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In Julius Caesar, does the Ides of March have any symbolic reference? As far as I know,...

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barneybarns | Student | eNoter

Posted March 12, 2012 at 11:55 PM via web

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In Julius Caesar, does the Ides of March have any symbolic reference?

As far as I know, it is the 15th of March; which is perfectly half of March according to the Roman calendar; and it is a Roman festive day dedicated to the god Mars. But I wonder why the conspirators chose this day to murder Caesar; and  I wonder if they purposely picked this day.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 6, 2013 at 10:37 PM (Answer #2)

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The conspirators picked the 15th of March to attack Caesar only because that was the day the senators were scheduled to vote on declaring Caesar a "king." According to Plutarch:

. . . for they had met at his bidding, and were ready and willing to vote as one man that he should be declared king of the provinces outside of Italy, and might wear a diadem when he went anywhere else by land or sea.

He could not be a king inside Italy but a king everywhere else in the empire. This was obviously a final step to becoming absolute monarch.

Plutarch was an ancient Greek whose writings are filled with references to the gods as well as to all kinds of supernatural phenomena. Shakespeare relied heavily on Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar, Life of Brutus, and Life of Antony in his play. In the Life of Julius Caesar, Plutarch attaches importance to the story that a seer, or soothsayer, had warned Caesar to beware the Ides of March.

The following story, too, is told by many. A certain seer warned Caesar to be on his guard against a great peril on the day of the month of March which the Romans call the Ides; and when the day had come and Caesar was on his way to the senate-house, he greeted the seer with a jest and said: "Well, the Ides of March are come," and the seer said to him softly: "Ay, they are come, but they are not gone."

Shakespeare uses this in his play because it lends to all his other foreshadowing and provides color. The significance, as Plutarch saw it, was that the seer actually knew what was going to happen to Caesar through supernatural knowledge. Plutarch was attempting to show that Caesar's fate was inevitable.

But destiny, it would seem, is not so much unexpected as it is unavoidable, since they say that amazing signs and apparitions were seen.

The 15th of March is very close to the beginning of spring, which on our calendar comes on the 21st of March but could have come on the 15th of March on the unreliable Roman calendar in use over two thousand years ago.

According to Plutarch:

The adjustment of the calendar, however, and the correction of the irregularity in the computation of time, were not only studied scientifically by him [Caesar], but also brought to completion, and proved to be of the highest utility. For not only in very ancient times was the relation of the lunar to the solar year in great confusion among the Romans, so that the sacrificial feasts and festivals, diverging gradually, at last fell in opposite seasons of the year, but also at this time people generally had no way of computing the actual solar year; the priests alone knew the proper time, and would suddenly and to everybody's surprise insert the intercalary month called Mercedonius.

So the Ides of March had no symbolic importance as far as Caesar's fate was concerned. Evidently it was celebrated by the Romans because it represented the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It happened to be the date on which Caesar was to meet with the senators and expected to be crowned king, and Plutarch believed the seer actually could predict Caesar's assassination through some kind of psychic power. Shakespeare liked the story. His audiences like it too. It is only one of the many supernatural omens he borrowed from the superstitious Plutarch. In Act 2, Scene 2, he has Calpurnia, who is imploring her husband to stay at home, tell her husband:

When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

 

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