – the chilling warning, a violent thunderstorm, and his wife’s nightmares. Even so, he ventured forth to the Senate and to his doom on the Ides of March. The Roman Emperor was assassinated by a group of political conspirators, including Brutus and Cassius.

The soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar has forever shadowed the day with a sense of foreboding.

In early Rome, the Ides of March did not necessarily evoke a dark mood. It was simply the standard way of saying March 15.

Notable people other than Julius Caesar have also died on March 15. Among them are Abe Saperstein, founder of the Harlem Globetrotters; Aristotle Onassis, Greek shipping magnate; Rebecca West, historian and writer; Tom Harmon, football player and sports broadcaster; Benjamin Spock, pediatrician and writer; and Bowie Kuhn, Commissioner of Baseball.

Among those born on March 15 is actress Eva Longoria, born in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1975. She plays Gabrielle in the ABC television series “Desperate Housewives.” Those familiar with her character in the program may conclude that her birthday is reason enough to beware the Ides of March.

March 15 begins the last official week of winter. I can remember very cold weather during the month of March here in the Upstate.  One March, when I was a teenager, snow fell on three consecutive Wednesdays.  Just a few years ago, the temperature plummeted to fourteen degrees on a night in mid-March, nipping in the bud the bloom on many of our plants.

From the looks of things, spring is close at hand. Even if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on February 2, the Statute of Limitations is about to run out on the famous groundhog’s spell.

The groundhog and his shadow notwithstanding, spring usually comes to the Upstate a little early.  Our most avid vegetable gardeners plant sugar snap peas and red Irish potatoes by Valentine’s Day.  Even though nights are still cold, crocus are blooming bright, daffodils are nodding in the breeze, and Lenten roses peek out from their cover of evergreen foliage.

King Solomon wrote, “For, lo, the winter is passed, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”  (Song of Solomon 2:11-12 KJV)

When I was a boy, I used to think of that passage as one of the strangest in the Bible.  I’ve spent a good bit of time out of doors and have rarely heard the voice of a turtle.  Even in my backyard now the truth of the scripture is verified by the blooming of flowering bulbs and shrubs.  The birds are singing.  The robins and the bluebirds are back, preparing for their nesting.  But so far I have heard no sound from a turtle.

In previous years, I have heard a turtle a time or two.  On one occasion, it was the sound from a gigantic snapping turtle who had the poor judgment to chomp down on a catfish line baited with a chicken gizzard. With a rather large hook embedded in his pallet, an angry snapping turtle makes an unmistakable hissing sound.  I doubt that is what the poetry of the Good Book had in mind.  Later translations use the word turtledove instead of turtle.  I see and hear doves in my backyard every day.

The fact that spring is close at hand is unmistakable.  On a recent afternoon, I was at the church alone.  I visited the Prayer Garden where rain had revived blue, yellow, and white pansies.  Daffodils were pushing up through the soft ground along the walkways.  The fountain was flowing freely, and the wind chimes gave notice of a gentle breeze.  At 6:00 P.M., the carillon chimed the hour, and then played the beautiful melody of a hymn.  The hymn became my prayer.

For the beauty of the earth,

For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the wonder of each hour

Of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale, and tree and flow’r,

Sun and moon, and stars of light:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise.

It is a prayer for all seasons, especially for the Ides of March.

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, March 2008

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