Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Beware the Ides of March

Book cover for The Assassination of Julius Caesar: a People's History of Ancient RomeNext week is March 15, the Ides of March. This date is the modern equivalent of the day, in 44 BC, that Julius Caesar, the famous Roman general and ruler, was assassinated at a meeting of the Roman Senate. It marked a key event in the transition of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. There's one legend that says Caesar was warned by a seer that harm would come to him on the Ides of March. According to the tale, Caesar was on his way to the Senate that day when he passed the seer and mocked him, saying “The Ides of March have come.” The seer responded, “Aye, but it is not yet gone.” When Caesar reached the Senate, he was stabbed to death, the result of a conspiracy led by a once close ally, Brutus. The conspirators feared that Caesar, who had recently been declared dictator of the Roman Republic, intended to abolish the Senate.

The Ides of March has taken on an ominous tone, but that's a relatively modern phenomena. In ancient Rome, it simply meant the 15th of March. The modern, sinister implications of the date, plus the phrase “Beware the Ides of March,” are brought to us by William Shakespeare. His play, Julius Caesar, dramatized the assassination of Caesar and its aftermath. I remember reading and studying the play in high school. I particularly liked the speech by Mark Antony, a supporter of Caesar. In Shakespeare's play, Caesar's assassins allow Mark Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral as long as he does criticize the assassins. Mark Antony begins his speech with one of the most famous lines in Shakespeare, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” He then proceeds to praise the assassins, referring repeatedly to Brutus as an honorable man. But, as his speech progresses, his praise of the fallen Caesar grows. Without explicitly criticizing the assassins, he turns the crowd against them, inciting a riot. It is a fantastic piece of rhetoric that even I, as a clueless sophomore, recognized as brilliant.

If you want to learn more about Julius Caesar, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, or Mr. Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, you've come to the right place. MCPL has what you need. An excellent place to start learning more about the lives of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, or perhaps the honorable Brutus, more formally known as Marcus Junius Brutus, is from one of our biography databases, such as Biography in Context. For more information about the history of the Roman Republic or the Roman Empire, try one of our history databases, such as History in Context – World, or History Reference Center.

Rome DVD cover
Of course we have many fine books, videos, and audio books about the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire, and the transition from one to the other. We also have copies of the play Julius Caesar, as well as Shakespeare's other plays and poems. Was Julius Caesar a tyrant or faithful benefactor of the Roman people? Decide for yourself with one of our many fine biographies. A few years ago, HBO and the BBC produced a 2 season historical fiction drama, titled Rome, that is set during Rome's transition from a republic to an empire. Be forewarned, it is history in the raw, with much extreme violence, crude language, and explicit sexuality.

If all this talk of failing republics, faltering senates, and emerging empires sounds familiar, you may recognize these elements in another, less graphic tale, set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

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