For those who were spared the benefits of a classical education perhaps I should mention that March 15th is known as the Ides of March according to the eccentric Roman calendar. Traditionally, it is a day of foreboding, memorable for the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BC (or DCCIX ab urbe condita, if you really want to do as the Romans did).
"In March, October, July, May
The Ides fall on the fifteenth day..."
That's clear enough, but please don't ask -
For I'm not equal to the task -
What Nones and Calends were, nor why
Your average Roman would reply
When asked the date: "X days before
The next of these," and leave the chore
Of working out what that might mean
(April Fool's Day? Halloween?)
To the poor mug who posed the question
Inviting mental indigestion.
The Romans were a strange old breed;
Their empire's proof - if proof you need -
That on the whole they were no slouches.
A host of noble relics vouches
For their proficiency as builders;
The sheer diversity bewilders
Of temples, viaducts, arenas -
Taxpayers taken to the cleaners
To foot the bill for all those works
And woe betide the man who shirks.
Eagles aloft, their fearsome legions
Conquered half of Europe's regions,
While other places around the Med
Were swallowed as their borders spread
And rearranged in Roman style:
Roads running straight for many a mile
To towns with villas, baths and forums.
Their cult of 'dulce et decorum'
Speaks volumes for their fortitude
When in a patriotic mood.
At empire-building they were ace,
This classically impressive race,
But what is more impressive still
And where they truly showed their skill
Is that these able Roman chaps
Worked under numerous handicaps
All self-imposed, but no less dire
For that, which tended to conspire
To trip them up - not just their dates,
But language, numerals and weights.
Just do the maths: take IV+VII
The answer is, of course, XI;
But that I's easy; if you're nifty
+XXVII. The square root
Of the result? You're most astute
If you make that XI too;
Few of us would have a clue
Without an auto-translator
And, of course, a calculator.
Which brings us on to Julius Caesar
Whom many thought a diamond geezer,
(But others judged a dirty rat;
Hold on a sec, we'll come to that).
From winning wars, JC heads home
In triumph to majestic Rome
His very path bestrewn with garlands
For conquering all those near and far lands
Mid cheering throngs of frenzied fans
He starts to contemplate his plans.
"There's so much more I'd like to do -
Invade Britannia, Egypt too -
The only snag is (Gordon Bennett!)
I'll have to get it through the Senate.
Just being Consul is a bore
It's time we had an Emperor;
And, without being partisan,
For that job I know I'm the man.
Show me the ring, I'll throw my hat in."
(Or the equivalent in Latin.)
Just then there tugged at JC's sleeve
A man so old you'd scarce believe
His furrowed forehead, whitened hair,
His ragged, threadbare outerwear.
'Soothsayer' badge on his lapel,
This was the sooth he had to tell:
"If your name's Caesar best watch out,
The Ides of March without a doubt
Ain't going to be your lucky day."
And with these words he slipped away.
"The Ides of March? Now let us see..."
Began to calculate JC.
"Today, I'm told, is VI before
The Nones, and then there's VII days more
Until the Ides, unless that double -
counts the Nones, which would cause trouble
And throw my diary out of sync;
I'll tell you what, I think I'll think
(So call me a procrastinator!)
Out what to do about it later."
Of course, the intervening days
All hurry by in blurry haze.
Almost before JC could blink
Let alone find time to think,
The Ides have dawned. In smartest toga,
Fresh from his Roman bath and yoga,
He's on his way down to the forum
Little guessing that a quorum
Of enemies is lying in wait,
For unlike him they've sussed the date.
Well, I expect you know the rest,
Or, if you don't, then you'll have guessed:
This gang of traitors, beastly blighters
(I beg their pardon, freedom-fighters)
Stabbed our hero in the back
(Rescued Rome from his attack
On ancient rights and liberties.)
In either case, when on his knees
All he could say was "et tu, Brute" -
As last words go, they're kind of cute. *
MM years and LV
Have passed since Caesar was alive.**
Rome's glory flourished, then declined
And finally fell. If you're inclined
To bone up on the blow-by-blow
Then Gibbon*** is the source to know.
Myself, I'll take it all as read;
I've too much clutter in my head,
But every March upon the Ides
A shiver down my backbone slides
Stirring the memory that abides
Of tyrants and tyrannicides.
© First published under the name torr on Ciao UK, 2011
* I know that's not the Latin way
To say it, which should be Brut-é;
So feel free to add an "eh?"
To make that last line rhyme okay.
** This is, of course, the original 2011 version. If you feel that I should reflect the fact that it is now 2012, you might like to change the opening couplet of this stanza to something like:
MM years and LVI
Have passed since Caesar came to nix.
*** 'Edward Gibbon - The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', currently in print and available from Everyman's Classics Library for those with masses of reading time and mental stamina.