14 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Ides of March
“Beware the Ides of March,” warned the soothsayer to Julius Caesar. At least, that’s how it went in Shakespeare’s dramatization of real-life events from 1600 years earlier. Indeed, it was on the 15th March 44BC that Caesar was assassinated by a group of Roman senators. It seems they were pissed off at his being made ‘dictator perpetuo’ (dictator for life) and so did the only thing they could think of to depose him…radically shorten his life, by stabbing him 23 times.
But what exactly are the ides of March? And is it just Caesar who needs to be wary of them? Put simply (which is not as easy as it sounds when it comes to the Roman calendar) it is the middle of the month (the 13th or 15th depending on which month we are referring to). Numbering the days of the month from 1 to 31 (or 30 or 28) was obviously far too straightforward for the Romans who preferred to count back from 3 fixed points within each month: the Nones (the 5th or 7th), the Ides (the 13th or 15th) and the Kalends (the first of the following month). Clearly, while their roads might have been straight, their time-measuring was anything but.
So now that we have established what exactly the ides of March refers to, do we need to pay special attention to them? While it turned out to be a bad day for Caesar, to assign any day an ominous portent has to smack of myth and superstition.
Oops, you won’t catch me walking under a ladder on Friday 13th, no way!
Bad things which happened on the ides of March
In 1938, Hitler declared that Jews in Germany would no longer have the right to vote. Given what was to follow, this was by no means the worst thing he would do to them but still went down in history as a dark day for human rights and freedoms.
In 1931, a wooden-hulled ship named SS Viking, which was being used on the movie set of a film entitled ‘White Thunder’, caught fire resulting in the deaths of 28 of the film crew. As a tribute to them, the finished film was later renamed ‘The Viking’.
In 1920, the Texas town of Grandview was almost entirely burned to the ground, destroying more than 200 residential homes and all its churches and schools. The fire was thought to have been started after an oil stove exploded. Incredibly, no one was killed and the town rallied round to rebuild itself. Whether anyone ever spoke to W.D. Davis (whose stove it was that had set about this disaster) is less clear.
In 1976, at West Ham tube station, a bomb on the Metropolitan line exploded, killing 7 passengers. It is believed to have been destined for Liverpool Street but went off prematurely. The bomber, armed with a gun, killed the train driver who bravely gave chase as the man ran off. He was later caught and imprisoned (despite an attempt at martyrdom by shooting himself in the chest).
Some less bad things which happened on the ides of March
In 1965, the 36th US president, Lyndon B Johnson declared that everyone should have equal voting rights. Addressing Congress, he used the famous phrase “we shall overcome” borrowed from African American leaders. Not bad for a middle-aged white man from Texas….but crazy that in my lifetime this segregation was still deemed acceptable.
In 1981, 147 passengers and crew held hostage for 15 days on a Pakistan Airways plane travelling from Karachi to Peshawar were freed upon arrival in Damascus (obviously not the usual route taken on this otherwise internal flight). A diplomat on board was murdered, so they didn’t all arrive unscathed and they were only released after the Pakistani Government agreed to the hijackers’ demands to release 54 people from prison.
In 1978, Somalia and Ethiopia signed a peace treaty after nine months of war between themselves, sparked after Somalia encroached into Ethiopia. But for every war stopped a new one starts somewhere in the world, it seems, and so in 2011, on this day, began the Syrian Civil War after a protest against President Bashar al-Assad turned violent. The rest, sadly, is history….
Cultural things which happened on the ides of March
In 1972, Francis Ford Coppola’s epic movie The Godfather premiered at Broadway’s Loew’s State Theatre, ahead of its general release to the rest of America on March 24th and August 24th in the UK. It gave us the haunting theme tune ‘Speak Softly Love’, instantly recognisable even today, and a plethora of throaty quotes from Don Corleone reminding us that sometimes there are offers which can’t be refused and that ice-cream is not the only dish best served cold.
In 1956, My Fair Lady opened on Broadway. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, this is the story of cockney rough-diamond Eliza Doolittle who becomes a ‘project’ for snobbish phoneticist Professor Higgins. Higgins believes that by giving her elocution lessons he can turn her into a lady in time for the Embassy Ball.
Its themes have definitely stood the test of time, reimagined over and over since GBS originally wrote his play in 1912. What about Pretty Woman, for example? And Pygmalion, in Greek mythology, was a king and a sculptor who fell in love with one of his statues…which sounds a bit like Mannequin (with Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall…both of whom thankfully went on to star in much better films than this!) And let’s not forget Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, this time set in the world of eighties commodities broking.
If The Godfather is the perfect film, then My Fair Lady is the perfect musical! Google a few of the songs and you’ll realise you already know them…and have known them, like, forever.
Also on this day in history, in 1877, the first Cricket Test Match was played internationally between Australia and England. It took place in Melbourne and ended 4 days later in Australia’s victory by 45 runs.
Will.i.am was born on this date in 1975. Obviously, he shares his birthday with many other celebs: Taxi star Judd Hirsch, 1935, for example; writer Lynda La Plante, 1946; musician Terence Trent D’Arby, 1962; actress Eva Longoria, 1975; rapper Young Buck, 1981, to name but a few. However, he gets a special mention here not only for his glasses (go short-sighted people everywhere, yay!) but also because, as well as being a singer, songwriter, producer, actor, TV personality and founder of The Black Eyed Peas, he is such a great philanthropist. Amongst other things, he runs a scholarship programme for college students, provides grants to struggling families to help them with their financial literacy and champions the young people from his home town, making him an all-round good egg.
And Two More Things which have had a Lasting Impact on the Way we Live Today…
On the 15th March 2002, Burger King was the first fast food chain to sell a veggie burger. The term veggie burger, or ‘VegeBurger’ was first used in London in 1982 when Gregory Sams put it on the menu of his Paddington-based natural food restaurant. Slowly, the world opened its maw to the idea of vegetarianism and now veganism is the fastest growing lifestyle movement, and an increasingly popular takeaway choice! Check out the stats here: https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics
In 1985, the first ever internet domain name was registered! What was it? Symbolics.com and it belonged to the Symbolics Computer Corporation, a company that were clearly ahead of the curve. Our modern internet has actually been a long time in the making: Nikola Tesla envisaged a “world wireless system” in the early 1900s and in the 1960s the first workable prototypes were developed in the States. But it was Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 inventing the ‘world wide web’ that finally gave us the unfettered, easy access to the mine of information upon which we rely today.