Et tu

Any historian worth their salt can give you a rundown of THE Ides of March.

I just happen to be worth my salt.  Yeah, all those salty tears that I shed in Medieval Latin class when the grammar rules that I so long stood on went flying out the window.  Back in my day, we didn’t just study pretty Latin, but I now digress dangerously to the point of claiming to have walked to that class-uphill in both directions-in the snow.

Here’s the story.  Julius Caesar was incredibly impressive.  He conquered Gaul, fixed the calendar, and instituted tax reforms that the plebeians had been clamoring about since the slaughter of the most awesome Gracchi brothers.  If you were his solider, you loved the guy.  Even the Roman mob swung in adulation.  However, if you were a good ol’ boy in the Roman senate you woke up every day in your villa feeling like your patrician status was under attack.  The patricians grew tired, quickly.  The Senate tried to make Caesar share power.  They put him in a triumvirate (one of those nifty Roman groupings of strong generals designed so that that no one could become a dictator).  The problem with these groups of three men is that there is always a weakest link.  Crassus.  Remember him?  No, I didn’t think so.  This left Pompey the Great to butt heads directly with Caesar.  Caesar was north of the Alps when the Senate encouraged Pompey to order him to disband his army.  Vin Diesel style, Caesar turned that army southward, invaded the Italian heartland, and walked into Rome like a boss.  Pompey tucked tail and ran to Egypt where Caesar met Cleopatra and swiped right.  Once Caesar received Pompey’s head in a basket, he was free to use his loyal army (and his popularity) to rise to supreme authority.  He began to crush the Senate.

Desperate leaders in the Senate, like Cassius, gathered support around a plot to kill Caesar.  On March 15, 44 BCE.  They made good on their carefully laid plans.  Gruesome and merciless, Caesar was hacked to death as he entered the senate.  You probably didn’t know Crassus, but you might know Brutus.  Caesar struggled to survive until he saw his best friend Brutus wielding a knife.  Et tu?  Thank you, Shakespeare.  To make matters even more unnerving, classicists have noted that Brutus may have been Cesar’s illegitimate son (noting the age gap and the father/son relationship that they had).  Ouch.

But the story isn’t over.  The Roman mob swings like a shallow tsunami.  When word of the murder reached the forum, people rallied behind Cassius and Brutus.  The conspirators announced proudly that they had saved Rome from a dangerous dictator who wanted to dismantle the republic.  But Mark Antony was not to be outdone.  Caesar’s loyal, tall, strapping, blond friend (definitely cast by Arnold Schwarzenegger) reached into his toga and said, “What do we have here?”. “Ah!  It is my dearly departed BFF’s will.  Romans, he loved you so much that he left each and every one of you a piece of his estate (cue the removal of Caesar’s horribly blooded corpse from the building).”  Who looks deranged now?   The mob turned-as mobs do.  How dare those monsters kill our hero!  The conspirators fled to the far reaches of the empire, only to be hunted down and assassinated by Mark Antony and Caesar’s adopted nephew Octavian.  Octavian would go on to kill Antony to become the first, and one of the best, emperors of Rome.

To this day, Italians lay flowers at the alter where Caesar’s body was cremated in the Forum.  For all his faults, they remember, maybe not so accurately, as a selfless champion of the people.

Do you have chills yet?

How does one celebrate the ides of March? Should one partake in Roman delicacies liked stuffed door mice and peacocks? Wine in a box from Lazio? I implore you, let this holiday not go the way of Saint Patrick’s Day.  Rather I ask, how will you be remembered?  And, for god’s sake, if a soothsayer tries to warn you, you see a strange flock of birds, or your significant other is hysterically worried because of some horrible dream, please do yourself a favor and stay home from work today.


    • Christine Contrada

      Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s never too late to love history and I will happily tell you all the cool stories anytime! 🙂

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