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The meaning and origin of the expression: Beware the Ides of March

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Beware the Ides of March

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What's the origin of the phrase 'Beware the Ides of March'?

The expression 'Beware the Ides of March' is first found in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, 1601. The line is the soothsayer's message to Julius Caesar, warning of his death.

Beware the Ides of MarchThe Ides of March didn't signify anything special in itself - this was just the usual way of saying "March 15th". The notion of the Ides being a dangerous date was purely an invention of Shakespeare's; each month has an Ides (often the 15th) and this date wasn't significant in being associated with death prior to 1601.

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These days the Ides of March passes by each year pretty much unnoticed.
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Months of the Roman calendar were arranged around three named days - the Kalends, the Nones and the Ides - and these were reference points from which the other (unnamed) days were calculated:

Kalends (1st day of the month).
Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months).
Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months).

Although the only time we are likely to hear 'the Ides' being used today is in the line from Shakespeare, in the Middle Ages, the Ides, as well as the Calends, was in common usage to depict the date. There are pre-Shakesperian references in Middle English to the Ides other months. An example is found in John Capgrave's Life St. Gilbert, circa 1451

Her lith Seynt Gilbert... whech was translate in-to þis schrine... þe þirde yde of October.
[Here lies Saint Gilbert, interred in this shrine on the third Ide of October]

Note that the method of reckoning of dates then was to name an Ide and then work back from it. So, St. Gilbert's date above would be three days before the Ide, that is, the 13th October.

See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.

See also, Et tu, Brute.

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