Tag Archives: Mark Antony

The Ides of March


What is the ides, anyway? Nothing more than the Roman concept of a date near the middle of a month. For some months, such as March, the ides falls on the 15th; in other months it comes on the 18th. (A singular ide doesn’t exist. Don’t worry about it.)

Perhaps you are thinking, “Beware the ides of March,” a phrase you are likely familiar with. Shakespeare used it in his play Julius Caesar. Here’s the back story:

Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Empire, was murdered in a conspiracy on the ides of March in 44 BCE. Cassius Longinus initiated the plot and his brother-in-law, Marcus Brutus, joined him.

As Julius Caesar entered the Senate that day, he was given a note reportedly telling him to beware the ides of March, but he did not read it. He was soon surrounded by many senators armed with daggers. Casca was the first to strike, stabbing Caesar in the neck.

When Brutus stabbed Caesar in the groin, Caesar is said to have asked (in Greek), “You, too, my child?” You’re probably more familiar with Shakespeare’s version: “Et tu, Brute?”

After the assassination, Mark Antony tried to carry on Caesar’s role, but Caesar’s will had named Octavian, his adopted son, to take charge after him. Two years later, Brutus and Cassius committed suicide after Octavian’s forces defeated theirs at the Battle of Philippi, in Greece.

Now the thick plot gets even thicker: Antony moved his armies into Egypt, where Cleopatra, Caesar’s old lover, awaited him. Octavian’s and Mark Antony’s forces fought, with Octavian’s ultimately prevailing. In 30 BCE, Antony committed suicide. Octavian then became known as Augustus and ruled the Roman Empire for many years. As for Cleopatra, Shakespeare has her clutching an asp, a poisonous snake, to her breast and dying from its bite. Corpses abounded in the ancient world.

So there you have it. Remember, these events occurred  over 2000 years ago. Shakespeare used sources from the ancient world, but we can’t be certain of every detail and certainly not of what people said.

As for the Holy Roman Empire, my favorite quotation about it is from Voltaire, the French philosopher. He declared that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.


























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