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The Ides of March

Don Wyeth

The Ides of March

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2 mins
March 15, 2021

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the expression, Beware the Ides of March? At some point during your time in high school, you probably were required to read Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar. “In Act I, Scene 2 of [t]his play … a soothsayer attracts Caesar's attention and tells him: Beware the ides of March.” 

In the historical record, Julius Caesar, Roman dictator, statesman, and general was assassinated by 60 conspirators of the Roman Senate, including Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus on March 15, 44 BCE, having been held responsible for precipitating a civil war; marking the end of the Roman empire. Consequently, this day has since then been considered bad luck.

But originally, the 15th of March was the first day of the new year in the Roman Empire. “Kalends, Nones and Ides were ancient markers used to reference dates in relation to lunar phases.” The Kalends from the Latin, kalendae, marked the first day of the month. Etymologically, the word calendar comes from the same root. This was traditionally the day of the month when all outstanding debts came due. The Nones, from the Latin meaning 9, noted the arrival of the first quarter of the moon. “This day was equivalent to the seventh day of March, May, July, and October, and the fifth day of the other months. The Ides, in Latin, īdūs, marked the 15th day of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months, corresponding to the arrival of the full moon.” dictionary.com

In the Roman pantheon, the goddess Luna was associated with the moon “…[and] was recognized…as part of a triad of goddesses consisting of Luna, Hekate, the underworld goddess of magic and witchcraft and as Diana the goddess of the hunt.” talesbeyondbelief.com. We continue to find superstitions related to the moon here in the 21st-century. There are no definitive studies linking the full moon to accidents and aggressive behaviors. However, anecdotal reports indicate that “…[n]urses have reported full moons leading to more chaos and more incoming patients. Police have linked full moons to aggressive behavior.abcnews.go.com. 

I find it rather curious that the Ides of March was established as the federal income tax filing deadline. Originally, after the passing of the 16th amendment in 1913, taxes came due on March 1, similar to the ancient Roman tradition. But, in 1918 the date was changed to March 15. This remained the case for 36 years. Then, “…[I]n 1954 the IRS reorganized and moved it to its current date of April 15. money.com. But no matter what day it falls on, some people see it as a figurative knife in the ribs.


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Don Wyeth

Passionate and intelligent columnist from Madison, WI.

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