Every month has an “Ides,” but only the month of March is known for it. The Romans did not number days of a month from the first to the last day. Instead, they counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month). The Ides occurred near the midpoint, on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th for March, May, July, and October. The Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, reflecting the lunar origin of the Roman calendar.
March 15th was marked by several religious observances in the Roman Empire, but was most notable for the Romans as a deadline for settling debts. In 44 BC, it became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar, which made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history.
Now that we have settled the meaning of the Ides, I want to shift our attention to Shakespeare, as I am often wont to do… He wrote the most lasting and arguably the most fascinating depiction of the nascence of the fall of the Roman Empire; “Beware the Ides of March!” is probably one of the most oft-quoted lines from Shakespeare’s cannon.
Act Three, Scene One of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar takes place on the Ides of March, 44 B.C. By the time the scene is over, Caesar would be stabbed to death and the fall of the Roman Empire was in motion. Democracy would ultimately be overthrown.
In the summer of 2017, our neighbors at The Public Theater produced a very provocative version of Julius Caesar. Certain news organizations created a campaign on social media against The Public’s production and its graphic violence. That campaign prompted two corporate sponsors — Delta Air Lines and Bank of America — to withdraw support from The Public, and a third, American Express, to distance itself.
The controversy prompted numerous debates over exactly whom is entitled to free speech and under what circumstances, and the limits of artistic expression. Those debates are not likely to subside, especially as the appetite for creative works tackling an array of political themes continues to grow. But thankfully, The Public prevailed and in a great twist of fate, are receiving support and sponsorship from a growing number of alternate sources.
I am reminded today, on the Ides of March, that we have incredibly vibrant, not-for-profit organizations throughout the United States who go out every day and fight like their lives depend upon it to uphold the tenets of democracy; organizations like The Public, and like Village Preservation. We work every day to make certain that our part of the world remains free from the encroachment of big developers who would like to destroy the nature and character of our Village. It’s our haven in the city and we have the ability in this democracy to work to preserve and defend it. I am grateful for that freedom on this Ides of March.