Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Ides of March and Julius Caesar

On the eve of the Ides of March we start with a cartoon -- Caesar with a contemporary twist.

My thanks to Guido Giuntini for allowing me to use this.

Does everyone know the details of Caesar’s death? Perhaps a review would be helpful.

The Ides were one of the three calendar divisions in the Roman month. In its original version, the Roman calendar designated the date of the new moon as the start of the Kalends, the date of the half moon the start of the Nones, and the date of the full moon the Ides. Oddly, the Roman days were referenced by counting down to the next period rather than counting up. So March 2 was VI Non Mar, or six days until the first day of the Nones. When the month reached the Nones, days were counted down until the Ides. After the Ides, the days were counted down until the start of the next month. So the day after the Ides might be XV Apr – fifteen days until April.

In the year 44 BC, Caesar planned to address the Senate on the Ides but at the last minute thought of cancelling the meeting because the auspices were negative. To make matters worse, his wife had nightmares about him being assassinated on the Ides, but Caesar dismissed these superstitions and kept the meeting as scheduled.

The conspirators sent Caesar’s cousin to fetch him knowing that he would not raise any suspicion. Then, with Caesar enroute, the conspirators waited with great anxiety. They feared being discovered and could hardly endure the endless passage of time. Finally Caesar arrived and took his seat. As the session began a Senator, Marcus Tillius Cimber, requested that he be allowed to read a petition. As he moved forward, several conspirators gathered around the dictator. Suddenly, Tillius seized Caesar’s toga and pulled it down exposing his neck as a sign for the dagger blows to begin. Caesar tried to rise and, according to one account, stabbed an adversary with his stylus, before being overwhelmed. Suetonius says that Caesar shouted “this is violence!”

As the attack continued, Caesar is said to have pulled the toga over his head, after realizing he would soon die in an attempt to retain some dignity in death. Shakespeare has Caesar utter, “Et tu Brute (you too Brutus?), but these were the playwright's words written for dramatic effect. Their work complete, the conspirators fled, either through fear or shame at what they had done. Caesar's body lay alone in the chamber for some time until it was retrieved by his slaves.

A physician was called in to examine Caesar’s body and counted 23 stab wounds. Only one was lethal, the second blow struck, which entered his chest.

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