No need to fear the Ides

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address to a tense, frightened nation in the throes of the Depression included the reassuring words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

America has, for the most part, been mercifully free of fear for the first 246 years of its existence. But several monumentally horrific events have inspired at least temporary national anxiety. Three recent examples: December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed; November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated; and September 11, 2001, when terrorists launched attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Other nations have their own cataclysmic dates. August 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, is every bit as infamous in Japan as 9/11 is here in America. The same goes for January 12, 2010 in Haiti, when an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter Scale all but destroyed the already-impoverished Caribbean nation that occupies the western portion of the Island of Hispaniola. And April 15, 1912, the day the Titanic went to the ocean floor, remains memorably traumatic for people in nations on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, the granddaddy of all notorious dates is the Ides of March. It’s had a bad name ever since 44 BC, when some scheming, knife-wielding Roman senators simultaneously performed a non-medical acupuncture procedure on Julius Caesar. That history-changing event might have been avoided if, according to Plutarch (the foremost Greek historian of his day), Caesar had heeded the warning of a Roman soothsayer who had advised him to “Beware the Ides of March.”

That quote, which William Shakespeare shamelessly lifted and used in the play he wrote about the slain Roman emperor some 16-ish centuries later, elicits a question that has perpetually confounded people like me: what exactly is an Ides?

I for one always assumed it simply referred to more than one Ide. The reality, though, is that the “Ides” was a date on the Roman calendar that fell approximately in the middle of the month. The Ides of March, May, July, and October fall on each month’s 15th day. However, for reasons far too complicated to explain here, the Ides are on the 13th day of the other eight months.

So are any of the eleven other Ideses dread-inspiring?

Forays down several internet rabbit holes, one or two of which may contain mostly accurate information, reveal that March’s isn’t the only Ides which possesses a checkered past.

On May 15, 1932, for instance, Japanese Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was assassinated.

The world’s tallest man, 8’ 11” Robert Wadlow of Alton, Illinois, died at the premature age of 22 on the Ides of July in 1940. (Of no particular significance: “The Alton Giant” wore a size 37AA shoe.)

And on October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel wreaked havoc on North America’s eastern seaboard, causing 95 deaths, and massive flooding as far north as the Canadian province of Ontario.

But maybe the Ides shouldn’t be so dreaded. Adolf Hitler was born on April 20th, 1889. Mahatma Gandhi was shot to death on January 30th, 1948, and Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and vicinity from August 23rd through the 31st in 2005. It’s worth noting that not one of those egregious events took place on an Ides.

No evidence exists suggesting that there’s anything inherently diabolical or foreboding about any particular Ides, so there’s no need for even the most easily-spooked amongst us to beware the Ides of January, which occurs this week.

Rational people like me don’t fear the Ides of any month.

We are, however, a little skittish around Roman soothsayers.

Andy Young
January 8, 2023

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