Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Date to Remember: The Ides of March

by Nanette Littlestone

“Beloved March, the herald of spring. Its gentle stirrings bring forth new awakenings.” When I think of spring I picture new buds on tree branches, flowers pushing through the earth, a hint of warmth in the air.

The month of March derives its name from the Latin Martius, which comes from the Roman god Mars. Best known as the god of war, he was also the god of fertility, a protector of cattle, and the god of spring. His parents were Jupiter and Juno, and he fathered Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. 

All that is well and good, but not many people are familiar with the god or the founders of Rome. They are familiar, though, with an important day this month. A date before the Vernal Equinox. The 15th.  The Ides of March.  

Originally, the Ides of March was the day of the full moon. This day corresponded to the 13th in most months of the Roman calendar, with the exception of the 15th of March, May, July, and October. The reason we know about the Ides of March is largely due to William Shakespeare and his play about Julius Caesar. The words from the play that live on in our minds are as follows: 

            Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me?
            I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
            Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear. 

            Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March. 

            Caesar: What man is that? 

            Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March. 

Caesar was assassinated on the ides of March, stabbed to death in the Senate at the hands of his friend Brutus and others. Directly after Caesar’s death, the phrase “the Ides of March” came to represent the assassination and the betrayal of Brutus. When we hear that phrase today we think of secret plots and vengeance and murder. 

Are there important dates in your story? Something that coincides with revenge? Or murder? Perhaps there was a famous wedding, or a birthday. Can you place your characters in an event readers will recognize? If you’re writing historical fiction, look at the timeframe around your story. Search out details you can weave into your narrative to give your readers a sense of time and place. If you’re writing something contemporary, dates are still important. The seasons give us a sense of change. Spring is an indicator of new growth, new beginnings. What changes are happening in your story? To your characters? 

Let history or current events give you the structure for something riveting. Then use your imagination to fill in the rest. In the meantime, steer clear of the 15th. You never know when Brutus might pop up.

Nanette Littlestone is a freelance editor, writing coach, and author who has worked with both fiction and nonfiction for 20 years. She specializes in helping authors to use their passion to achieve their own unique voice and message. For more information, please visit

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