Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Ides of March

When Fantasy Bob was a keen and earnest student of Latin, one the things that he had trouble with was dates.  That is to say, how to express dates in Latin.  He had problems with other kinds of dates too, at least until the future Mrs FB came on the scene, by which time he had long forgotten anything he knew about Latin dates.

But one thing he does remember is that 15 March is not XV March but the Ides of March.  Other months have Ides too, but for some of them it is the XIII.  Readers will begin to share FB's confusion, if not sympathise with it.  The Ides simply means middle or half way - so it is the day which is in the middle of the month.

For reasons which still escape FB, the Romans didn't number the days of the month in the present simple fashion.  As well as the Ides, there were also the Kalendae - which was the first day of the month and the Nonae which were 8 days before the Ides and so either the 5th or the 7th depending on which month.  So dates were referred to by reference to these 3 days - the Xth for example would be the 3rd  day before the Ides, or the 5th day depending on the month. Readers now fully sympathise with FB's confusion. It was a wonder anyone in Ancient Rome ever managed to meet on the right day.  But they did.  Particularly on the Ides of March.

The Ides of March are the most famous and celebrated Ides, because that is when Julius Caesar got it in the back.  In fact he got in the back 23 times, stabbed on the steps of the Senate by Brutus, Cassius and the rest of the squad.  It is a bit of an extreme reaction by team members to a man who wants to be skipper.  Normally there is relief that someone wants to do all the phoning around on a Friday night.  Certainly FB would think twice about allowing himself to be nominated for skipper of the All Star Carlton 4th XI if all the thanks he would get for it was a prolonged stabbing event.

Soothsaying at Test Level
Shakespeare's play follows the legend  that Caesar was warned by a soothsayer that the Ides of March would be bad news for him, but he ignored the warning.  'Beware the Ides of March.'  FB always has and takes careful account of any soothsayer who approaches him on his way to the Senate.

More recent research has suggested that Shakespeare got it wrong.  The soothsayer was not referring to the imminent assassination of Caesar, but to an event that would take place in exactly 1,921 years.  He was forecasting the start of Test cricket.  For it was on the Ides of March 1877 that the Combined New South Wales and Victoria XI played the All England XI at Melbourne in what was subsequently designated the first Test Match.  Australia won.  Hence the soothsayer's warning.  Now that is some soothsaying.  Test Match Quality.
All England XI - 1877


  1. I suppose the lesson to be drawn from the Julius Caesar incident is - be very careful who you choose as your vice-captain. As far as the Ides of March warning was concerned, over a period of nearly 2000 years something bad was bound to happen on that date at some point, so the soothsayer was on fairly safe ground there. It's unfortunate that when it comes to filling in the weekly Lottery numbers, there is never a good soothsayer around when you need them.

    1. Silly Point - it is typical Scottish pessimism to suggest that something bad has to happen within a 2000 year period.