Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Beware the Ides of March...

So goes the famous line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar; a phrase that every American child grows up hearing and a phrase that makes March 15 a little dark around the edges in our minds. Am I right? You know I am. Even if we don't necessarily notice it's the Ides of March every March 15, or even remember that the Ides of March is March 15, the phrase always evokes a sense of foreboding in our minds.

My coworker and I were talking about this yesterday, trying to remember what day the Ides of March falls on (March 15th? 5th? 7th?). And so today I Googled "Ides of March" because, let's be serious, you can find anything you want to know on Google. And the first hit was a site that talks about the origins of the Ides of March, and what "Ides" really means. [Which, of course, made me read on...we all know that phrase, sure, but who really knows what "Ides" means?]

Apparently, "Ides" comes from a group of 3 words that labeled the time of month on the Roman calendar. Their calendar was organized in months around these three days: Kalends (the 1st day of the month), Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months), and Ides (the 15th day of March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months). Now, I realize this is very confusing, but don't worry, it gets even more confusing! The other days of the month were named according to their relation to these three days. They were counted backward from the Kalends, the Nones, or the Ides. Thus, today would be the Ides of March, but yesterday would be Pridie Ides (Pridie being Latin for "on the day before"). March 3 would be V Nones, that is, the 5th day before the Nones. [I realize, doing the math, that that seems weird...but the Nones was counted in those 5 days.]

In fact, the website lays out part of the month of March according to this system, and I did a bit more research on it to finish out the month, just so that the geeks in all of us that are now trying to figure this out won't get a headache from thinking too much:

March 1: Kalends
March 2: VI Nones
March 3: V Nones
March 4: IV Nones
March 5: III Nones
March 6: Pridie Nones
March 7: Nones
March 8: VIII Ides
March 9: VII Ides
March 10: VI Ides
March 11: V Ides
March 12: IV Ides
March 13: III Ides
March 14: Pridie Ides
March 15: Ides
March 16: XVII Kalends
March 17: XVI Kalends
March 18: XV Kalends
March 19: XIV Kalends
March 20: XIII Kalends
March 21: XII Kalends
March 22: XI Kalends
March 23: X Kalends
March 24: IX Kalends
March 25: VIII Kalends
March 26: VII Kalends
March 27: VI Kalends
March 28: V Kalends
March 29: IV Kalends
March 30: III Kalends
March 31: Pridie Kalends
[Now, the disclaimer to the information above: it may not be 100% accurate. I did a bit of research and tried to figure out what the days of March would have been, but if I got it wrong, sorry! From what I read, the months in which the Ides fell on the 15th (March, May, July, and October) all had 31 days.]

I found out a bunch of cool stuff, too, while researching info for naming the days in March! Apparently, March was the first month of the year, named for the god Mars. The Roman calendar (pre-Julius Caesar's reforms to make the calendar a bit easier to follow) was originally based upon the lunar phases (which is probably the reason it was so messed up to begin with since the moon's phases aren't uniform). The names of the days were also based on the lunar phases. Kalends signified the new moon and the Kalends period spanned the phases beginning with the day after the full moon until a new crescent was spotted after the new moon. Nones signified the day that the moon reached its first quarter and the period of Nones spanned from the first sighting of the new crescent moon (the day after Kalends) to the first quarter. Ides signified the full moon and the period of Ides spanned from the day after the first quarter moon to the full moon. [The obvious question is, of course, why they didn't have a specially named day for the third quarter moon, but instead had the period of Kalends last for two full phases of the moon, but hey, they're the Romans. We can't begin to try and understand their crazy ways...]

The calendar shifted away from the lunar phases sometime around the 5th century B.C., and the month lengths became fixed. That's when March got 31 days (according to the site I looked at) along with May, July, and October. And the Kalends, the Nones, and the Ides were given specific days in those months, instead of being based upon specific times in the moon's phase cycle. [Good job, Romans, way to make a bit more sense...]

So, now I've completely geeked out about the Ides of March. It ain't just the day Julius Caesar was warned about in Shakespeare's play. I think this is fascinating. Probably not enough to research any further, but a fun thing to do with my Wednesday evening post-dinner, to be sure. I hope you derive just as much enjoyment out of this as I did!

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