* Prices may differ from that shown
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 Try (IXxXVI)-L +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.