If you’ve ever heard the phrase “beware the ides of March,” it’s extremely likely that you have no idea what that string of words even means — and you’re definitely not alone. What are the Ides of March? The phrase in question, as slightly off-putting as it is to hear, was famously written by William Shakespeare, once upon a time, in his play Julius Caesar, in which it served as an ominous warning given to Caesar about his fate.
Legend has it that the Roman politician was warned by a soothsayer that something wicked would come his way by the Ides of March. And as it turned out, the soothsayer wasn’t too far off — Caesar was ambushed and murdered by the Roman Senate on that exact date in 44 BC. That’s a pretty messed up way to go. But believe it or not, the term’s origin actually has less to do with bad luck and more to do with time.
Ides was one of three fixed points that the ancient Romans used to reference dates as they related to the position of the moon.
Way back when, the Roman calendar was determined by the cycles of the moon, and each month was marked by three points: Kalends, Nones, and Ides. Ides usually fell between the 13th and the 15th of the month, and they were determined by the full moon. Nones fell between the 5th and 7th, while Kalends normally marked the beginning of the following month.
Though there have been references in pop culture that have given the Ides of March a bad rap — there’s a political drama starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling named after it — you don’t have any real reason to beware. Well, not necessarily. If it were 44 BC and a psychic had just given you a not-so-great warning about your fate, I would probably tell you to lay low for a little while. But since that’s not the case, you’ll probably be okay.