The Ides of March and Julius Caesar

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“Beware the ides of March,” a soothsayer tells Caesar in Act I of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. By Act III, Shakespeare confidently tells the soothsayer, “The ides of March are come,” to which the soothsayer replies, “Aye Caesar, but not gone.”

(Spoiler Alert) Soon, Caesar is dead, stabbed by 60 conspirators in the Roman Senate—and even by the hand of his most trusted friend, Brutus (memorialized by Shakespeare in the phrase, “Et tu, Brute?”).

Believe it or not, Shakespeare vividly captured this scene more than four centuries ago, and in just over a month, the world will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616. In commemoration, Course Hero has published an infographic examining both Shakespeare’s play—and the historical Julius Caesar, who was killed on the ides of March in 44 BCE.

But what exactly are the ides of March?

Good question. The word ides itself in Latin means “to divide,” and the ides literally divided a month. Aligned with the timing of the first day of a full moon, ides were a regular fixture of the Roman calendar, generally falling on the 15th of March, May, July, and October (or on the 13th of other months).

These ides had a specific meaning in Roman times: they were days for settling debts, but as Anna Matteo wrote, “this connection was quickly lost because of different timing between calendar months and changes in the moon’s appearance.”

Georgianna Ziegler, head of reference for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, told NPR in 2009 that in 1599-1600, when the play was likely first performed, the timing of the ides and the assassination of a political leader would have resonated with those who desired “some new blood on the [British] throne.” The English, she said, “were really struck by the differences between their Julian calendar [which was introduced by Caesar in 46 BCE] and the Gregorian calendar kept in Catholic countries on the continent.” Indeed, just over two weeks ago we celebrated Leap Day, which was introduced in Caesar’s calendar reforms and prompts many to consider him “the Father of Leap Year”—a fact highlighted in our new infographic.

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Although the ides of March didn’t portend doom before Caesar’s time, the Smithsonian compiled a list of infamous historic events such as a cyclone in the 19th century and a deadly blizzard in the 20th that have coincided with the ides of March.

The ides of March are come, but they have not yet gone. Beware!


Julius Caesar Author: William Shakespeare Year Published: 1623 Original Language: English Play in 5 Acts Tragedy OVERVIEW The Noblest of Romans Julius Caesar is the quintessential political thriller: the first half culminates in Caesar’s murder, while the second depicts the fallout of his death. The motives and actions of Caesar and his conspirators are far from black and white–and Shakespeare brilliantly reveals the murky nature of political power and manipulation. Act I Caesar returns triumphantly to Rome after defeating Pompey’s sons, but some senators–led by Cassius–fear his power will lead to tyranny and plot his murder. Act II Cassius convinces Caesar’s ally Brutus to join their cause; he reluctantly agrees, but will not condone killing Caesar’s friend Antony. Act III The conspirators stab Caesar to death. At his funeral, Brutus explains their reasoning eloquently, but Antony’s oration turns Rome against the plotters. Act IV Having fled the city, Brutus and Cassius prepare for battle and await the armies of Antony and Octavius, Caesar’s adopted son. Act V Defeated on the battlefield, Cassius and Brutus choose to commit suicide. About the Author William Shakespeare 1564-1616 Arguably the most famous playwright of all time, Shakespeare is credited with 38 plays. With Julius Caesar (written around 1599-1600), he explored themes that were very relevant for Renaissance England, where Roman rebellion resonated with European political turmoil. Rhetoric Julius Caesar is full of famous quotes (“Beware the Ides of March,” “Et tu, Brute?”), and many come from the pivotal Act III scene in which Brutus and Antony deliver speeches. The use of words to manipulate is central to-and at the center of-the play. THEMES Tyranny A central question of the play remains: is Caesar a tyrant, and if so is his murder justified? Power The main characters, Caesar in particular, are often blinded by their preoccupation with power. Mob Mentality The mob plays a disturbing role in the play, easily swayed and acting without thought. Main Characters Caesar Rome’s ambitious military leader Octavius Mark Antony Roman general and friend of Caesar’s Cassius Leader of the conspiracy Brutus Admired and idealistic magistrate Julius Caesar by the Numbers More than two thousand years after his death, Caesar remains one of the most fascinating–and consequential–historical figures. 44BCE Year in which Caesar was murdered. 60 Number of conspirators who plotted to murder Caesar. ~16 Age when Caesar married his first wife, Cornelia, in 84 BCE. 1 Day Caesar introduced the leap year in the calendar reform of 46 BCE. Quotation Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Brutus, Act III, Scene II Sources: BBC, Folger Shakespeare Library, New Yorker, New York Times, Royal Shakespeare Company

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Originally posted 2016-04-05 14:48:44.

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