Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Episode 102: Beware the Ides of March Show notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 102: Beware the Ides of March

Record Date: February 28, 2021

Air Date: March 3, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

This episode is airing on the 1st March. March has always been among my favorite months because it marks the transition from winter to spring in the Northern hemisphere - which is where I have lived my entire life. 

This week I want to look at Shakespeare's line, Beware the Ides of March, and dive a little into that portent of death and doom while also figuring out… what the heck is an Ide?



First up: Beware the Ides of March is a line from the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar. Caesar was a real person, but more on that later. So for many, the popularity of this phrase comes from Shakespeare. But of course, Shakespeare had quite the habit of using other people’s work and passing it off as his own. And as Gary Martin at the site says, the first use of this phrase was likely by English playwright and cleric Nicholas Udall, who would later become the headmaster at Eton College. 

From Martin’s site, quote

“In 1533 he published a textbook as a teaching aid for his scholars - Floures for Latine Spekynge Selected and Gathered oute of Terence. As the title suggests Udall took example texts from the works of Terence and translated them into English. One such text is:

For Spurinna beinge a southsayer hadde warned Cesar before to beware of the Ides of Marche, for he shulde be slayne as that daye, and soo he was.”

End quote

Martin goes on to note that Terence’s original text doesn’t include “beware the Ides of March” and this work was published 30 years before Shakespeare was even born. 

So, boom. We’ve done it. Well, Gary Martin, with assistance from Peter Lukacs from did it.

Okay, with the origin out of the way, what does it actually mean?

Well, the idea is that Julius Caesar, who was a Roman Dictator who is credited with a critical role in bringing down the Roman empire, is said to have been visited by a soothsayer (which is someone who can predict the future). She tells him to “Beware the Ides of March” because he will be killed that day. 

So the phrase, used figuratively, means “a warning of something to come”. 

But why would the soothsayer mention the Ides of March? Well, perhaps they were a true soothsayer and had seen the future. Perhaps they were in on the plan. Or perhaps it was a reasonable guess given this information from a article:


“If you look through history, you can certainly find enough horrible things that happened on March 15, but is it a case of life imitating art? Or art imitating life?

Perhaps it was Julius Caesar himself (and not the famous playwright) who caused all the drama. After all, he’s the one who uprooted Rome’s New Year celebration from their traditional March 15 date to January…just two years before he was betrayed and butchered by members of the Roman senate.”

Now we know it’s likely origin and how it was used by Udall. And how Shakespeare took the line and popularized it for all the world. But it wouldn’t be Bunny Trails fashion to leave you without some examples in every day life. So here are a few. 

This one comes to us from the Richmond Enquirer, February 18, 1834. It is an open letter to the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, telling him that he will be assassinated in about one months time. 

So this one was definitely in keeping with the concept of dire warnings and omens. 

Here’s one from 1949 that plays tongue-in-cheek with the phrase in an advertisement for Panam’s Bargain Fares. This is in the February 18, 1949 edition of The Nome Nugget out of Nome, Alaska.

But this all still leave the question… what ARE the Ides of March? And we’ll get to that, after the break.

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons. 

Bunny Trails is and will always be free. But we are only able to make this content because of the awesome support of our Patrons like Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez. 

Because of Pat, Mary, and many others, you don’t have to pay a dime to enjoy Bunny Trails week after week. But even though Dan and I volunteer our time, there are still real costs to making this show, including hosting fees, equipment maintenance, domain costs, and more. 

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Modern Uses

What are the ides of March? I’ll turn to for a little conversation on ancient Roman calendars…


Unlike today, the ancient Romans didn’t number their calendar days in order from the first of the month to the last. Instead, they counted backward in relation to three days: the calends, nones, and ides.

The calends (or kalends; Latin, kalendae) was the first of the month. Calends, source of the word calendar, is when debts were due.

The nones (Latin, nōnae) were the ninth day before the ides. This day was equivalent to the seventh day of March, May, July, and October, and the fifth day of the other months. Originally, the nones corresponded to the first quarter of the moon.

The ides (Latin, īdūs) were the fifteenth day of the March, May, July, and October, and the thirteenth day of the other months. The ides originally corresponded to the full moon, storied for its own omens.

So, the Roman day of the month was reckoned by counting the days (including the starting and ending days) before the calends, nones, and ides. March 2 was the Latin equivalent of “four days before the nones of March.” March 13 was the equivalent of “three day before the ides of March.” March 27 was the equivalent of “six days before the calends of April.”

End Quote

The band Colosseum has a song Beware The Ides of March off the 1969 album Those Who Are About To Die Salute You. It’s an instrumental that sounds eerily similar to the 1964 song A Whiter Shade of Pale… but that’s none of my business.

I didn’t find any movies with Beware the Ides of March, but I found numerous ones with Ides of March, including a 2011 film staring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling, which itself was based on a 2008 play by Farragut North. It’s a political drama that conjurs serious themes of Caesar, Brutus, and the fall of the Roman Empire. 

There’s a 1948 novel called The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder. Wilder himself described it as quote “a fantasia on certain events and persons of the last days of the Roman republic. Historical reconstruction is not among the primary aims of this work” End quote

I also found the first book in the Shakespeare Approves! book series called 

Julius Caesar: Beware the Ides of March of the Penguins! By Dan Kostelec and illustrated by Todd Brugmans. This was published in 2019.

From the book’s synopsis


Shakespeare's classic tale of the death of Julius Caesar and the fall of the Roman Republic - but with more penguins!

As originally depicted in the short play of the same name, "Julius Caesar: Beware the Ides of March of the Penguins!" is based on Shakespeare's classic plays, but with lots of nerdy twists and turns.

"Shakespeare Approves!" takes the Bard's works and brings them to life in new and inventive ways, in books, music, and at Renaissance Faires near you!

End quote

This series is written like a comic book or a graphic novel, but obviously is written for kids. It seems to be aimed at those 7 and up. 

Wrap up...

I picked this phrase because I was looking for spring idioms that we haven’t already done because I’m really excited for Spring. It’s my favorite season because it generally comes with warming temperatures, renewal and regrowth of flowers & trees, a return to my zen activity of gardening, and the promise of fun activities like kayaking, patio grilling, and nature walks through Kansas’ various sanctuaries and arboretums. And despite the doom-like portent that Beware the Ides of March brings, every month has an ‘ides’ and there isn’t really anything deadly or scary about them. So like many times in my life, I’ll ignore Shakespeare on March 15th and rejoice in the beauty to come with Spring on the horizon. 



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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users.

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