March 15: Does it really mean anything extraordinary?
The soothsayer gives a foreboding warning the soon-to-be-ex-Roman emperor Julius Caesar on this day back in 44 B.C.: “Beware the ides of March.”
Of course, by the time Julius Caesar made it to the Capitol, he was stabbed 23 times. His final words were, “et tu, Brute?”
Full moons, black cats and broken mirrors aside, there’s something ominous about the William Shakespeare play “Julius Caesar” and it may be this famous line that has made us feel so uncomfortable all these years.
According to Roman history, their calendar was based around lunar phases. There were other names, such as Kalends and Nones.
Ides, however, referred to the first full moon of a given month. Like this week, these usually fell somewhere during the week that includes the 13, 14 and 15. Prior to the connotation discussed in this article, the Ides of March was actually a time of rejoicing.
Since the time of Shakespeare 500 years ago, however, the phrase has become more and more sinister. If a television series has an episode with these words in the title, look out.
Bad things didn’t happen for a Chicago-area rock group that took the name The Ides of March back in the early 1970s. Led by guitar-slinger and songwriter Jim Peterik, the Ides of March created one of the most memorable brass-rock songs of that, or any, era: “Vehicle.” In fact, to this day, many marching bands across the country (including our own) perform this song.
An interesting side note — Peterik went on to form another band, Survivor, in the 1980s. They had a No. 1 hit we still hear all the time: “Eye of the Tiger.” Peterik’s name may be unknown to the average music fan, but his musical compositions are heard constantly all over the world. In the case of “Eye of the Tiger,” we hear it much more often in Tallassee and Auburn than in most places.
The Smithsonian Institution has listed the top 10 reasons why we should beware the ides of March. In conclusion, I submit these 10 memorable events from the Smithsonian, with their comments included.
1. Assassination of Julius Caesar, 44 B.C.
Conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus stab dictator-for-life Julius Caesar to death before the Roman Senate. Caesar was 55.
2. A Raid on Southern England, 1360
A French raiding party begins a 48-hour spree of rape, pillage and murder in Southern England. King Edward III interrupts his own pillaging spree in France to launch reprisals.
3. Samoan Cyclone, 1889
A cyclone wrecks six warships — three U.S., three German — in the harbor at Apia, Samoa, leaving more than 200 sailors dead.
4. Czar Nicholas II Abdicates His Throne, 1917
Czar Nicholas II of Russia signs his abdication papers, ending a 304-year-old royal dynasty and ushering in Bolshevik rule. He and his family are taken captive and, in July 1918, executed before a firing squad.
5. Germany Occupies Czechoslovakia, 1939
Just six months after Czechoslovak leaders ceded the Sudetenland, Nazi troops seize the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, effectively wiping Czechoslovakia off the map.
6. A Deadly Blizzard on the Great Plains, 1941
A Saturday-night blizzard strikes the northern Great Plains, leaving at least 60 people dead in North Dakota and Minnesota and six more in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
7. World Record Rainfall, 1952
Rain falls on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion — and keeps falling, hard enough to register the world’s most voluminous 24-hour rainfall: 73.62 inches.
8. CBS Cancels the “Ed Sullivan Show,” 1971
Word leaks that CBS-TV is canceling “The Ed Sullivan Show” after 23 years on the network, which also dumped Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason in the preceding month.
9. Disappearing Ozone Layer, 1988
NASA reports that the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere has been depleted three times faster than predicted.
10. A New Global Health Scare, 2003
After accumulating reports of a mysterious respiratory disease afflicting patients and healthcare workers in China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada, the World Health Organization issues a heightened global health alert. The disease will soon become famous under the acronym SARS (for Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
Michael Bird is a music teacher at Tallassee High School and a weekly columnist for The Tribune.