English Language Blog

March 15th: The Ides of March Posted by on Mar 15, 2012 in Culture

The day, March 15th, which is today, is known as the “ides of March.”  In fact the fifteenth of any month is considered “the ides” of that month as “ides” is a word that  means the day that is the middle of the month.  This word comes from the Latin word “Idus” which means “half division.”  Ides is a word that was used widely in the Roman calendar, but today it is almost exclusively used to indicate the 15th of March.  So, why is the 15th of March so important?  Well, first it was the first day of the Roman New Year (and also marks the first day of spring in the Roman calendar), but more importantly it was this day in history that Julius Caesar was warned by soothsayers* to “beware of the ides of March.” Ceaser did not heed** the warning and he was stabbed by Marcus Brutus and others on the Ides of March in 44 BC and killed.

I have to admit I don’t think most Americans know all of this information about the ides of March.  The reason most Americans have heard of this is day is because of a line in the Shakespearean play entitled, Julius Caesar.  Here is the excerpt*** from this play in which the line appears:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

What man is that?

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
From: Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 2

If you found this short except from Shakespeare a little difficult to read, you are not alone.  His writing style is unique and it is very different from modern English writing.  Here are a few definitions (of the words in bold above) that may help you understand this passage.  Tomorrow, I will introduce you to the writer Shakespeare, a very famous English writer, and in a subsequent post I will give some pointers on how to better understand his writing.

press = a crowd of people
shriller = (shrill) a high-pitched sound that is not pleasant
turn’d = turned (to turn) to rotate
bids = (to bid) to command to or direct

The term “the ides of March” may also be known today, more than in years past, because of a recent film with George Clooney that debuted in 2011, entitled The Ides of March.  I have not seen this film, but I imagine it must have something to do with deceit and deception, which are often associated with this day because it was the day Caesar was killed by a group of conspirators.

* soothsayer = a person supposed to be able to foresee the future
** to heed = to pay attention to; listen to and consider
***excerpt = a short piece from a film, broadcast, or writing

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.