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Beware The Ides Of March: Quote & Meaning

  • 0:01 Origin of Beware the…
  • 1:00 Meaning
  • 1:41 Who Was Julius Caesar?
  • 2:40 Why Didn't Caesar Listen?
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

If someone says to you, 'beware the Ides of March,' you better keep your head up on March 15th. Read about the historical quote and how a popular Roman leader didn't heed the warning which ultimately led to his death.

Origin of 'Beware the Ides of March'

We've all heard the saying, 'beware the Ides of March.' It's one of the most popular quotes from William Shakespeare, a man who may honestly be one the most quoted authors in history. The actual quote is from Shakespeare's tragedy Julius Caesar (1599). The warning is uttered by a soothsayer who is letting Roman leader Julius Caesar know that his life is in danger, and he should probably stay home and be careful when March 15th, the Ides of March, rolls around.

But as you might already know, Caesar doesn't stay home on March 15th, and he is murdered halfway through the play. His death does not come as a surprise to the audience. Yes, he was warned. But history already told us that on the actual date of March 15th, 44 BC, the real Julius Caesar was violently murdered, stabbed 23 times by a mob of senators who were led by his protégés and supposed 'friends' Cassius and Brutus (Et tu, Brute?)

Meaning of 'Beware the Ides of March'

Prior to Julius Caesar's murder, the 'Ides of March' didn't mean anything significant. Now it carries a sense of dread with a possible hint of sabotage. Back in the BC days, the Roman calendar had three named days:

  • The Kalends (the first day of the month)
  • The Nones (the fifth or seventh day of the month)
  • The Ides (which fell in the middle of the month usually between the 13th and 15th).

The exact dates varied from year to year depending on the moon. The named days were reference points to other days of the month, which were unnamed. So, if I wanted to make plans with my friend on the ninth, I would say, 'Let's meet outside the Coliseum two days after the Nones.'

Who Was Julius Caesar?

Julius Caesar was a natural leader. He joined the army when he was still very young and quickly moved up the ranks because he could inspire his soldiers. He was so well liked and popular that he was elected into office.

Once in office, the Roman people could not like a leader more. This made the Roman Senate anxious because they feared that Caesar would gain too much power. So, in an effort to thwart his rise, he was told by the Senate to give up control of his massive army. Of course, Caesar refused and instead used his army to take control of the city and declared himself dictator of Italy.

Caesar led his countrymen for five years. He founded libraries, supported artists, made the government run better and provided poor people with more freedom and liberty. His growing popularity continued to make the Roman Senate more and more nervous by the day. They were aware of what happened when a man had too much power. So they brutally killed him, right there on the senate floor.

Why Didn't Caesar Beware the Ides of March?

We know the gloom of the Ides of March and according to historical accounts, Julius Caesar was supposedly warned numerous times by the anonymous soothsayer. So, why didn't he listen? Caesar's death on March 15th obviously became an historical date. The popular ruler's demise marked a major change in Roman society. Many of the reforms he established were terminated. Caesar's death also instigated a bloody Civil War.

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