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Sharpwriters' Thoughts

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Ides of March

What happened on this day in history? According to Important Dates in History, at least 147 different things, including:
  • 1493 Christopher Columbus returns to Spain after first new world voyage
  • 1744 French King Louis XV declares war on England
  • 1913 First Presidential press conference (Woodrow Wilson)
  • 1968 US Mint stops buying and selling gold
  • 1989 Department of Veterans Affairs officially established as a Cabinet position
So how is it none of these important dates gets commemorated, but everybody has heard of the day, using the ancient term "The Ides of March."

Every month has an Ides. We just forget about the Ides of any other month. The Ides are (were?) the 15th day of March, May, July, or October or the 13th day of any other month in the ancient Roman calendar. Originally Ides were meant to be the full moon, but with calendars ranging from 28 days to 31 days, that doesn't work more than a month or two. Kalends was the day of accounting, the day bills were due. The nones were supposed to be nine days before the ides, but they couldn't count with any more sense than they could make calendars, so they counted the beginning and the ending day in counting, making the nones really eight days before the ides. They just used those three named days and counted everything else from there:
    March 1 - Kalends
    March 2 - VI Nones
    March 3 - V Nones
    March 4 - IV Nones
    March 5 - III Nones
    March 6 - Pridie Nones ("on the day before")
    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 - XVI Kalends
    March 17 - XV Kalends
    March 18 - XIV Kalends
    March 19 - XIII Kalends
    March 20 - XII Kalends
    March 21 - XI Kalends
    March 22 - X Kalends
    March 23 - IX Kalends
    March 24 - VIII Kalends
    March 25 - VII Kalends
    March 26 - VI Kalends
    March 27 - V Kalends
    March 28 - IV Kalends
    March 29 - III Kalends
    March 30 - II Kalends
    March 31 - Pridie Kalends

Now, consider that on some months the dates would all be different since you're counting backwards from a different day of the month. There's some speculation that Julias Caesar didn't "beware the Ides of March" because he was thinking that was the 13th of March instead of the 15th and he thought the day the astrologer Spurinna had warned him about had already passed!

I better beware of wasting any more time today on this Ides of March. Have a happy one.

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