One of the great privileges of my day job is that I get to Rome reasonably regularly. Were it not for our Rome correspondent, Paddy Agnew, I would be there even more often. I remind him of this frequently, to little effect.
It’s such a great city. So deeply immersed in the most ancient of history. And if you love history, being there is a sumptuous feast. Every time. So much of what we know in religion, law, politics and culture originated there.
Generally when in Rome I tend to stay city centre. That way I can stroll through its streets en route to the Vatican for whatever event I may be reporting on there. I always walk. Then I can speak to the ghosts I meet en route, and not just rush past. In 2013 it meant I was there for the 2,057th anniversary of the murder of Julius Caesar on March 15th that year. Pope Francis had been elected just two days previously, on March 13th , and I was in the city for the papal election.
My daily journey to the Vatican took me past the remains of the Theatre of Pompey, where Caesar was so bloodily despatched with 23 stab wounds in a conspiracy involving 60. Led by Brutus and Cassius, of the lean and hungry look.
Caesar had ignored the soothsayer who warned him, in Shakespeare’s words: “Beware the Ides of March.” Indeed Caesar teased the soothsayer that day, saying: “The ides of March are come.” But, as the soothsayer pithily responded, “Ay, Caesar; but not gone.”
As I passed that spot of such momentous occurrence I almost expected Caesar to put in a guest appearance, of the sort another of Shakespeare’s characters Banquo did at the famous banqueting scene in Macbeth, and point out his gory wounds to me. I had my reply ready too: “Thou canst not say I did it.”
But he was, clearly, on a break.
Since the death of Caesar, the Ides of March has been associated with bad luck. But it wasn’t the day of the month the soothsayer was warning Caesar against.
In Roman times the ides were the middle days of the month, from the Latin idus. In March, May, July, and October that middle day was the 15th. For all other months it was the 13th.