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The Ides of March

March 14, 2011

 

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.

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 the blooms on many of our plants. It is the time of year when peach farmers pay close attention to the buds on their trees and to the weather forecasts.

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.

On a recent afternoon, I walked through my garden.  Rain has revived the pansies and the violas.  Crocuses are blooming bright, daffodils are nodding in the breeze, and Lenten roses are peeking out from their cover of evergreen foliage.  A mockingbird and a Carolina wren are singing.  The robins and the bluebirds have returned and are preparing for their nesting.  The waterfall is flowing freely, and the wind chimes ring to a gentle breeze. From the looks of things, spring is close at hand.

In my neck of the woods, the Ides of March is not a reason to beware. Rather it is a time to be aware and to be glad.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© March 2011

 

 

 

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