On the 20th of this month, we’ll celebrate the vernal equinox and Spring will officially have sprung. Allow me to wish you a very happy March and a lovely Spring season. Now, let’s take it down a bit. As a person of some Irish (emphasis on the -ish) heritage, as evidenced by my surname, obviously, I could have chosen to write about St. Patrick, or Ireland, or rampant overconsumption of alcohol in the name of both by people who are more “ish” than I am. I chose a different route and fell down the Internet rabbit hole.
It is very likely you’ve heard the quote by William Shakespeare, “Beware the Ides of March.” And while you also may know that this comes from his play Julius Caesar, you may not be aware of what the Ides actually are, or if you should be wary of them.
According to the Romans, every month had Ides – and Nones, and Kalends. They were simply ways of marking time. As it so happens, the Ides of March is the 74th day of the Roman calendar or approximately the 15th of March as we know it now. It coincided with the full moon – the first one of the year. The Ides of March, then, was like a New Year celebration. No Roman celebration seems complete without ritual sacrifice and other kinds of messed up tradition. One source describes what may be the beginnings of the concept of a scapegoat with the symbolic beating of an old man dressed in dirty animal skins and running him out of town. This unfortunate person represented all that was bad about the previous year, taking it and the blame out so the new and good could be ushered in. It was also, historically, the day for debts to be repaid. I found this all to be an odd foreshadowing for our man Caesar.
Before ol’ Billy Shakespeare wrote the play, there was Julius Caesar, the man. I won’t be diving too far into politics here, but we all know that regardless of who individually, or collectively, is in charge, there won’t be unanimous support. You can’t please all the people all the time, right? Right. Anyway, Julius Caesar was in charge of the Roman Republic. He was actually liked by the people he governed. He was educated, well traveled, and had a stellar military record which expanded the Roman footprint. He worked with appointed (note, not elected by the people) officials to create policy and shape the government of Rome. What’s not to like? Well, many of those officials thought him arrogant, and when he was named to his position for life, they got scared. They feared his arrogance, they feared what he might do, what he might turn into, with power unchecked. Most importantly, they feared what that might mean for THEM. Naturally, they did what any good Roman in their position might do, they sat him down for a calm and logical discussion over some wine and a ritual sacrifice.
Ha! No, they straight up said, “let’s kill him!” but not too loudly, of course, because he was beloved and well protected. A group of approximately 60 Senators- some of which assisted in creating and still supported and benefitted from the reforms made by Caesar- secretly plotted, and publicly carried out, his brutal assassination on March 15th at a meeting of the Senate. Collectively they delivered nearly two dozen stab wounds in front of the gathered politicians. They ensured he would be vulnerable to their attack, planning for a place and time he would feel safe and be unprotected, even cleverly bringing up a proposal that allowed the conspirators to get close enough to carry out the plot. He very nearly didn’t show up. His wife was terrified something bad was going to happen. The quote attributed to a seer in Shakespeare’s play was based on a foretelling that reportedly did occur. Caesar planned to cancel the convening of the Senate, but one of the conspirators convinced him she was being silly, and he was sillier for indulging her. I’ve already told you how that ended for him. He should, very well, have heeded the warning to beware the Ides of March.
Those Senators who whispered all that they disliked about the situation, who met secretly and recruited only those who agreed with them or who they could convince to see things their way, could have more easily removed themselves from the equation. The lengths they went to, all the acts they considered, and the one they actually carried out, were unnecessary. And ultimately, accomplished the opposite of what they planned. All those people I mentioned, the ones who loved Caesar, didn’t take too kindly to his murder or his murderers. A series of civil wars ensued, ending finally, with Caesar’s adoptive son, becoming leader and renaming himself Augustus Caesar. The Republic they killed for was dead.
Ok, history lesson over. But we have to learn from history, or we’re bound to repeat it; or so the saying goes. So where’s the lesson here? Some might say it’s “trust no one,” as Caesar was taken out by those closest to him. I’ll take as positive a spin as I can on it. I’ve been part of that group. You know, the one that dislikes a person despite all the good they’ve done and the people who love them for it. The group that secretly talks about all the flaws and ugliness, that revels in their target’s misfortunes while presenting themselves in only the most positive light. The figurative backstabbing and undermining group, the closed-minded and toxic one. Never once did I/we consider murder an option, but that doesn’t mean what we were doing wasn’t wrong. Except, we could’t see it because we scapegoated and excluded, ran out of the group, anyone who didn’t see it our way. It took a lot of introspection for me to realize what was actually happening. To speak up and leave.
Can you imagine what might have happened if just one, or a few, of the dozens who plotted against Caesar had spoken up? said “this is wrong.” Could his death and those of thousands more in the wars that followed have been prevented? Unfortunately, It’s far too late to consider the ‘what ifs.’ But when faced with a situation today, where it’s many against one, it’s not too late to consider how your actions – or lack thereof -could impact so much more than that one person, or you, in the long run. Is this person truly the problem or are you projecting all that is wrong onto them because SOMEONE has to take the blame?
I’ll respectfully disagree with the seer and the Bard on this one. The Ides of March seems to be nothing of which to be wary. It’s just a day, just like any other day. And, like every day, is a good day to not get caught up in the collective fear-based hatred of another.