March 15, 2021

Why March 15 is Unlike Any Other Day

Today, the Ides of March, which for many portends an inexplicable evil, is actually quite explainable and, if you aren’t Julius Caesar, not at all evil. 

In fact, the Ides of March was, before Julius Caesar’s reign, a celebration of the New Year. 

The Romans marked the day with food, dancing, excessive drinking and by settling their debts.  If you’d been putting off paying your bills, the Ides of March was your reckoning day. 

That all changed when Caesar took over. Caesar’s astronomers wanted to align the civic and solar calendars. He declared January 1 the new year, and added a few months and a leap year. 

Many Romans didn’t love that. Bit by bit, decision by decision, Caesar made himself increasingly unpopular, especially to the Roman Senate. Senators came to suspect Caesar wanted to crown himself king – and this, after they had named him dictator for life. Clearly, and with New York governor Andrew Cuomo as a recent guide, blind ambition clings to political personalities. 

Before Shakespeare immortalized the Ides of March in “Julius Caesar,” the philosopher and author Plutarch wrote the story of a soothsayer who warned Caesar harm would come to him by the middle of March. The date – March 15, 44 B.C., – arrived, and Caesar was walking to the grand Theatre of Pompey, where political meetings were often held. (The Roman Forum , where they usually met, was being renovated.) 

Caesar happened to pass the soothsayer that day. He commented to him, “Well, The Ides of March are come!” as if to imply he had made false the soothsayer’s claim. 

But the soothsayer only said, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.”

A little while later, on the floor of the meeting space, a senator, Gaius Cassius Longinus, pulled out a dagger and stabbed Caesar in the neck. As Caesar fought him, the senator yelled for help. Conspirators pulled out their own daggers and surrounded Caesar, stabbing him 23 times. 

The soothsayer proved right: by the end of the day, Caesar had suffered massive blood loss and one fatal slice to his aorta. The immortal, unassailable Julius Caesar was dead.

March 15, whether marked as the first day of a new year or the beginning of a slow slide into spring, remains a day of reckoning. The Romans reckoned with the debts they owed. Julius Caesar reckoned with his ambition and the hatred it inspired. The Roman senators reckoned with a decision to murder, in public and enmasse, their leader. 

I hope that today, after you make sure you pay all your bills, you take a long draught of air and thank the skies for the gift of breath. That you embrace the Full Crow Moon, in which the crows call out the end of winter. That you welcome the Full Worm Moon that heralds the return of the robins. As innocent as this day may seem, it is surely momentous for all that is to come. 

In my side of the woods, the temperature has tumbled to 20 degrees and the wind peels the skin from the face and freezes fingers and toes. But soon those days will diminish in number. We have emerged from winter, alive, breathing, thankful. Let that be the mark of March 15, 2021. We have survived. 

For the purposes of this blog, write a short essay on how your world, at this moment in time, holds the promise of change. Read it aloud to yourself, or to a nearby animate or inanimate object. Send it to a friend, or, if you are a participant in the Candlelight Writing Workshops, send it to me. I’d like to read it.