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Should we beware the Ides of March? March 15, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Today’s post kicks off a week of “lucky posts” here at Poor Richard’s Almanac in honor of the Ides of March, an unlucky day for both Julius Caesar and the Roman Republic, and St. Patrick’s Day, traditionally associated with shamrocks, lucky charms, rainbows, pots of gold, and “the luck of the Irish.” As the week goes on, you’ll find posts about symbols of good and bad luck, amulets and talismans to ward off bad luck, actions that are considered to attract good or bad luck around the world, even foods that are considered lucky and unlucky. Today we’ll kick off with PRA’s official historian, Richard Saunders, posting on a couple of singularly unlucky days.

It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to talk about the Ides of March. If you remember nothing else from being forced to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at some point during your educational career, you probably recall the Soothsayer shouting “Beware the Ides of March!” at Caesar about a hundred times. (At least it seemed like that.) But what are the Ides of March, and is there any reason for us to be wary of them?

Actually, the Ides of March is not a them but an it: March 15th. “Ides” comes from the Latin Idus, and refers, according to Wikipedia, to a festival celebrating the Roman god of war, Mars, from whom the month of March and the planet Mars take their names. You’d think this would have been a lucky day for Caesar, one of history’s greatest generals and empire-builders. But his luck ran out on March 15, 44 B.C., when he was assassinated by a group of outraged Senators, including his trusted friend Brutus, leading to that other famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” (That’s, ahem, brootay, not brute, should you ever have the misfortune of being in Caesar’s position and needing to say the line yourself.) 

Why were the Senators up in (literal) arms against Caesar, you ask? In a nutshell, because before the Roman Empire, there was the Roman Republic, a supposed bastion of virtue and honor with a governing Senate. (And yes, this was the ideal upon which our Founding Fathers here in America based their own government.) The Senators feared that Julius Caesar* had too much power and was planning to declare himself emperor, putting and end to the Republic. So they took a direct route to make sure that didn’t happen. Unfortunately (for them), their efforts backfired. They succeeded in killing off Caesar, but set off a series of power plays that ultimately saw Caesar’s heir Augustus crowned emperor. The Roman Empire was born, and the rest is history.

But what does Caesar’s bad luck have to do with us? Why should we beware the Ides of March? Well, unless you live, as we do, in an area that often gets its worst snowstorm of the year about that time, there’s really no reason. But the same could be said of Friday the Thirteenth.

Friday the Thirteenth became identified as a date of ill-luck and misfortune back on Friday, October 13, 1307, when the immoral and rapacious King Phillipe IV of France demolished the powerful Order of the Knights Templar in a single day. (Admittedly, it took a while longer to completely destroy the Templars and seize all their assets for the Crown, but in effect the entire Order toppled on that single day.) At the time, the Templars were immensely wealthy and powerful, known as “the bankers of Europe” because they controlled so much of its wealth, and they operated with the blessings of the Pope. To annihilate them required a combination of factors, including a very weak Pope of French extraction—as it happened, a boyhood friend of the King—who was also more or less under house arrest in Avignon, France, as opposed to entrenched in Rome, and a series of very devious maneuvers including luring the Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, into the King’s hands by asking him to be a pallbearer at his, Philippe’s, own sister’s funeral, then arresting him the following day (the 13th).

Now again, you may wonder what the fall of the Templars has to do with us, and again, the answer is nothing. Yes, it was dramatic and doubtless spread terror and feelings of vulnerability across Europe. But Caesar’s assassination was all that and more, since at the time, Rome was pretty much the center of the world.

So why do we still consider Friday the Thirteenth unlucky, and ignore the Ides of March? You tell me.

* If you think pronouncing Ides “EE-days” and Brute “BROO-tay” is bad, check out how the Romans of Caesar’s day pronounced his name: YOO-lee-OOS KY-sar. But then, poor Leonardo da Vinci’s name was pronounced by his contemporaries as “da Winky.”



1. Lzyjo - March 15, 2010

Arguably, the renown of Friday the 13th, proves how powerful the Templars were even after their fall. Just playing devil’s advocate here. It also shows how powerful the various Christian organizations are. To me Friday the 13th is pretty ominous, maybe a shade or two below 666. Which is supposedly a typo?

I was just wondering about the Ides of March, after a run of bad luck, just a few days ago. I was going to look it, so I’m glad you posted the explanation for me. Funny how the S in Ides makes everyone, including me, assume it’s plural.

This quote of your’s really helped me connect some dots. I was a little fuzzy on the government details. Although how I thought an empire could have a senate, I’ll never know. 🙂

“They succeeded in killing off Caesar, but set off a series of power plays that ultimately saw Caesar’s heir Augustus crowned emperor. The Roman Empire was born, and the rest is history.”

Ha! Hi, Lzyjo! Now I’m going to have to check out “666,” which I’d thought was Biblical, not a typo, but never really looked into. It always brings Alastair Crowley, and thus Jimmy Page, to mind. Meanwhile, here’s hoping your luck improves by St. Pat’s Day!!!

2. Edith Hope - March 15, 2010

Dear Trinity, How strange that you should post on the Ides of March, and the fate of Caesar, when on this very day I have posted on the Hungarian War of Independence which, started on 15th. March, failed miserably within a year and led to further domination by the Habsburg Empire. The day continues to be marked as a National Holiday.

Whilst I knew of the significance and context of the Ides of March, the origins of Friday 13th. as an unlucky day were completly unknown to me before now.

Yikes, Edith, perhaps March 15th is unluckier than we thought!

3. Gail - March 15, 2010

Fascinating~I am terribly superstitious…but Friday 13 and the Ides of March aren’t significant~~Now my large collection of 4 leaf clovers I’ve found for friends with serious illnesses is something I guard carefully. If they were having an important test or surgery they have a clover and it is saved until it disintegrates to nothing and is no longer ‘needed’. I wonder if it would work for a Fulbright! gail

Good for you, Gail!!!

4. annie - October 7, 2011

I was looking up the proper pronunciation of Ides. I haven’t taken Latin, but my other Latin-stemmed & Germanic language knowledge made me think it should be pronounced as i(t)dees. Now the movie “Ides of March” is out, at first I thought it was the “eyes” of March till I saw the name on TV. Why are the movie-makers so irresponsible. They’re so lazy to even look up the proper pronunciation of the title they’re using. Everytime I hear it I get shivers!

5. dorimonroe@gmail.com - February 16, 2012

i promise you, the ides of march is REAL because my birthday is on the 14 of march, and all my life, i always got bad luck on my birthday, no other day. every now and then i’d have bad days just like everyone else, but i actually get bad luck! friday the 13 has never effected me, nor anyone i know. so its fake.

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