Thursday, March 15th, 2007
This is date to be wary of ancient senators
By Janie Southard
Today's the day: The Ides of March. Beware - especially if you spot any Roman senators coming your way.
From William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" comes Act III scene I, Caesar's murder on March 15: "Et tu, Brute! Then fall, Caesar." It all happened on the Ides of March, which still evokes an eerie sense of doom.
The core of one of Shakespeare's more memorable quotes, the Ides of March, or of any other month, occur sometimes on the 15th of the month and originally signified a full moon.
The Roman calendar's three named days were based on the first three phases of the moon: Kalends, new moon, first day of the month; Nones, half moon, the fifth or seventh day based on the total days of the month; and, the Ides, full moon, on the 15th or 17th, again depending on the month.
"March, or Martius in Roman times, is a changeable month, nasty storms and so forth. It's a crazy time, or pazzo, as the Italians say (crazy)," said Wright State University-Lake Campus Geology Professor Chuck Ciampaglio, a man who obviously has a pretty good feel for what Italians say. (Pronounce: sim- PAHG- li-o)
The original Roman calendar was based on the moon, beginning with the vernal equinox. The year had 304 days, which was made up of 10 months of either 30 or 31 days each.
"No, it didn't fit the astronomical cycle. There were days left over and that would be addressed later," Ciampaglio said.
"The first month of the year was Martius, then Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November and December," he said. "Later Quintilis became July in honor of Julius Caesar, and Sextilis became August to honor Augustus Caesar."
Another reform to this Roman calendar was the addition of Ianuarius and Februarius (January and February) in order to comply with the solar year. Those two new months, however, made the 11th and 12th months - not the first and second. That switch would come later.
But, as to the Ides of March on which came the murder of Caesar, Ciampaglio said Caesar was killed by a conspiracy of senators, which included Cassius, Cicero and Brutus.
"Those three hatched the plot ... roughly because Roman citizens did not want a king ... But, when he came back from victories in Gaul, he was declared dictator for life. He had his face on a coin; and, of course, there he was with the big chair and wearing almost purple robes."
The professor continued with the story noting Caesar was told by a soothsayer to beware of the Ides. Plus, his wife Calpurnia also warned him. He replied: "Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once."
That "once" for Caesar came on the Ides at the hands of Brutus and company, just as had been told to him.
"Some assumptions have been made that Brutus was Caesar's son. That may or may not be, but they were certainly close," Ciampaglio said, adding Caesar most probably did not make the et tu, Brute remark.
As to naming the days, Ciampaglio speculated that it was one way to bring attention to the days rent was due and other debts were paid.
Roman citizens counted backward from the named day in order to establish a certain date, for example, IV Non. Sept. means four days before the Nones of September, which means Sept. 2.
To confuse things further for modern folk, the Romans counted inclusively, thus Sept. 2 was considered four days before Sept. 5. And for even more confusion, after the Ides of the month (September, for example) the Romans counted the days backward from October's Kalends.
For the record, the Romans would have written today's date as Idus Mart. Tomorrow would begin the count backward from Aprilis Kalends (April 1).