The Ides of March

Beware, dear readers! Today is the Ides of March.

But what does that actually mean? Well, if you’re Julius Caesar, it could mean your career (and perhaps even your breathing) is about to come to an abrupt end. But if you aren’t a Roman dictator, it simply means you’ve reached the middle of the month of March.

So where does the term Ides come from? Well, it comes from the Latin word idus, which the ancient Roman scholar Varro claimed was originally an Etruscan word. And yes, Ides refers to the middle day in a Roman month, which occurs 8 days after the Nones.

Now, if you are anything like me, you are probably wondering what the heck is the Nones?

The best way to explain it is to look at the way ancient Romans approached calendars. It’s a bit different from the way we do things in modern Western society.

Rather than numbering the days of the month in sequence from the first to the last, ancient Romans used three markers to break up the month. They were the Nones (Nonae), the Ides (Idus) and the Calends (Kalendae).

Each month, a pontifex (a priest assigned to sky watching) announced the Calends. It signified the beginning of a new moon cycle and thus, the beginning of a new month. The Nones, which signified the first quarter moon, typically came 8 days before the Ides, which occurred in the middle of the month, at the full moon. In March, May, July and October the Ides fell on the 15th day. During the remaining months the Ides fell on the 13th day.

In ancient Roman society each day was referred to by how many days it fell before one of the three markers. So, for example, St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) would be the 16th day before the Calends of April.

And there you have it. I hope you all have a very happy Ides of March – and enjoy the 16th day before the Calends of April this weekend!

If you are interested in reading more about the ancient Roman calendar, in its various incarnations, check out these websites:

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Given that the Ides of March are upon us again, I thought I’d link up last year’s post with the Moonshine grid this weekend.

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Image credit: The “Ides of March” Denarius coin / CoinNews.net

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20 thoughts on “The Ides of March

  1. Suzanne, my mother was born on March 14 and used to say she was glad Grandma Blanche got her out before the Ides, since she was superstitious. I’m with you; I don’t worry about dates.

    I love your approach to etymology and history because you do not talk down to your readers. You inform kindly. That, in itself, makes you a ‘rara avis,’ indeed! Peace, Amy
    http://sharplittlepencil.com/2013/03/15/mama-needs-a-brand-new-bag-a-barlette/

  2. I have to admit that, at times, I’m reluctant to admit I was an English major. I have found that after I stopped writing on a regular basis and having never used my teaching degree, I have gotten very lazy. I read one of your blogs on an aspect of grammar and had to add you. Your explanations and examples were excellent and appropriate and made more sense than the college text books I had. I keep meaning to find a good grammar workbook to get back into the practice of using correct grammar. I was also a History major and am very good at researching interesting things like this. So it is very fun to see you posting on the history of certain words as well.

  3. Suzanne, I appreciate your love of language and history. And I really like when you post on the moonshine grid, because I always learn something new.

  4. I remeber studying Shakespeare and learning about the Ides… I dont think it was this thourough though… I love this kind of stuff.

  5. This was interesting to me.

    Last night, I was driving well after dark, and I noticed the full moon. Usually that doesn’t really mean too much, but last night, it took me right back to the full moon from last September, and I remembered exactly what I was doing those months ago. Next time that happens, I’ll also know it’s the Ides.

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