Beware the Ides

Today is the Ides of March, the infamous day that Caesar was murdered.

Caesar was warned by a soothsayer about the Ides, but ignored the warning. On his last walk to the Theatre of Pompey, Caesar walked past the seer and jokingly said “The Ides of March have come!”  The seer replied, “Aye Caesar, but not gone…”. Caesar was stabbed 23 times by other senators a short time later.

Traditionally, the Ides of March was the last day of the Roman new year celebrations. March was the beginning of the Roman calendar year, and from the first to the Ides, the Romans held festivals and celebrations.

The Ides of March was also the day that a feast to the Goddess Anna Perenna was held. People made sacrifices to Anna Perenna to ensure “that the circle of the year may be completed happily”. Gathering on the first milestone of the Via Flaminia, famous for it’s tombs and cemeteries, (note the idea of death in the midst of life), people also picnicked and frolicked in her name.

Ovid talks about the festival of Anna Perenna, the goddess of the ring of the year:

The happy feast of Anna Perenna is held on the Ides,

Not far from your banks, Tiber, far flowing river.

The people come and drink there, scattered on the grass,

And every man reclines there with his girl.

Some tolerate the open sky, a few pitch tents,

And some make leafy huts out of branches,

While others set reeds up, to form rigid pillars,

And hang their outspread robes from the reeds.

But they’re warmed by sun and wine, and pray

For as many years as cups, as many as they drink.

There you’ll find a man who quaffs Nestor’s years,

A woman who’d age as the Sibyl, in her cups.

There they sing whatever they’ve learnt in the theatres,

Beating time to the words with ready hands,

And setting the bowl down, dance coarsely,

The trim girl leaping about with streaming hair.

Homecoming they stagger, a sight for vulgar eyes,

And the crowd meeting them call them ‘blessed’.

I fell in with the procession lately (it seems to me worth

Saying): a tipsy old woman dragging a tipsy old man.

~Ovid: Fasti

Anna Perenna is a goddess of cyclical time. Her feast on the fifteenth is halfway through the month and on the day that in the old calendar was when the moon should be full. She is also a goddess of health and renewal and the connections between the past and the present.

Supposedly Anna Perenna was the sister of Dido. In the Aeneid, she and Dido talk about Aeneas.

BkIV:1-53 Dido and Anna Discuss Aeneas

But the queen, wounded long since by intense love,

feeds the hurt with her life-blood, weakened by hidden fire.

The hero’s courage often returns to mind, and the nobility

of his race: his features and his words cling fixedly to her heart,

and love will not grant restful calm to her body.

The new day’s Dawn was lighting the earth with Phoebus’s

brightness, and dispelling the dew-wet shadows from the sky,

when she spoke ecstatically to her sister, her kindred spirit:

“Anna, sister, how my dreams terrify me with anxieties!

Who is this strange guest who has entered our house,

with what boldness he speaks, how resolute in mind and warfare!

Truly I think – and it’s no idle saying – that he’s born of a goddess.

Fear reveals the ignoble spirit. Alas! What misfortunes test him!

What battles he spoke of, that he has undergone!

If my mind was not set, fixedly and immovably,

never to join myself with any man in the bonds of marriage,

because first-love betrayed me, cheated me through dying:

if I were not wearied by marriage and bridal-beds,

perhaps I might succumb to this one temptation.

Anna, yes I confess, since my poor husband Sychaeus’s death

when the altars were blood-stained by my murderous brother,

he’s the only man who’s stirred my senses, troubled my

wavering mind. I know the traces of the ancient flame.

But I pray rather that earth might gape wide for me, to its depths,

or the all-powerful father hurl me with his lightning-bolt

down to the shadows, to the pale ghosts, and deepest night

of Erebus, before I violate you, Honour, or break your laws.

He who first took me to himself has stolen my love:

let him keep it with him, and guard it in his grave.”

So saying her breast swelled with her rising tears.

Anna replied: “O you, who are more beloved to your sister

than the light, will you wear your whole youth away

in loneliness and grief, and not know Venus’s sweet gifts

or her children? Do you think that ashes or sepulchral spirits care?

Granted that in Libya or Tyre before it, no suitor ever

dissuaded you from sorrowing: and Iarbas and the other lords

whom the African soil, rich in fame, bears, were scorned:

will you still struggle against a love that pleases?

Do you not recall to mind in whose fields you settled?

Here Gaetulian cities, a people unsurpassed in battle,

unbridled Numidians, and inhospitable Syrtis, surround you:

there, a region of dry desert, with Barcaeans raging around.

And what of your brother’s threats, and war with Tyre imminent?

The Trojan ships made their way here with the wind,

with gods indeed helping them I think, and with Juno’s favour.

What a city you’ll see here, sister, what a kingdom rise,

with such a husband! With a Trojan army marching with us,

with what great actions Punic glory will soar!

Only ask the gods for their help, and, propitiating them

with sacrifice, indulge your guest, spin reasons for delay,

while winter, and stormy Orion, rage at sea,

while the ships are damaged, and the skies are hostile.”

After Dido’s death, Carthage was sacked by the Numidians. Anna fled, ending up in Aeneas’ new city Lavinium. Aeneas’ wife Lavinia was jealous of Anna and plotted against her, but Anna was warned in a dream by Dido’s spirit and fled. In the end, she fell into the Numicus river and drowned (though some say the river God took her). It is here that she became a river nymph, forever locked into the  “amnis perrenis” or the “perennial stream”, which is how she became the goddess of the circle of the year for Rome.

Another tale told by Ovid is about how Mars tries to persuade Anna to get Minerva to marry him. Anna finally agrees to it, but when Mars lifts the wedding veil on his new bride, he finds that he has married Anna instead! The feast for Anna is in March, the month of Mars and this is why the feast for Anna is a rowdy, bawdy affair and why Anna and Mars are often linked in worship. Anna Perenna is often equated with Luna, Themis and Io.

And in the spirit of circular remembrance…

In 40 BCE, on the anniversary of Caesar’s death, Augustus took his revenge for Caesar after winning the Siege of Perugia by executing 300 senators and knights who fought for Marc Antony. He did it in front of the altar newly consecrated to Caesar.

After the capture of Perusia he took vengeance on many, meeting all attempts to beg for pardon or to make excuses with the one reply, “You must die.” Some write that three hundred men of both orders were selected from the prisoners of war and sacrificed on the Ides of March like so many victims at the altar raised to the Deified Julius. ~Suetonius, The Life of Augustus

So this Ides of March, take a moment to celebrate the year and never forget that something might be waiting for you just around the corner… What goes around, comes back around to get you eventually after all, and isn’t that the main idea of the Rule of Three right there?

Beware the Ides of March!

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4 thoughts on “Beware the Ides

  1. seems fitting that it is also my wedding anniversary. 🙂

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