Why ‘Beware the Ides of March’? Historical significance and other unlucky dates, superstitions explored - Hindustan Times

Why ‘Beware the Ides of March’? Historical significance and other unlucky dates, superstitions explored

Mar 15, 2024 08:31 PM IST

Exploring the historical fears associated with the Ides of March, and the date's meaning.

Shakespeare fondly continues to haunt the modern age with his timeless quotes and magnum opus. The old prophetic warning to Julius Caesar in the eponymously titled play, “Beware the Ides of March”, maintains its resounding and alarming echo in the 21st century. However, instead of fretting about the consequences of the gloomy undertext associated with the date - March 15 - the present-day mainstream picture has memed the dark phrase and softened its blow. Apart from social media trends, pop culture still envisions the “cursed” day with much wary and has connected allegorical dots to it in some cases. (George Clooney and Ryan Gosling's 2011 The Ides of March movie approves this message.) So, is March 15 really bad news? Its non-threatening original meaning claims otherwise, but the following historical showdown somehow red-marked the calendar box.

A turning point in Roman history recreated in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, which again popularised the line "Beware the Ides of March".
A turning point in Roman history recreated in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, which again popularised the line "Beware the Ides of March".

The Ides of March: Meaning and origins

In 44 BCE, the date equivalent to our March 15 earned its “bring your knife to work day” tag when the Roman dictator Gaius Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times by members of the Roman Senate. The ‘Et tu Brute’ revelation dropped the curtain on the dramatic betrayal on a day marked as the ‘Ides’ in the Roman Calendar. The Ides fell on the 15th day for March, May, July and October, while for the other months, the 13th day was the Ides, much like the first days were remarked as the Kalends.

It was all based on lunar phases. With Latin origins, the Ides of March derived its meaning from ‘Idus Martias,' referring to the middle of the month of March and signalling the full moon in the sky. Therefore, there is no logical reason for us to ‘Beware the Ides’ (except for Julius Caesar). All the date did was point to the first full moon's arrival.

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The Roman Calendar had three fixed monthly intervals, unlike the dates the modern calendar assigns each day. Beginning with the Kalends as the first of the following month, then came the Nones, i.e. the fifth or the seventh day and the Ides, i.e. the 13th or 15th. One of the earliest Roman calendars even marked the Ides of March as the first full moon of the new year, especially with March recognised as the first month of the Roman year.

While the Nones and Kalends retained their posts as ordinary date markers in the past, the Ides of March gained a prominent brand when Caesar was assassinated, even by some of his political allies. The shocking event was identified as a turning point in Roman history, memorialising the date forever. Shakespeare's play merely recreates the historical plot twist in his plays, yet again attributing the supposed soothsayer's warning with immortal fame.

Even before Shakespeare warned us about the dreaded day, it was observed as the Roman deadline for settling debts and rents.

March 15: A day that brings bad luck?

The ominous colours of the day didn't stop there. Apparently, on Julius Caesar's fourth death anniversary, the Roman Empire's first ruler, Octavian, aka Augustus, brought down massive bloodshed, executing politicians and soldiers pledging their allegiance with the enemy during the civil war.

Years down the lane, in the 19th century, a cyclone ravaged three US and three German warships, killing more than 200 sailors. When, you ask? March 15, 1889.

After that, on the same date in 1939, Adolf Hitler turned a blind eye to the Munich Pact - a joint agreement between Germany, Great Britain and France, and invaded parts of Czechoslovakia, fanning the fire for the impending World War II. In 2011, the Syrian Civil War also began on March 15.

Moreover, the horrific knowledge about how humankind kicked off the depletion of the ozone layer also came out on March 15, 1988.

There's no sound correlation between any of these historical developments. Yet the fatal coincidences have perpetually marred the date for the world. Unlike the loose Latin translation of the word ‘Ides’ as ‘to divide,’ the long-running superstition has brought the world together.

Some other superstitious unlucky dates like the Ides of March (Culturally or Historically):

Friday the 13th

August 8 (India)

April 14 (historically)

April 4 (China)

December 28 (according to ancient folklore)

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